Unions highlight need for decent work on World Day

In the context of the World day for decent work in October 2008, the French trade unions affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held a rally in order to raise public awareness about this issue in the particularly difficult circumstances resulting from the global economic situation. About 110,000 people participated in 90 demonstrations throughout France. The demonstrators called for more jobs, decent pay and working conditions, and better public services.

Mobilisation for decent work

On 7 October 2008, in line with the call to mobilise to change the world economy issued by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), its French affiliates participated in this first-ever world day of mobilisation for decent work. The following trade union confederations took part in the campaign: the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) and the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA).

At a rally and concert in Trocadéro square near the Champs-Elysées in Paris, performances by several groups were interspersed by speeches from trade union leaders. All of them outlined their demands given the world economic crisis. The aim of the initiative on 7 October was to highlight the agenda for ‘decent work’ that was signed in 1999 by the 182 members of the International Labour Organization (ILO). According to the ILO Director General, Juan Somavia, who was the person behind this concept, all employees should have the right to ‘productive work that delivers a fair income and security in the workplace and respects fundamental rights, as well as the right to social dialogue and social protection’.

The Paris rally was special in that the General Secretaries of ITUC, Guy Ryder, and of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), John Monks, were present, as well as representatives of national trade union confederations from other countries and also the French undocumented workers’ movement (FR0809029I).

Trade union leaders call for more equitable world

Guy Ryder, whose international confederation was at the initiative of this World day for decent work (WDDW), called for the building of ‘new trade union internationalism that matches up to the challenges of the era of globalisation, while decades of deregulation have pushed the world on to the edge of recession’. His ETUC counterpart, Mr Monks, considered that ‘the current crisis is a historical turning point. It marks the end of an ideology’. In ETUC’s view, ‘the period of all the financial excesses should come to an end’.

For his part, the CFDT General Secretary, François Chérèque, highlighted the fact that ‘mention is only made of banks, but not of the economic and social consequences of the crisis, whereas these can be seen in the redundancy plans and factory closures’. CGT’s General Secretary, Bernard Thibault, emphasised that ‘the aim of all unions throughout the world during this day of mobilisation is to put labour issues back into the centre of political decisions and economic mechanisms’. The CGT-FO General Secretary, Jean-Claude Mailly, drove the point home when he said that this crisis is ‘a slap in the face for governments that have left the field open to deregulation and have capitulated as far as their budgetary, monetary and fiscal responsibilities are concerned’. On behalf of CFTC, Joseph Thouvenel, pleaded for ‘social and environmental traceability’ that would make it possible to know where, and in what conditions, consumer goods are produced. The UNSA General Secretary, Alain Olive, underlined the ‘symbolic’ aspect of the day, which ‘makes it possible to reassert that finance capitalism, which is all upside down, will have to be reformed, and also that workers should not have to suffer the consequences’.

Almost 90 demonstrations throughout the country

A number of the trade union federations also used the occasion of the WDDW to call for demonstrations in almost 90 French cities for more jobs, decent pay and working conditions, and better public services. The organisations involved were the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), the Unitary Union Federation (Fédération Syndicale Unitaire, FSU) and the Independent Union – Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Union syndicale Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD) – along with CFDT, CGT and UNSA.

CGT-FO and CFTC did not support this call as they refused to include national demands in a day of international solidarity.

About 110,000 demonstrators throughout the country expressed their fears concerning the general economic situation and their opposition to:

  • many restructuring announcements comprising significant job reductions in major French groups, such as in the car manufacturer Renault;
  • government plans, such as opening up the post office’s capital (FR0810019I) and shedding jobs in the public educational sector, against which the trade unions called for national mobilisation in October.

Benoît Robin, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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