Full texts of the Congress
decisions are available in English, French, German, Spanish and
Swedish on the Web at www.icem.org
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
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
Main Congress decisions:
GLOBAL TRADE UNIONISM
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
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
UNION-BUILDING AND DEVELOPMENT WORK
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
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
The ICEM will cooperate "with other friendly
international trade union organizations on projects where it makes sense to do
IN ICEM INDUSTRIES
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
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
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
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
Small-scale mining employs more than 13 million people and is
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.
ICEM REGIONAL STRUCTURES
The ICEM will "intensify its activity toward
establishment of clear and distinct regional structures in all of its
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 www.icem.org
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
Visit ICEM on the Web at http://www.icem.org
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Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer
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