PSI General Secretary’s speech at PSI JC’s 30th anniversary

PSI General Secretary, Rosa Pavanelli, gave a speech at PSI Japan Council's (PSI-JC) 30th anniversary which took place in Tokyo on 22 June 2018. This was part of a three-day visit, invited by PSI-JC, the National Coordinating Committee of PSI affiliates in Japan.

I am honoured to be with you and I want to thank PSI Vice President Kawamoto-san for inviting me to celebrate with you this important anniversary.

30 years of PSI Japan Council represents an important part in the story of PSI in Japan, but also at regional and global level.

My first comment refers to the strong cohesion of the PSI Japan Council which has contributed to strengthen the role of PSI and of the trade union movement in the public sector, to improve working and living conditions of millions of public service workers in Japan and to fight for the full recognition of public service workers’ right to organize and to collective bargaining.

The last example of your commitment was clearly shown in May, during the last ILO Conference where together with Brother Kawamoto, we worked to reclaim the right of firefighters and prison personnel to form a union and to collective bargaining, obtaining remarkable comments in our favour from the Committee for the Application of Standards.

That was not the first time. It is since 1954 that the rights of fire and prison personnel have been discussed several times in the ILO. On one hand this says a lot about the real will of the Japanese government to fully recognise that C 87 applies to all Japanese public service workers and, by default, C 151 and 154.

But this also shows your perseverance in continuing fighting for workers’ rights and build a more equitable and just society. And it teaches the all world that what seems to be the rule internationally cannot be given for granted in all countries.

A second example that I want to bring to highlight the leading role of PSI JC at global level refers to the recent creation of PSI global network of public service emergency and disasters workers.

Since the Great Earthquake of Fukushima, PSI JC brought to the attention of the global debate the need of a special focus on working conditions and rights of first responders, particularly with a resolution that was approved by the 2012 PSI 29th Congress in Durban.

You brought that message in the international debate at the Sendai Conference. Zenshokyo President Murakami-san, highlighted the work that we have to do in a panel at the PSI Congress in Geneva last November. And Brother Takeuchi, Zenshokyo Executive Director, played a fundamental role in the ILO Tripartite Experts meeting that took place in April in Geneva.

The conclusion of that meeting reflects PSI position on several issues, from the right of emergency workers to organise, collective bargaining and to strike, to the fundamental role of the public sector, and we need to advocate in order to have those guidelines adopted by ILO Governing Body in November.

Climate change is exasperating the frequency of natural catastrophes. Human stupidity is multiplying the impact of terrorism, wars and man-made disasters. These events produce dramatic impacts on our communities, affecting vulnerable populations the most.

Our members in emergency services are exposed to dangers and hazards that, although intrinsic to the nature of the work, cannot be considered the normality nor inevitable. They must be addressed with appropriate equipment, training and full enjoyment of labour rights.

The last example of the important role PSI JC is playing refers to international solidarity and global campaigning.

The Ebola epidemic in Western Africa claimed the lives of more than one thousand health workers.

Under Liberian law, public sector employees are not allowed to form a trade union. Joseph Tamba and George Poe, the two leaders of the NAHWAL union, were fired because they denounced the lack of personal protection equipment and the terrible working conditions imposed on health personnel during the crisis.

Over the past two years PSI has been working on a project in West Africa supported by several unions, included Jichiro. The project aims to: guarantee freedom of association for all workers in the sector; shine an international spotlight on all violations of workers' rights; and argue that resources should be allocated for quality public health services.

The leadership of NAHWAL, with the support of PSI, filed a complaint in the International Labour Organization against Liberia for its denial of trade union rights. PSI JC, as affiliates in other countries, lodged protests with the Liberian embassy in support of our colleagues' struggle. This is a collective effort which is now producing the expected outcomes. Joseph and George have been finally reinstated, NAHWAL recognised as a union.

In a meeting, during the ILC, the Liberian Minister of Labour ensured that the new government will register trade unions of all civil servants and that a tripartite conference will be called to elaborate a labour reform that will include ratification and enforcement of fundamental ILO Conventions for the public sector as well. The Minister invited PSI to participate in the conference and to assist in the preparation of the reform.

We showed that working together multiplies our strength and I just want to thank you for your active and fundamental support.

One of the questions that I am supposed to address is where is the world heading.

It is a very tough question and I guess you need magic powers to answer it.

At the time of PSI Congress in November last year, the growing tensions between the United States and North Korea scared the world with the threat of a nuclear war. Six months later, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are the best friends on earth. Who could imagine that? But above all, which is the meaning of principles like global governance, diplomacy and democracy when the future of the world has to rely on the mood of two super ego affected by despotic and dictatorial attitudes.

I am afraid that this means that politics is no longer able to have a long-term vision that can help to build a better future for all.

Indeed, it is hard to understand how a new geo-political balance can be found for the future.

The USA are keeping distance from the global institutions, withdrawing the support to the Paris agreement on climate, withdrawing from UNESCO and from the UN Human Rights Council, while imposing a protectionist approach to its policy on trade and economy

The European Union is at a crossroad between confirming its existence as a place where the social compromise created the most advanced experience of shared wellbeing with the model of the welfare state, or being shaken by the growing of populist and racist forces that are using the fear for migrants and refuges to impose an authoritarian and antidemocratic agenda.

Wars and conflicts are spreading all around the Middle East, affecting also the few democratic countries in the Arab region and putting at stake peace globally.

Many African countries continue to suffer because of violence and all form of exploitation.

In Asia, while conflicts have diminished and economic growth is recorded in most of the countries, we continue to express our concerns for the lack of real improvement of workers’ rights and reduction of inequalities.

Indeed, with few exception, also in Asia inequality has grown and China is emerging as a global player of a neo-liberal and neo-colonial agenda, despite its socialist name!

The global institutions and the UN system are unable to ensure governance and need to be reformed.

It seems that the ambition of eradicating poverty and ensuring a better world to future generations, encompassed in the SDGs, can hardly find a genuine interpreter, while offering new opportunities for business to make profit at the expenses of millions of people.

The fact is that the financial system and MNCs are concentrating power and dictating the global agenda. It is getting more and more frequent the feeling that many governments are on the pay-roll of corporates, or, at least, keen to align with their interest

Indeed, all the engineering of global economy is currently built to favour the big corporates interest.

Let’s have a look to the trade policy. The plurilateral system is in crisis and the proliferation of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements is spreading a model that aims to favour MNCs. We extensively discussed how trade agreements such as TPP, TISA and more recently the RCEP, will affect workers’ rights, the universal access to public services, the stability of small business and the local economic fabric.

We highlighted how ISDS system was undermining the power of government and democratically elected institutions to regulate on behalf of the general interest, to protect people and common goods from the greed of MNCs. And we stressed how trade agreements were giving corporates the right to control, or even sue governments, a right that is denied to ordinary people.

Everybody recognises that in recent years there has been a concentration of wealth never seen before. The ten richest people of the world are concentrating more money than most of the poorest countries all together.

Tax avoidance, often the fruit of fiscal benefits allowed to companies by many governments, together with the persisting practice of tax evasion is eroding the resources available in many countries to ensure decent wages and access to quality public services.

At the same time, the reduced progressiveness of tax system and the increase of indirect taxation, are putting the burden of the austerity on working people.

Austerity policies, a mantra of all financial institutions, from the IMF, the World Bank, as well as the regional development bank, included ADB, have pushed neo-liberal policies that are boosting the privatization of public services in many, different forms.

It is surprising that while the global financial institutions are orienting the debate proposing creative finance systems, or blend finance for building infrastructures and providing public services as a means to overcome the widespread criticism and the evidence of many failures of PFIs and PPPs, Japan only last week passed the Act to amend the PFI law, in the sense to make PFIs easier.

PFIs originated in the UK during Margaret Thatcher’s government and we have plenty of evidence of the damages that they produced on people and on the public finance.

Japan has been able to resist to massive privatization so far, also thanks to your commitment to defend public services, and Jichiro brought its experience to help the unions in Myanmar to resist privatization.

But the fact that Japan is trying to amend also the Law on Water Works signals that you need to be prepared to counter any acceleration in the privatization of public services and you will protect your common goods.

I am sure that Brother Nikaido, President of Zensuido, will help you all in preparing for this new battle.

Digitalization and artificial intelligence are another front for workers’ rights.

Millions of jobs are expected to be lost because of digitalization, mainly in public services, and we have to prepare to make digitalization an opportunity rather than a threat.

I recently watched a documentary that was explaining how authorities are trying to use robots to extinguish fire in the nuclear reactors of Fukushima plant. Should this be the future, it would be very welcome as it could help to save human lives and reduce hazards for our workers.

But to get that we need to fight as, up to now, the idea is to give another tool for corporates to make profits. Moreover, the use of sensitive data, the so called big data, is putting at stake the security of millions of people, as the Analityca and Facebook scandal have recently demonstrated. Out of a strong public governance and strict regulation and control, the misuse of personal data can potentially bring to the collapse of our democracies.

So, is there anything we can do to change the tide?

Although realistic, we cannot give in to this perspective. If the power of wealth is concentrated in few hands, if corporates are trying to occupy all space in the global governance, they are underestimating the power of people and the human factor.

Unions have workers with them. We have millions of real people with us. And unions continue to be the most democratic organizations in the world, deeply rooted in the society.

If it is true that the world is at a breaking point, we need to revive workers’ power. We need the courage to say no when things become unacceptable. We need to dare to stop the unhuman exploitation of people and natural resources. We need to be bold in make our voices heard with an alternative discourse.

Indeed, the only possibility to change the future of work and, as a consequence, of the world is challenging the corporates power and propose a more democratic agenda, where people, individuals count.

This is the aim of PSI PoA adopted at Congress and the objective of the “People over Profit” document that we are proposing for discussion with all affiliates and for adoption by the next Executive Board.

To do this unions have to make all possible efforts to include more and more women and young workers in their strategies and in their leading positions. There will be no possibility to create a more sustainable and just world if half of the population continues to be excluded or exploited as most women and young workers are nowadays.

And we need to consolidate unity within the trade union movement, finding the courage to overcome jalousie, competition among trade unions and strengthening our representativeness at national and global level. In a globalised world there will be no enduring victories if our fights continue to be confined at national level.

Our adversaries are united in their objectives and in the way they act globally. They know how to protect their interest sharing the opportunities. This is the only thing we need to borrow from them. Increasing unions unity and strength and acting in unison globally.

PSI JC cohesion I mentioned at the beginning is a good example for all. And it is a good starting point to increase unions unity in PSI in Japan, in the region and globally.