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"Power is Ours" 
ICEM Unites & Organizes
To Face Globalization

DURBAN, South Africa

The following was released on November 5th by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM):

More Info

"Amandla Awethu" - Power is Ours!

Full texts of the Congress decisions are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish on the Web at

The special Congress Web pages also include key speeches by new ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs and outgoing General Secretary Vic Thorpe, together with a wealth of Congress background information and relevant links.

"Power is Ours and we will Unite and Organize."

With that ringing call, John Maitland closed the World Congress of the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Unions (ICEM) in Durban, South Africa on November 5th.

Some 800 union leaders from all continents took part in the Congress, which mapped out a labor response to globalization.

Maitland, from Australian miners' union the CFMEU, is the newly elected President of the ICEM.

"Power is Ours" is the translation of the Congress motto "Amandla Awethu".

"Unite And Organize" is the ICEM's slogan.

Both messages were powerfully put across when trade unionists from all over the world marched through the streets of Durban on Thursday. 

Main Congress decisions:


The ICEM will "build a global trade unionism so as to challenge the globalization of corporative power and its supportive institutions," the Congress unanimously decided.

To achieve this, the ICEM will:

  • Set up "permanent networks between organised workers in key multinational companies." These union networks will exchange data on pay, conditions and other relevant issues within each global corporation. They will also be a focus for joint solidarity action where needed.

  • Dialogue with senior management of leading corporations "wherever possible", so as to help resolve disputes, to seek information on long-term investment strategies and to ensure that social goals are central in corporate strategy.

  • Negotiate global agreements with multinationals. These agreements are to include "recognition of workers' right to organize and collective bargaining." Recognition of these rights will be linked to the key Conventions of the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO). The agreements will also guarantee "common 'best practice' standards for health, safety and environmental protection throughout the company". Provision must be made for joint union-management training on the implementation of the agreements. The agreements must include "regular monitoring and enforcement procedures". Drives to negotiate global agreements will have a "particular focus on corporations from developing countries like Angl-American, Billiton and Old Mutual."

  • Progressively extend the global agreements to cover each company's contractors and suppliers.

  • Dialogue with "environmental, women's, community, human rights, indigenous peoples' and other relevant organizations, as appropriate to the task of reinforcing the trade union role as a bulwark for broader social freedoms."

  • Participate in the planning and implementation of the programs of intergovernmental agencies such as the World Bank, the OECD, the United Nations Development Programme, the ILO and the World Trade Organization (WTO), so as to "ensure that their resources are only directed to sustainable social outcomes and to increase transparency and democracy within these multinational institutions in general."

These drives will be carried out in close cooperation with the unions' other sector-by-sector International Trade Secretariats, as appropriate.


Much of the ICEM's union development work is through projects. These are usually designed to strengthen affiliated unions or potential affiliates. Activities include research, organising, campaigning, training, building sectoral networks and multinational councils.

All projects should serve the ICEM's central aim: UNITE AND ORGANIZE. This is emphasized in a detailed policy document on trade union development adopted by the Congress.

In today's globalized economy, old distinctions between developing country unions and developed country unions no longer apply, so ICEM projects "may involve South/South links or North/South links, East/East links or East/West links or any combination of these."

In line with the ICEM policy of mainstreaming women's interests [cf. WOMEN WORKERS below], the ICEM will ensure that women and women's issues and rights are fully integrated into its project work. This will be achieved with the support of the ICEM Women's Committee.

As part of the ICEM's alliance-building with other social and campaigning organizations, it should develop "exploratory and innovative projects" that "bring together unions and non-governmental organizations working together with the wider community."

Outside funding "will be accepted exclusively for ICEM projects and programs" and the ICEM "will not be used as a conduit for the aims of other organizations or influences, regardless of their origin or alliances."

The ICEM will cooperate "with other friendly international trade union organizations on projects where it makes sense to do so."


As a defender of industrial workers and their communities, the ICEM "has an obligation to participate fully in defining, promoting and refining the concept of sustainable development". It aims at "economic, social and environmental harmony" and recognizes that the dynamics between these three imperatives "will change over time".

So the ICEM will help to "develop 'Just Transition' policies and strategies which address the transitional needs of workers and their families in the pursuit of more sustainable development" - particularly where "large-scale moves from old to newer, more friendly, technologies are involved." The Congress emphasised the international context of Just Transition. In particular, support is needed for workers and their families in developing and newly restructuring countries.

There should be transitional funding from industry and public sources, the ICEM says, in order to "support the process of industrial change and relieve workers from carrying the burden of cost and insecurity that has accompanied the process of change to date."

In its global agreements with multinationals [see GLOBAL TRADE UNIONISM above], the ICEM will insist on the highest possible standards of health, safety and environmental performance - no matter where the company concerned is operating.

The ICEM will also boost its work on priority concerns such as "the prevention of environmental dumping, the development of more efficient and cleaner use of energy and the 'sunsetting' of obsolete and/or unwanted products and processes."

Here too, the need for cooperation both with other union internationals and with citizens' groups is stressed.


Women workers are crucially important to the ICEM's future. They now make up more than 30 percent of the international's membership, and the number of women in ICEM industries is continuing to grow.

"Job segregation is, however, commonplace," the ICEM says, "and the gap between women's and men's earnings remains wide."

Within trade unions, too, women are often disadvantaged. The Congress recognised that much more needs to be done to secure full equality for women within the trade union movement including at all levels of the ICEM. A start has already been made on this, through adjustments to the structure of the ICEM's governing bodies. One result is that, for the first time, the Congress elected two women Vice-Presidents Margaret Prosser from the UK and Rosa Novoa from Chile.

But "quotas should be accompanied by other positive action measures to boost women's participation," says the women's program unanimously adopted by the Congress. Action could include " campaigns to organize women workers, work to strengthen women's leadership skills, providing childcare at work and in union activities, mainstreaming gender perspectives in all activities."

"Mainstreaming" is the key to the ICEM's gender policies. This means including "the dimension of equality between men and women in all areas of policy".

Increasing women's participation at all levels of the ICEM "cannot just be left up to goodwill and voluntary mechanisms," the program insists. Rather, "some binding arrangements must be introduced" and "compliance with them must be monitored."

A number of industrial issues are of particular concern to women, and the ICEM will give priority to tackling these. They include pay inequality, job segregation, the lack of affordable childcare, sexual harassment, inadequate training and promotion for women, the need for active employment policies that could improve women's job prospects, the need to protect homeworkers, and proper maternity protection for women workers worldwide.

Women are one of the most promising groups for new organizing, the program points out. "Trade unions have to do their part to motivate women to join unions, and once they have joined, to take over responsibility. For this, however, trade unions have to be more women-friendly."


The US blockade of Cuba is "unjustified and illegal" and must be lifted, the Congress declared. "Overall, it is the people of Cuba, poor and working people, who are suffering."

The ICEM will campaign actively to end the blockade.

Contacts will be developed with appropriate Cuban trade unions, with a view to possible ICEM affiliation at some stage in the future.


The Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster of 1986 is still causing serious health problems and social consequences, the Congress recalled.

The state of the "sarcophagus" covering the damaged reactor gives cause for particular concern, and poses "the danger of repeating the Chernobyl disaster," the ICEM warns.

Together with the Ukraine, the G7 countries, UN member governments, the international financial institutions and the world community must reach a decision on the future of the damaged reactor and must "fully finance all necessary works and activities," the ICEM Congress insisted.

Before the closure of Chernobyl, Ukraine must receive "financial and other relevant assistance", both to develop new power sources and to ensure "a comprehensive solution to the social problems of the personnel" who will lose their jobs as a result of the closure.

Assistance must also be given to the Belorussian, Russian and Ukrainian populations evacuated from the contaminated zones. These people "badly need effective medical treatment and improvement of their living conditions."


Small-scale mining employs more than 13 million people and is still expanding.

These workers, who include many women and children, are unprotected and subject to "extreme exploitation," the Congress said. There are also "an unacceptable number of accidents, occupational diseases and the premature physical aging of child laborers."

Together with the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO), the ICEM will develop a comprehensive policy for this sector. Points will include an immediate stop to all forms of child labor and bonded labor and to the exploitation of women working in small-scale mines. Enforceable safety regulations must be introduced, compliant with ILO Convention 176 on mining health and safety. Poverty alleviation is an important factor in ending the exploitation of workers in small-scale mines, and the ICEM insists on full union participation in a World Bank program for this sector.


The ICEM will "intensify its activity toward establishment of clear and distinct regional structures in all of its regions".


The Congress approved the launching of a global ICEM campaign on mining multinational Placer Dome. The Canadian-based company recently retrenched about 40 per cent of its South African workforce and has taken an anti-union stance in a number of countries where it operates. Its environmental record has also been severely criticised.


Full texts of the Congress decisions are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish on the Web at

The special Congress Web pages also include key speeches by new ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs and outgoing General Secretary Vic Thorpe, together with a wealth of Congress background information and relevant links.

Visit ICEM on the Web at

ICEM avenue Emile de Beco 109, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium. tel.+32.2.6262020 fax +32.2.6484316 Internet:

Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer

Publisher: Fred Higgs, General Secretary.

UE is affiliated with the ICEM

UE News - 11/99

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