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May Day 2015

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Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All the substantial issues confronting the working class today — the rapid growth of social inequality, a tattered veneer of ‘democracy’ behind which ever more rapacious forms of neo-liberal economics rule over peoples and the environment, the explosion of police violence within countries (as in the USA) and of armed conflict between countries and regions — all these are bound up with the struggle against new forms of dominance.

The dangers of war loom more menacing today than they did in 1914 and in 1939. But for many workers in many countries on this May Day in 2015, war has never gone away. It persists because of the division of the world into what are called competing economies (as if ‘country’ and ‘economy’ are synonymous: they are nothing of the kind). On May Day, the subordination of the productive forces of households, families, communities and villages to the corporate and financial elite is protested and revoked.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers' rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers’ rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

The world of work has been reshaped by globalisation. Today, much of global trade involves global buyers and suppliers, which has implications for workers’ welfare. Multinational enterprises source from a network of suppliers, who, in turn, compete with one another to obtain business. The task of providing compensation is therefore left to the supplier of the product or service, who is under considerable pressure with regard to the wages and conditions they can offer workers.

There are no mechanisms within the political system (there are scant differences between political systems installed today, for their methods are so similar) through which any of the grievances of the vast majority of the population can find expression. These democratic demands should be linked to programmes that advances the social rights of the working class. Chief amongst these must be a massive redistribution of wealth, which has been snatched away by what is mockingly called the ‘market’, itself a ghastly amalgam of banks, technocrats, commodity speculators, global finance capital, lobbyists and consultants, the multi-lateral lending organisations (like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), and all their cronies and cabals fostered by politicians.

Technological advancements and the expansion of the internet have caused temporal and physical distances to vanish. They have accelerated sweeping and damaging changes in the organisation of production and work. There has been a growth in the number of hours that enterprises operate (24 by 7 has become a household term) and therefore in the times when workers at all levels of service and production must be available to work. If they are not they are summarily sacked, fired, dismissed.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Since the 1980s, but especially in the 2010s, under the pressures of ‘competition’ but in fact as a strategy to create an ever-greater pool of consumers who are otherwise disenfranchised, companies and corporations run by the financial puppeteers have demanded greater flexibility in production and organisation. This has abandoned the traditional employment relationship which, for all its faults, has been one that has survived the Modern Era. It was the basis for labour protection measures. No longer. Non-standard employment arrangements have become common features in what are now cynically called labour markets, no matter where they are – Argentina, Micronesia, Scandinavia, sub-Saharan Africa. Work has become unstable and frighteningly insecure for families. Work has in fact been deliberately caused to become chronically unpredictable.

A concerted assault on the domination of our societies by this putrid but dangerous financial aristocracy is needed. For this enemy is determined to maintain its stranglehold through violence and through the punishment of poverty. This grip over our economic and political lives must be broken, for only when our societies are based on public ownership and democratic control of the forces of production and the means with which to safeguard ecology, natural resources and cultural values can genuine ‘development’ (a grossly abused term) take place.

Still too few jobs, still paltry wages, says ILO

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ILO-employment_trends_2014_key_factsAlthough the Global Employment Trends 2014 report has adopted a mild turn of phrase to describe the vicious and sustained attack on workers and labour around the world, the message from one of the key reports from the International Labour Organisation is that economic ‘recovery’ has done nothing to create jobs, in fact the reverse.

The report has called for “an urgent switch to more employment-friendly policies” – that is, in contrast to the policies that encourage criminalising workers who organise themselves, and policies that drive – in a race to the deadly bottom – wages ever lower in the face of rampaging inflation. The weak global economic recovery has “failed to lead to an improvement in global labour markets”, the ILO report has said, with global unemployment in 2013 reaching almost 202 million.

While this is a very large number, we should remember that the ILO, a United Nations agency, relies on official statistics given it by the countries themselves. Even with allowances made for the true nature and scale of unemployment and under-employment, recommended to the ILO by trade unionists and researchers who study labour trends and conditions, the numbers available in the report will be a fairly large under-estimate of actual conditions.

ILO-employment_trends_2014Nonetheless, the Global Employment Trends 2014 report said that employment growth remains weak, unemployment continues to rise as a trend in all the world’s geographic regions, and especially amongst young people, and that large numbers of discouraged potential workers are still outside the labour market. The report has also bluntly said that “profits are being made in many sectors, but those are mainly going into asset markets and not the real economy, damaging long-term employment prospects”.

In developing countries, informal employment remains widespread, and the pace of improvements in job quality is slowing down, the report said. That means fewer people are moving out of ‘working poverty’ – that is, those who have some work but that work is not enough to keep their households consistently above a given income and food calories poverty line. In 2013, the number of workers in extreme poverty – living on less than the (widely-criticised and altogether meaningless World Bank) US$ 1.25 a day – declined by only 2.7% globally, which is one of the lowest rates over the past decade, with the exception of the immediate crisis years.

Periods of unemployment for job seekers and those laid off have lengthened considerably, the report said; in some countries such as Spain and Greece, job seekers need twice as much time before landing a new job than before the crisis (with no assurance that the pay they will receive for the new job matching their last drawn salaries or wages). More and more of those potential workers are discouraged and remain outside the labour force, “leading to skills degradation and obsolescence, and rising long-term unemployment”.

A Christmas troika from the ILO

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Three excellent titles have been released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since November, the Global Wage Report 2010-11, World Social Security Report 2010-11 and Extending Social Security to All.

Global Wage Report 2010-11. Social security represents an investment in a country’s “human infrastructure” no less important than investments in its physical infrastructure. At an early stage of economic development the priority is, of course, to put in place a basic level of provision; the evidence adduced in this Guide points to its affordability for, essentially, every country. While this message lies at the heart of the Guide, it is important to keep in mind that, at a later stage, the basic level can and should be augmented, and the ILO’s long-standing approach to social security offers the framework to do so.

While the financial, fiscal and economic affordability and sustainability of social protection systems has become – rightly or wrongly – a major concern for countries at all stages of economic development, the Guide provides testimony showing that some level of social security can be afforded even at early stages of national development. Social security systems remain affordable moreover when economies mature and population age. Hence, a country’s national investment in social security can be well justified, whether or not an extensive social security system has already been developed.

More on the title here. Get the pdf here.

World Social Security Report 2010-11. This is the first in a new series of biennial reports that aim to map social security coverage globally, to presenting various methods and approaches for assessing coverage, and to identifying gaps in coverage. Backed by much comparative statistical data, this first report takes a comprehensive look at how countries are investing in social security, how they are financing it, and how effective their approaches are. The report examines the ways selected international organizations (the EU, OECD and ADB) monitor social protection and the correlation of social security coverage and the ILO Decent Work Indicators. The report’s final section features a typology of national approaches to social security, with a focus on countries’ responses to the economic crisis of 2008 and the lessons to be learned, especially concerning the short- and long-term management of pension schemes.

Social security systems play a critical role in alleviating poverty and providing economic security, helping people to cope with life’s major risks and adapt to change. They can have a remarkable effect on income inequality and poverty in developing countries through income transfers. The 2008-09 financial crisis has shown that they are also powerful economic and social stabilizers, with both short- and long-term effects. However, there are serious problems of access to social security around the world which the crisis has shown into sharp relief, and the financing of systems has been put at risk by shrinking national budgets.

More on the title here. Get the pdf here.

Extending Social Security to All. The second in a series of ILO reports focusing on wage developments, this volume reviews the global and regional wage trends during the years of the economic and financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. In Part I, the report highlights the slow down in the growth of monthly average wages as well as some short-term fluctuations in the wage share. These changes happened against a backdrop of wage moderation in the years before the crisis and a long-term trend of rising wage inequality since the mid-1990s. Part II of the report discusses the role of wage policies in times of crisis and recovery. Collective bargaining and minimum wages can help achieve a balanced and equitable recovery by ensuring that working families share in the fruits of future economic growth.

At the same time, preventing the purchasing power of low-paid workers from falling can contribute to a faster recovery by sustaining aggregate demand. The report shows that policy strategies and design are crucial to ensure that low-paid workers benefit from union representation and minimum wages, and argues that wage policies must be complemented with carefully crafted in-work benefits and other income transfers. Part III concludes with a summary of the report and highlights issues that are critical for improving wage policies.

More on the title here. Get the pdf here.