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ITF president takes fight for justice and equity to the Vatican

04 Mar 2019
ITF president Paddy Crumlin's address to the Transport Union and Manufacturers Summit at Casina Pio IV, Vatican City.

Thank you for that very important and moving introduction Monsignor.

I know we’ve got a few people coming, we wouldn’t want them to miss anything important, the news is out that the ITF is in town. People are flooding in through the doors of the historic Vatican.

As my father, a Roman Catholic said, “I didn’t think that you were ever going to make anything of yourself son, and now you’re in the Vatican.”

So welcome everyone, brothers and sisters, comrades and ladies and gentlemen. I’m Paddy Crumlin, the president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and we represent approximately 20 million transport workers worldwide in every area of the supply chain and transport generally whether it be shipping, stevedoring, aviation, road, rail, urban transport, fisheries that you have referred to Monsignor, and tourism. So we are part of the lifeblood, or if you like the muscle and skin of the international workforce. We connect all of the industries whether they be mining, manufacturing, retail, and in an increasingly global world we’re the arteries of productivity, of the growth in wealth, of redistribution of goods for better and more complete, dignified lives. We are essential to the nature of international trade in a world where the population is exponentially increasing. 

So it is a timely invitation Monsignor from you and the Vatican, and no doubt, can I say this, your boss, the Pope. The big boss, well he’s not the big boss, but he’s the big boss on earth. 

This is the time for reconciliation and consideration, and it is wonderful that the Catholic Church and particularly the leadership of the Church is not shying from their moral, intellectual, spiritual and ethical responsibilities and are prepared to challenge all of the shareholders in this physical world of ours to work in a more functional, complete and morally acceptable fashion.

And the ITF take up that challenge. We are not a political institution, even though we may have politics. We are representative of a cooperative of workers in those industries and workers more generally. 

We believe, as your church does and you do Monsignor clearly, that there has to be balance between the acquisition of material wealth and its redistribution along morally acceptable grounds or otherwise the world of 8 billion people we become increasingly dysfunctional and polarised by many of the issues that divide us whether they be gender, age, race or any of the differences that may have. In fact as Pope Francis has identified, it is a time of great dysfunction and war. The great wealth that has been generated isn’t responsive to the need to resolve conflicts in the Middle East or conflicts in areas of Africa. Great poverty and dislocation with the tremendous stream of displaced persons in failed economies and failed political systems.

So we have a larger responsibility and we feel it acutely as the trade union movement to represent those workers, not only in our unions, but all of the those workers that are facing the tremendous challenges that the modern world serves up. We can only do it in partnership, and we welcome the hand of brotherhood and sisterhood that the church and the Vatican has extended us.

See it is an incredible world where seven or eight or ten individuals control the wealth of 3.5 billion individuals. It is an extraordinary point in the development in the human race and our drive towards a civilised, functional and caring society: to have values where that polarisation of wealth, is not only acceptable but is aspired to.

We are challenging, as you have indicated, the institutions of politics that allow this to happen and we’re also challenging our own internal bureaucracies so that we can be more effective for working men and women in being able to meet the tremendous challenges of the modern world.

It is very important that we challenge capital and corporation, multinational corporations, that believe that because they are not part of a national regulatory regime specifically, they the right, and in fact take the opportunity, to avoid self-regulation and a willingness to act in line with the true values of the communities in which they service.

And there are many examples. The global financial crisis, the sort of crisis in capitalism where greed, misrepresentation, chronic failures of banks. In fact there has been a Royal Commission in Australia that has been horrifying, one of the wealthiest countries in the world where banks have been acting corruptly and criminally for many years in a way that average Australian could never countenance.

And the global financial crisis, and some of the regulatory framework put in there such Basel and the American legislation sought to regulate banks in a way where they were not exploitative or speculative but they were the provision of material development of lives whether it be housing, health, so that people would have some sustenance and stability in their lives. In fact, the GFC implicated the that banks, and increasingly multinationals, don’t operate with sense of moral regard or a sense of even philanthropy, they operate purely for short-term gain and that is signified by a willingness to almost do anything to have that gain.

Now that has been exposed in many, many ways. It is up to us in our communities to continue to work within that framework and it is difficult. Part of the collapse, the moral collapse, within the international political framework is that working men and women and their families no longer have faith in their political institutions to protect themselves from that greed. The slavery that you referred to, the child slavery and child abuse and the many abuses that you renumerated Monsignor.

And the politicians either haven’t got the capacity or willingness to challenge some of these mighty economic and institutional powers in way that they can discharge their responsibility to their electorates. So increasingly we’re seeing the failure of political institutions, and I want use any particular country because I can see many of my colleagues and people in the room nodding that this is a chronic collective failure.

From that point of view, the role of the church, the role of the NGOs, the role of collectivism and trade unionism, the role of those institutions and cooperatives whose primary purpose is for redistribution, social equity, a willingness to provide a material world that is for the many and just not the few that have the courage to stand up to political and corporate elitism, it is a time for great courage Monsignor, it is a time for great vision, for great collective activity. 

And again the fact that you have invited us into this place of great history and spiritually, something that none of us certainly not myself, just a dyslexic able seafarer and docker, could have ever aspired to. And to be sitting this place of great history and authority is indicative that it is a world that is changing and that it is a world that can be reclaimed.

I’ll finish on one particular example in Australia. There’s a company called BHP that was developed by Australian working men and women in the far outback where Australians have a surfeit of iron ore. 100 years ago, we created industries that build steel and build manufacturing. And through the endeavours of both working men and women in sometimes dire physical environments, we created a company not only of wealth and substance, but a company that’s secured and worked for the Australian community in the great vision that those working men and women and that company had in nation building. And not just nation building, it encapsulated many of the values of the church, many of the finest community values, many of the democratic values, and it became a larger and larger company.

In recent years, it has become so large that it has merged into a multinational with Billiton in South Africa. It is registered in three countries. It has moved on from its national identity and has sought to create wealth all over the world.

Significantly, those moral attributes particularly now articulated through environmental, social and governance principles, a commitment to an environment that can sustain this enormous population of human beings that you referred to, a social responsibility to workers and working families that there is a redistribution of wealth that’s both fair and doesn’t undermine the company’s productivity but creates better lives for all, not just in Australia and around the world, and a governance, because they’re public companies, many owned by working men and women and their pension funds as we discussed – in Canada, in North America, in Australia, in the Netherlands, throughout Europe – where workers have set aside their deferred wages against poverty and dislocation in their most vulnerable elderly years.

Much of that money is being directly towards the privatisation of assets. There’s nothing wrong with privatisation per se, but if privatisation is the selling of a public asset and then once it is sold it is sold back to the people that originally owned it, all it is is a form of political and corporate corruption.

Some of it has also been about avoiding tax. If you are a multinational with the size of their budgets, they are able to avoid their responsibilities to the community. They have no feeling for those communities, it is no longer an Australian company or an American company. So they’re happy to go to Mossack Fonseca, they’re happy to use external mechanisms to avoid tax and indeed this company has done that.

When you think about Brazil and some of the tremendous difficulties in South America, these companies have been responsible for the failing of those iron ore dams: Vale and BHP. Vale has been also now in the middle of another drama with their recent collapse.

See this is lack of governance. These are Boards of Directors that are not in contact with social responsibility for health and safety. Tens if not hundreds of people have been killed. Many indigenous communities will never recover.

Certainly we can have a class action against this kind of multinationalism but as was shown with Chevron they’ll spend $10 or $15 billion to defend a class action because if they are held accountable they are then going to be held accountable again and again and again.  And many of these small communities, and workers, and trade unions haven’t got the material capacity to win those legal fights.

They have ensured in their dealings with the current Australian Government that Australian seafarers shipping their iron ore in the Australian domestic industry have been sacked and replaced by international workers on greatly reduced wages.

We don’t often hear the truth, that’s part of the problem. Fake news, lies, distortions of the tremendous challenges and who is accountable for it are pervasive. News Limited, for example, aren’t just a newspaper, they are corporation in their own right and it serves them well to put in misinformation and distortions that not only pursues their political agenda but also pursues their corporate agenda. A company owned by yet another billionaire and another billionaire family.

I’ll finish on that Monsignor. It is wonderful to be here on behalf of the 20 million ITF workers and our aspirations and belief that is we work together we make a better world. 

Thank you for this opportunity and we look forward to working with you and talking with you not only in the next two days but for many weeks and months and years to come. Thank you.

The Transport Union And Manufacturers Summit was co-hosted by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and the Chancellor Of The Pontificial Academy Of Sciences (PAS) on the 4-5 March 2019.

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