International Labor Head Discusses Worker Solidarity

September 30, 2013

The problems and challenges of U.S. workers are tied to those of workers everywhere. This point was made clear by Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labor Organization, at a September. 27 address at Cornell University’s Labor Institute in Manhattan.

The ILO is a United Nations agency that promotes rights at work, encourages decent employment opportunities, enhances social protection and strengthens dialogue on work-related issues. Of the 193 UN member nations, 185 are members of the ILO. Each member state is represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, and a worker delegate.

In 1969, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving peace among classes, pursuing justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to developing nations.

In his wide-ranging address, Ryder outlined the major initiatives and priorities of the ILO in the coming period. They include measures to reduce poverty, promote equality for women workers, eliminate child labor and achieve environmental sustainability.

Of particular interest to U. S. unionists were Guy’s remarks on economic inequality. “Since the world economic crisis of 2008, 95 percent of the economic gain has gone to the those in top 10 percent,” Guy said.

This has been accompanief by the decline of unionized work. “There has been a rapid increase in the contingent workforce,” Guy stressed, adding that in many industrialized nations, contingent workers are the fastest growing segment of the workforce.

Guy spoke about the need for cooperation to help prevent workplace tragedies such as the more than 1,000 deaths earlier this year in a Bangladesh clothing factory. “We must follow the supply chain,” he said.

Guy also spoke about how the crisis in Europe has been used to weaken collective bargaining rights, citing Greece as an example and mentioning Detroit as our counterpart.

He placed the U.S. movement to organize domestic workers in the context of similar international efforts. Guy also stressed the importance of unions in the efforts against climate change.

“For the ILO, the notion of green jobs summarizes the transformation of economies, enterprises, workplaces and labor markets into a sustainable, low-carbon economy providing decent work,” said Guy. “But much needed innovative strategies to promote green jobs can only succeed with the full involvement and participation of workers and enterprises.”