Latin America Staying the Course

12/17/2012 12:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 16, 2013

Latin America is a region on the rise. It's a region gaining momentum despite being buffered by the headwind of the financial crisis. What is essential is that the region is not knocked off course by the troubled global economy and the austerity culture blowing in from both the United States and Europe. Many of Latin America's governments, notably Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (a country where every worker has the right to be covered by a collective agreement) have made a deliberate attempt to shift people out of poverty and transfer wealth more equitably. They have said no to the Washington Consensus and the Neo-Liberalism of the 90s and replaced them with a respect for workers, a minimum wage and collective bargaining which promotes inclusion. Latin America is becoming an economic powerhouse with a growing middle class - according to the OECD there are now 275 million people classified as middle class in the region. Inequality may still be a barrier for women and young people seeking work in the region but it is at least on the fall.

The new jobs are being created in the service sector where around 90% of young people in work in Latin America have found employment. It is essential that we continue to build strong unions in the service sector as a pillar of democracy and to ensure governments deliver on their promise of inclusion. A strong trade union movement will help ensure the spread of collective bargaining in democratic regimes promoting the inclusion of working people who were excluded in past generations. The current generation has a steely will to succeed given the opportunities denied to their parents twenty years ago by a series of right-wing dictatorships that terrorized the people and held the wealth of the region to ransom.

The approach to collective bargaining is one of the growing divisions between the north and south in the Americas. The US, traditionally the "Land of the Free," has become the land of the down-trodden in part due to the unfettered power of Walmart in particular, and many multinationals, notably DHL and T-Mobile USA, in general. It is not only the individual workers who suffer, there is a knock on effect for the whole US and global economy. The race to the bottom in the US means that workers cannot afford to spend and growth remains stagnant. Other countries in the Americas outside of the US are denied a market for their goods because of the fall in demand. What type of economy would thrive if one family - the Waltons, founders of Walmart, own the equivalent wealth of the bottom 42% of the entire country? It's an unsustainable economy of greed and its brought the US close to its knees. On the other hand Brazil despite a recent slow down due to the knock on effect of the global crisis still has healthy public finances and is prepared to invest in its people and growth as seen by the $50 billion stimulus package introduced earlier this year. Latin America also has faith in itself as a socio-economic entity - the process of greater regional integration in Latin America and the Caribbean is under way. Workers' rights have to been integral to this changing landscape. Trade unions have an important role in encouraging governments to stick to a growth strategy in this brave new world and not be side tracked by the austerity mongers in the US and Europe who's methods led to the global crisis in the first place. The unions must be the wind in the sails of this positive momentum which may see Latin America out perform the United States twenty years from now if north and south remain on their current courses. That is why in UNI Americas we are beating the drum for our breaking through plan to grow unions - we aim to win.

Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union General Secretary and Adriana Rosenzvaig, UNI Americas Regional Secretary

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