THE BLOG
10/24/2016 10:39 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2017

Making It Happen: Trade Union Movement Backs A World Without Nuclear Weapons

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UNI Global Union and its 20 million members in 150 countries welcome the discussions taking place on the draft UN General Assembly resolution to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. We call on governments to get behind this resolution because we can imagine a world without nuclear weapons and believe in making it happen.

Trade unions and the global labour movement remain one of the largest and strongest voices for peace and democracy on the planet. Only last year the UGTT -- the Tunisian trade union centre -- was awarded a share in the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in promoting democracy and negotiating a new Constitution in the wake of the Tunisian Spring. There are many more trade unions whose work in promoting social justice around the world may not be as well recognised but is certainly equally as important.

At UNI Global Union, our members adopted resolutions on peace at two world congresses in Nagasaki (2010) and Cape Town (2014), that called for a world free from weapons of mass destruction, a regulation of the arms trade and a reduction in military spending. We support and are members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and have a long-time partnership with the International Peace Bureau whose recent world congress in Berlin I addressed. To date we are the first and only global union to organise a world congress in Nagasaki where we took two thousand trade unionists onto the streets to campaign for a world free from nuclear weapons.

Peace and democracy have always been core values of the labour movement. From the Middle East peace process and the end of apartheid in South Africa to the Northern Ireland, Nepal and Colombia peace agreements, we know only too well that true change can often come about through the actions of working people. Trade unions have been there to assist in these struggles and many more.

The ILO itself was founded as part of the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War in the belief that universal and lasting peace could only ever be achieved if it was truly based on social justice, and this underlines the work we do at UNI Global Union. We call it the "economics of peace". We see today's levels of income inequality as a threat to peace. History tells us that when inequality and economic isolation rise conflict follows. That could be a war, it could be acts of terror, and it could be a political conflict such as BREXIT. Or it could simply be turning people against their own neighbours. In times of crisis irresponsible populist figures aim to create division and racism through xenophobia and nationalism. And that is why today we are witnessing the rise of divisive and dangerous figures such as Donald Trump and his politics of fear and hatred.

We are outspoken in condemning acts of terror and the legitimate security concerns of the population, they have the right to demand protection so that they can live in peace. Equally, governments have a duty to provide that protection. This represents a dilemma for all of us who advocate peace.

Can we live together in peace? Yes. We have to believe it is possible. Mankind has shown its ability to live in peace, to find dignity in peace, to bury past hatreds, to forgive. It is 70 years since Winston Churchill made his speech in Zurich calling for a United States of Europe, referring of the need for "a blessed act of oblivion" or forgiveness. Churchill said, "We must all turn our backs on the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We cannot afford to drag forward across the years that are to come the hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past."

To create a more peaceful world we must look at the economic divides and we have to find a fairer distribution of the wealth on the planet. The fact that the richest 62 people share as much wealth as half of the world's population is clearly unsustainable. We cannot accept the economic violence of inequality that pervades every aspect of society. It is the poorest who are paying the price for the mistakes of the rich in terms of climate change, modern-day slavery and austerity. By affording everyone a living wage or social protection, human rights, a vote - in other words by evening up the world - we can move towards a more peaceful world. Limiting arms spending can be an important part of this process.

It's clear -- the world is safer with fewer nuclear weapons on high alert. Especially if the likes of Donald Trump are the people holding the launch codes. Furthermore, that money could be far better spent on climate change mitigation, public services, social justice and decent work to name a few things. We need urgent negotiations to ban the use, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of nuclear weapons as a first step towards their complete eradication. The recent deal with Iran shows the power of negotiation as does the success; more than a 100 states have signed up to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Change is possible that should drive the discussions at the UN in October.

Of course there are hundreds of thousands of jobs associated with the arms industry and we would lack credibility unless we give an alternative perspective on how to transform from one industry to another; it is a matter of providing a just transition for those working people. Jobs will be lost if governments do commit to widespread disarmament programmes but they can be recreated elsewhere when we allocate those funds to new causes in our changing economies. Climate change means we must refit our entire economies with green technology - this could create millions of new jobs. Much like with the increasing automation of the workplace we need to understand how we can help workers adapt, to mitigate against the worst affects and to provide a fair and just transition to new forms of work.

Trade unions are democratic institutions; we are the voice of democracy and engagement. You may not always agree with us but do not underestimate our passion for peace, it is in our DNA. We are bound by strong values and everyone has an opportunity to make their case. In the end we vote as a majority and we stand by the decisions we take as a whole. These are passionate matters when we are talking about people's livelihoods and the security of their families.