The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), currently meeting in Geneva, appears to heading towards asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the row sparked by the ILO employers’ representatives claim that the right to strike is not protected by existing ILO conventions. (This previous post explains the background to the argument.) At this stage the Governing Body has still to make its final decision, but the publication last week of a ‘revised draft decision‘ that proposes to ask the ICJ to intervene suggests that workers’ representatives are winning the argument. The workers have been pressing for the referral of the question to the Court rather than the alternative solution, the establishment of a new internal dispute resolution tribunal. If the GB finally confirms the reference of the matter to the ICJ — and given the publication of the revised draft decision it looks almost certain — it would be a first for the ILO. While international bureaucracy nerds, especially those who have read this background document, might point out that the ILO referred 6 cases to the ICJ’s pre-second world war predecessor court, the last time this happened was in 1932 and in any case only one of those six references was on the interpretation of an ILO convention. While there’s no guarantee that the ICJ’s decision will be what workers’ representatives want, according to the ITUC the legal arguments that the right to strike is indeed enshrined in international law are pretty strong. Watch this space.

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guild2

This is the final in our series on how global unions might be built. In it, the author argues for a rejuvenated form of solidarity built around occupation. Industrial unions began to replace guilds and friendly societies during the first wave of new unionism – starting towards the end of the 19th century. The labour movement may have lost something critical along the way. Look at the way we talk about work — people do jobs; but people are occupations. The author argues: “…we need to start from the principle that what we do and seek to do is more important than who we do it for.” As we have seen elsewhere in this series (see here, for instance) a revived focus on occupation could be constructed as an added dimension to existing union activity and structures — it need not require any major reconfiguration. The benefits to working people are obvious, as we have seen with professional associations and support networks. But a new approach based on occupational citizenship might also help us address some of the most pressing problems we face:

  • How do we organize and bargain across borders in an age of globalization?
  • How do we organize “the precariat” – that rapidly growing class of workers who come and go before unions can reach them?
  • How do we rebuilt solidarity and influence in an age where many unions are struggling just to sustain themselves?

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In a speech given at the Global Labour Institute summer school in Manchester earlier this year, life-long trade unionist Dan Gallin stated:

The need of the hour is a serious challenge to global transnational capital and to the world order it has fashioned, but such a challenge cannot be mounted unless the movement recovers a common identity based on an alternative vision of society. (1)

Also adding:

Our movement is in a deep crisis, a two-fold crisis: a crisis of the trade union movement and a crisis of socialism, and we should be aware that these are related, so much so that it is impossible to deal with them separately.

Here I think Gallin is spot-on!  The reason organised labour cannot mount a serious challenge to global capitalism is due to a crisis of socialism which has had an inevitable weakening impact on the international trade union movement.  It therefore follows that in order to overcome the crisis in the trade union movement we first need to address the crisis of socialism.

Drawing on the work of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel I will briefly explain why I think socialism is in crisis.  I will also propose an alternative economic vision to that of socialism (informed by ‘participatory economics’ theory) as a means of overcoming this crisis.  Finally I will describe how this new economic vision could be used to inform global unionism – presented here as an alternative to the current international trade union movement – as a means of organising the desperately needed challenge to the current insane system of capitalist destruction and greed. (more…)