Oct 28, 2021 Letters
The problems of the unprotected workers are well-known to all of us. Today, as we speak, thousands of people have been affected; no industry, no gender, no race is immune from this industrial plague of the 21st century. The increasing use of outsourcing and temporary work has increased the nature of this unstable form of employment. Some governments and international institutions look to encourage these unregulated jobs as a way of creating more employment.
There is nothing new about workers being forced to work in dangerous and insecure conditions. This is not an industry – in so many instances, this is unregulated exploitation of workers. Some will tell you that work in this category represents no more than a structural evolution of labour market realities. However, in many countries, like Guyana, this so-called reality means an all-out attack on the social fabric of communities, workers, and their families. We all know that the struggle to represent and protect workers has always been a difficult one. But the real challenge of our time is to find an adequate response for those workers trapped in what is defined as unprotected work.
As trade unions, we say, whenever work is performed – formal or informal – both trade unions and the states have a role to play. The states must provide legal protection and trade unions should deliver the collective bargaining. Yes, we understand that work is a survival strategy for workers, who cannot find work in property-protected, secure employment. No worker wants to work in unprotected sectors of any economy. But as trade unions, we cannot accept that any worker should be outside basic social protection.
As trade unions, we believe that any worker working in the oil and gas industry is a worker. And, as trade unions, we have a responsibility to offer solutions to their problems. We can start by looking at our structures and our organising strategies to see: How we can support workers in unprotected jobs to ensure that governments extend proper social protection to them. We have the responsibility to see how these workers can be organised, so that they can fight for basic employment rights, without undermining the terms and conditions of organised workers.
For us, as trade unions, it is, without a doubt, the organising challenge of our time. No one suggests that it is an easy task, but it must be done. In our response, we must be prepared to work with community organisations – formal and informal. Community organisations are not the problem. We must make them part of the solution.
We are here to look and listen, and we must learn from them. We must develop new organisational approaches that recognise the realities of workers’ lives, and which involve the workers themselves in the solutions. We have to reach out to these new groups of workers because, as work itself becomes more and more casual and informal, more unprotected, the future of the trade union movement itself may very well come to depend on our capacity to meet this enormous demand. That the only way to stop exploitation and secure social justice for workers is to fight back. But, first, we must identify the real enemy against whom we have to fight back.
If globalising, organising solidarity means anything, it must mean practical engagement. Building a constituency for practical change to fight back…building international solidarity. So, in our response, we must help the victims to fight back. Sharing the struggles of exploited workers and feeling their pain. Educating our members, our families, and communities to understand the need for sacrifices. Radicalise their politics and challenge the status quo.
If you fight back, you will not win them all, but, if you don’t fight back, you will surely lose them all.
What is now required is real leadership. Go back to your workplaces; Go back to your communities, go back to your governments and, the cause of globalising, organising solidarity; start fighting back.
General President, CCWU
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