Goals of the Assembly
The goals of the Assembly are:
To help deepen our analysis of the overlapping health, economic, social and political crises we are currently experiencing.
To build international solidarity among unions and social movements as they deal with the unfolding public health emergency and economic crisis, which are likely to be particularly severe in the global South.
To amplify calls to defend, reclaim and expand high-quality, universal public services, including water, healthcare, education, research, public mobility, energy, land, and more, and for a planned, coordinated decarbonisation of our systems of production and consumption to sustainable forms.
To strengthen our ability to resist rising securitisation, militarisation and authoritarianism under the guise of combating the pandemic.
To further develop our shared demands and strategies in order to help unions and workers emerge from the current crisis stronger, more unified, and more resolute in our determination to shape a radically different future.
Origin of the Assembly
In April, 2020, a group of unions working with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) met online to review plans for the 2020 UN climate summit and next steps in advancing energy transition policies. At the time of the meeting, the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing and COP26 had just been postponed until 2021. Unions on the call raised a number of concerns linked to the pandemic, public services, climate, finance and labour rights. It was proposed to raise these urgent issues together, soon, in order to develop ideas and proposals for joint action for a “post-COVID” world.
TUED agreed to play a coordinating role for the Assembly, develop a website, arrange interpretation, and manage registrations, etc. TUED will also contribute to the program on public ownership of energy.
Why a Global Trade Union Assembly?
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) was was working with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) and key international trade union bodies to host a Global Trade Union Assembly in Glasgow on November 17th, 2020, to coincide with the UN climate talks (COP26). Although the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted those plans (since COP26 has been postponed until next year), it also means that there is now greater urgency for unions to find fresh opportunities to come together to make sense of what is happening and consider what more we can do in order to be prepared to respond effectively together to rapidly changing circumstances. After a meeting convened by TUED in mid April, unions agreed to convene an Assembly in order to discuss key issues related to the impact of the pandemic and to invite other unions to join the initiative. All unions are invited to participate in developing the content of the Assembly.
We will be meeting in the midst of an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown policies have disrupted global supply chains, producing a severe contraction of supply, demand, trade and investment, impacting workers and societies across the globe. The ILO has estimated that 81% of workers have been affected, and global working hours reduced by the equivalent of 195 million jobs in the second quarter of 2020, and has labelled the COVID-19 crisis the most severe global crisis since World War II. The massive economic contractions caused by social lockdowns in country after country have led to massive capital flight from many developing countries, further undermining their currencies, and thus their governments’ abilities to make debt payments and carry out the kinds of public expenditure urgently needed to meet the public health, economic and social challenges they face. Rising calls to “re-open economies” and “get back to normal” appear to be completely out of touch with the scale and nature of what is happening, and what is coming.
Around the world, the crisis has highlighted not only the vital need for robust public health systems and other public services, backed by competent planning, but also the indispensable contribution of so many low-wage, informal, and precarious workers — often women, immigrants, and people of color — in meeting essential needs. Prior to COVID-19, many of these workers faced unsafe, informal and precarious working conditions, job insecurity and financial hardship. While the pandemic has turned them overnight into heroes, at the same time it has dramatically increased the health and safety risks they face. Many have died.
In the global South, the pandemic looks poised to unleash a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. The devastating legacy of colonialism, followed by years of neoliberal “structural adjustment,” have left vast numbers of people vulnerable to the coming wave of disease, hunger and social upheaval. Millions of informal workers have seen even the precarious work on which they depended disappear in the wake of national lock-downs. Slum dwellers are particularly vulnerable, as are migrant workers, who are far from home and are today living in cramped, make-shift quarantine camps where there is no such thing as “social distancing.” Food shortages are forcing thousands to violate lock-down rules, only to be met with state violence and repression. Tens of millions of people trapped in refugee camps around the world, unable to relocate and with very limited space and resources, face especially grave dangers.
The global financial crisis of 2008-9 and the austerity responses following it produced a rise in inequality and precarity that have fuelled a rise of right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism in many countries. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has added more fuel to the burning fires of xenophobia, racism and economic nationalism, with many nations restricting exports of food and medical supplies rather than searching for shared solutions. At the same time, right-wing and authoritarian regimes have taken advantage of the crisis to push through anti-union measures, and many companies have pursued massive layoffs in violation of labor rights. We must do better in countering the rise of the populist right and the far-right in the wake of COVID-19 than we did after the global financial crisis.
On the other hand, the crisis has also made evident the need for alternatives to the current profit-based economic system. In this way, COVID-19 provides an opportunity to push back against the assault on public services, to expand social protections and essential services, to deepen popular control over economic life, and to reorganize our economies to meet human needs. We must seize this opportunity.
In order to be able to confront the multiple challenges before us and push for a just, pro-public recovery and reconstruction, we must build a global, worker-led political movement based on solidarity and equality, and animated by the conviction that a return to the pre-pandemic status quo is not an option.