Speech | Trade · Global Worker Rights

Trumka at ETUC Congress: Move Forward as One Global Labor Movement

Vienna, Austria

President De Leeuw and General Secretary Visentini, thank you for the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO.

We all know the profound danger of rising inequality, and the threat it poses to economies, societies and democracies around the world. Right now, international economic rules are balanced in favor of the world’s largest corporations. At the same time, global worker power is shrinking.

No country is immune. Nobel-prize winning economist Sir Angus Deaton led a recent review of inequality in the UK and found that Britain’s increasing inequality is on the same upward trajectory as the United States, where 62% of Americans haven’t seen a raise in more than a year.

When discussing the study, Deaton said: “There’s a real question about whether democratic capitalism is working, when it’s only working for part of the population.”

Brothers and sisters, we have reached a breaking point.

Some have argued that there are two ways to reach a solution: Either disengage from multilateral institutions or accept the current failed framework.

Neither is true.

Rather, the AFL-CIO, together with our European brothers and sisters, and partners around the world, must take the lead in reshaping multilateral institutions to promote broadly shared prosperity and inclusive, sustainable economies. In return, these institutions must respond, not just to the commercial interests of global firms, but to the aspirations and desires of working people in developed and developing economies alike. We need multilateral policies and institutions that build worker bargaining power, lift wages and promote and defend democracy across the globe. We cannot improve wages and working conditions in the United States and Europe, but leave behind developing countries.

These rules must also be written with the recognition that trade and globalization have pushed wages down and weakened worker negotiating power. We can...and must...do better with more inclusive, responsive and dynamic trade rules that create jobs, higher wages and sustainable and responsible economic growth that protects our environment and respects human rights and dignity around the world. A rules-based trading system should also require robust enforcement that swiftly addresses violations.

Achieving successful global trade rules also depends on strong domestic policies that support working people by expanding the right to collectively bargain and providing enhanced skills training. We cannot expand the global framework if any of our existing structures at home are weak. So, we must continue to push our leaders across the board to strengthen, enact and enforce these policies.

The labor movement is in favor of multilateralism...but not just any multilateralism. This is not a binary choice between corporate dominated globalism and authoritarian nationalism. If there is going to be a global order, it must be a more democratic and more economically just and sustainable one.

Brothers and sisters, this is an enormous challenge. None of us can underestimate it because inequality, by nature, feeds on itself. Once a society reaches a certain level of inequality, the winners can rig the rules for the next round of the game. And desperate working people can be wedged apart and divided by empty promises and dehumanizing rhetoric.

We must move forward as one global labor movement...together in our fight for shared prosperity. We must address the challenges of our time head on from climate change to technology to social mobility.

That’s why the AFL-CIO is deeply committed to continuing our work together to strengthen the global labor movement and the rights of working people around the world. The need is as great as it’s ever been, but so is our resolve. And, we look forward to joining our global allies to continue building a strong, effective movement that can fight for improved working conditions and greater social justice.

Thank you.

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