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Unions warn global recession driven by the greed of corporations and so-called “great powers” will push millions of workers into poverty

news 11 Aug 2022

An international meeting convened by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) hosted by the Vatican has called on political, economic and business leaders to pull the world back from the brink of recession. Instead of concentrating solely on profit, they should work with civil society, faith groups, international organisations and good governments to build a sustainable global economy. This should be based on social justice and the right to decent work based on universal labour standards for all people.

The delegation included leaders from transport unions in Australia, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Pope’s home country of Argentina.

The meeting discussed the impact of the global pandemic on transport workers, provided real-world experiences for the Church’s teachings and promoted a common understanding about some of the challenges facing working people.

There are a number of areas that urgently need to be addressed:

  • The impact of climate change on transport workers and the need for worker involvement in decisions to ensure a just transition, particularly in countries in the Global South.
  • The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and, in particular, the shortage of experienced workers that has resulted.
  • The end of armed conflicts that continue to cause death and displacement on a massive scale.
  • The threat of world-wide recession, a consequence of the other crises.

Priorities also include making progress on the eradication of human trafficking and modern slavery. These are issues that have a daily impact on frontline transport workers. Improving the health and safety of transport workers is also vital. 

Inequality and a fractured world

Workers responded to the global pandemic with the greatest act of global solidarity the world has seen, as people gave up civil freedoms and transport workers kept the world moving and essential goods running to save lives.

We now have a convergence of global crises: the climate emergency, national and international wars and a potential third world war, a cost-of-living crisis, and a crisis of inequality born of corporate greed and hunger. The current model of globalisation is failing transport workers and their communities.

Profits are soaring as inflation rises, whether through Covid-19 or the war in Europe – energy companies, e-commerce companies, shipping giants are making record profits. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few is increasing year by year, while people lose trust in democracy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the richest 10% of the global population owns 82% of global wealth.

Global GDP has trebled since 1980, yet labour income share has declined, and we have historic levels of unemployment with inequality and rising poverty, now recognised as a global risk.

The resources already exist to fix many of these problems. Safe secure jobs with decent wages and union rights are the pathway to reduce inequality and heal a fractured world. We must redouble our efforts to combat inequality and poverty, to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, and to strengthen health systems to ensure universal access to healthcare. 

The dignity of work is as central to our lives today as it has always been, and trade union rights are critical in building prosperity, equality and justice for all. And the core values of trade unions – peace, democracy, democratic rights and freedoms have always underpinned our commitment to full employment and labour rights.

Our union affiliates see the benefits of strength in solidarity among transport workers. This is foundation on which to shape changes in technology, climate justice, in fighting human trafficking and corruption, and holding companies to account for the treatment of workers in their global supply chains. 

End corporate greed through supply chain accountability

Global markets are failing society and the model of global capitalism needs to be fundamentally rethought. Companies and governments must take responsibility for what is happening in their supply chains and make root and branch improvements to investment practices and corporate governance. The existing system promotes human suffering, and that must end.

The ITF is developing the infrastructure to become the world’s authority on supply chain accountability. Workers and their unions are on the frontlines of re-designing the corporate model of global supply chains and putting the spotlight on those companies found to abuse workers’ rights.

With a trillion dollars of deferred wages under union managed pension funds, we will use our role as stakeholders and investors to shift capital to act in support of a sustainable future for workers. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles must sit at the heart of capital investments.

We must continue to champion our democratic values, tackling corporate greed and supporting the role of young workers in driving change. 

Decarbonise industries with sustainable transport

Transport represents 25% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, 15% of all emissions, and is the fasted growing emissions sector with emissions set to double by 2050.

Since aircraft, as currently built, are the most polluting means of transport, national and private airlines need to upgrade their fleets so that they use fuel that pollutes less; if necessary, the rich states need to help airlines to that end.

We are in a race against time to stabilise the planet and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Social and economic justice must go hand-in-hand with technological advances, so that we emerge with a better world for everyone and not just another crisis averted.

The transport sector requires investment of USD $32 trillion by 2050 to decarbonise. In responding to this crisis, transport unions demand that workers have a say as businesses and governments transition to a zero-carbon future. We must ensure that we see a just transition to a carbon-neutral world, particularly in the Global South.

This must also include the voices of young workers, and the bolstering of youth employment given the unequivocal, systemic and disproportionate impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on young people. 

Progress for women has stalled

Work is still needed from unions, businesses and regulators in creating a gender-equal society. The gap between women and men in pay and access to education and health care will take 100 years to close. Progress cannot take this long.

Women are still under-represented in the transport sector and are more likely to have the lowest-paid and most precarious jobs. We’re holding employers to account, but a collective focus on this issue remains essential. 

There can be no peace without social justice

With wars in South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, and continuing armed conflicts in other states, people are suffering on a massive scale and one person is forcibly displaced every three seconds. These conflicts cast a shadow over all our thoughts, but the bravery and tenacity of transport workers who continue to risk their lives to get vital supplies into these countries must be applauded.

If we don’t build a shared and sustainable future and protect and preserve the rights and opportunities for future generations, we fail to uphold our values.

The continuing persecution of trade unionists under anti-union legislation must be combatted. We must stop the erosion of fundamental trade union rights including the rights to freely associate and collectively bargain.

According to Pope Francis, we must free ourselves of the ideological neo-colonialism that does not recognise the dignity of human beings as people composed of a body and a spiritual soul with the potential for transcendence and that seeks to convert all humans into production robots for the benefit of the great powers of the day.

Together with all of our allies, unions will organise for rights and social justice. We will act together in solidarity. We will leave no one behind.