THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Sharan Burrow Headshot

Corporate Power Must Be Tamed

Posted: Updated:

Seven years into an economic crisis that was born in America, but has left structural damage to the global economy and the global workforce, more than one in two working families in 14 countries that constitute half the world's population cannot keep up with the rising cost of living.

Global growth will barely be above three percent this year and unemployment is set to rise again.

Historic levels of unemployment that are already surpassing 200 million underpin a new risk as we face the very real possibility that these numbers are actually structural unemployment.

Many European governments talk of large unemployment numbers as a "new normal." It should come as no surprise therefore that 68 percent of citizens in the ITUC Global Poll 2014 think governments are doing a bad job at tackling unemployment.

There is little recognition that this complacency from governments is about abandoning ambitions for full employment and building cumulative marginalization of both young people entering the jobs market and women and migrant workers with barely a foot in the formal economy today.

Then there is the desperation of the informal sector with no rules, no social protection and no minimum wages -- this is 40 percent of the global workforce and growing.

This complacency by governments who are cowed by big business and big finance means a cocktail of increasing inequality, joblessness and informality with little or no change in the volatility of the financial sector as serious financial regulation gets pushed into the medium term at best.

As the global labor movement meets in Berlin at the 3rd ITUC World Congress, we have some messages for entrenched business interests.

We will not abandon the next generation or their children. The dignity of work, decent work, is non-negotiable, and if governments can't or won't work to lift investment in infrastructure, the green economy and the care economy, then we will put our democracies to work and stand with our communities to change the economic model.

This has to be in the interests of sensible business when our global polling shows that one in two people have direct or family experience with unemployment and 82 percent of people say their wages have fallen behind the cost of living or remained stagnant.

And when nearly half of the world's population think it is unlikely that their children will find a decent job, this is not optimistic for cohesive communities or demand as the lifeblood of growth.

It has been extraordinary to see the governments in crisis countries go to war on their own workers -- collective bargaining slashed, wages attacked, jobs lost and severance pay and social protection eroded.

Despite the injustice of this, the total sum of the economy shrunk by these measures has had global impact and growth declined in in BRICS countries last year.

Is it any wonder that 78 percent of people think the economic system favors the wealthy?

The trust in government all over the world has eroded. People know that governments are increasingly in the grip of corporate power.

When we see the global footprint of the American Chamber of Commerce -- they are everywhere peddling the impoverished demands of the anti-union American corporate model.

Moldova is probably the poorest nation in Europe, but the American Chamber is there and threatened capital flight if the government introduced a minimum wage.

Their members refused join the global accord with IndustriALL and UNI in Bangladesh after the tragedy of Rana Plaza.

And in the slave state of Qatar, they support the unspeakable actions of a government and blame workers themselves for the extraordinary number of worker deaths. These are workers who are forced to live in squalor, with poor food and who work long hours in extreme heat in a police state -- workers who are trapped in Qatar.

And now with trade agreements like the TPP, we are at risk of seeing the insidious investor state dispute mechanisms -- ISDS -- which allow corporations to sue government for so-called lost profit if they change regulation, improve workers' rights, if they protect and advance quality public services, if they protect the environment -- if they simply govern in the interest of their people.

I recently heard America's Goldman Sachs say American democracy was the "best money can buy". If you look at the amount of investment in the financial lobby at the European level and the influence of the global footprint of the American corporate model, the danger of the "corporate parliament" is spreading.

The world has to change, power needs to re-balanced and unions plan to give this a nudge on three major fronts.

We will see slavery ended. Slave states like Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world, cannot suck business and governments into their vortex with the mighty dollar such that they collectively remain silent about workers enslaved for the benefit of the rich.

We cannot sit back and watch workers in countries like Cambodia shot and jailed by government decree with support of local governments for striking to gain a minimum living wage of just $160 a month. Similarly, in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other countries, we cannot accept poverty wages in the supply chains of global corporations. For a few cents extra on garments or a few dollars extra on electronics all workers could earn a minimum wage on which they can live with dignity. We aim to see just that.

And there are no jobs on a dead planet. If our governments won't accept their responsibility to negotiate a treaty that will stabilise the climate, we will mobilise. The science is clear and we are out of time. We need to see industrial transformation now with a reduction in admissions and universal access to breakthrough technologies.

We need to see a just transition with necessary finance to support vulnerable nations and vulnerable communities.

There are jobs in climate justice, jobs for our children and grandchildren. Responsible business: it is time to step up -- because the profit takers in your midst are putting your sustainability and ours at risk.

The ITUC represents the largest global democratic community, and workers and their families expect better. We expect better of governments, and we oppose the corporate bullies that are driving inequality in their own interests.

We are the voice of opposition, and we are the voice of progress. We share a common set of values that are founded in peace, democracy, rights, sustainability and social justice.

We are committed to building the power of workers to see these values centre stage.