WORKER RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
WHEREAS, one of the most difficult challenges facing the world's working men and women in the 21st century is the expansion of the global economy and the impact globalization has on economic stability, the equitable distribution of income, the preservation of public services and democratic control of public policy. While it is important to not dismiss the potential benefits of globalization, we must not fail to recognize and address the serious problems that globalization creates for working men and women, trade unions and the institutions of democratic governance in the United States and worldwide; and
WHEREAS, one of the most striking developments over the last several decades is the growing and pervasive influence of global institutions that seem unresponsive to the interests of ordinary citizens and civil society groups like trade unions. When the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor to the World Trade Organization, were established after World War II, the global economy was much smaller and the challenges more limited than today, the post-Cold War era. Increasingly, these institutions have taken on roles that were never envisioned by the founders, including the role of directly or indirectly establishing economic priorities and domestic policies in countries that are undergoing economic and political transitions; and
WHEREAS, with the growth of world trade and the enormous increase in the number of independent nations, the WTO has evolved into a powerful international body that can directly or indirectly influence the trade policy and even the foreign policy of sovereign nations throughout the world; and
Increasingly, government policies, regulations and public institutions that were forged in protracted labor and civil rights battles in the United States and similar battles in other nations are being threatened in the name of creating a level playing field for foreign corporations and international trade. Both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay Round trade accord, which led to the creation of the World Trade Organization, contain provisions that require U.S. state and local governments to comply with a new set of continental and global trade edicts. For example, state and local governments must adjust their procurement practices so they do not discriminate against foreign suppliers; and
Similar trade rules aimed at opening access to U.S. and world markets for education, health care and public services are presently being negotiated under the General Agreement of Trade in Services (GATS), the only element to survive the WTO Seattle meetings in November 1999. As GATS negotiations are expanded to include distance education, a wider range of health care and public services, and, potentially, primary and secondary education, teachers and other AFT members in the United States and affiliates of Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI) around the world will be increasingly affected by trade rules decided and administrated outside the borders of the U.S. and other nations; and
The World Bank and IMF have also undergone major changes in recent years, especially following the serious debt crisis of developing countries in the 1980s and the collapse of communism in 1989. While there is no question of the need for economic reform in many of the nations of the former Soviet Union and in the developing nations of Asia, Latin America and Africa, the world community must address the lack of democratic procedures in making important public policy decisions that have profound implications for workers, trade unions and ordinary citizens in nations where democracy is just gaining a foothold. It also is necessary to take into account the societal impact of economic reform that causes unemployment or other economic dislocations in countries that have inadequate or no social safety nets; and
As a result of growing economic integration and related economic instability, more and more countries, rich and poor, are forced to rely on the decisions and policies of these global institutions. In view of the power they have to affect public policy and the lives of citizens in more than 180 nations, the World Bank, IMF and the WTO need better mechanisms for openness, transparency, accountability and democratic participation; and
With few exceptions, World Bank and IMF economic reform programs require borrowing nations to privatize public services, deregulate industries and to introduce labor market flexibility and free trade policies. These policies, which are negotiated as conditions for financial assistance, have devastating consequences for workers and their families, trade unions and other democratic institutions. Frequently, as a result of these policies, budgets for education, health care and public services are sharply cut, and privatization and labor market policies are implemented without regard to democratic procedures, collective bargaining agreements, labor laws and the rights of workers. Environmental regulations and social and economic policies are routinely bypassed or eliminated in efforts to create an attractive environment for foreign direct investment; and
Additionally, unmanaged global trade combined with free-market policies have sharply increased unemployment and the number of workers in sweatshops and export-processing zones, as well as the number of children forced to labor under the most dehumanizing conditions to compensate for smaller family incomes; and
Finally, global market forces, increased competition and highly mobile foreign capital can adversely influence trade union membership and union bargaining power in the U.S. and worldwide. The freedom of association, the right to organize and to bargain collectively and other international labor standards are not only ignored by multinational companies, governments and international financial and trade institutions but also are characterized as "impediments" to free trade and as obstacles to attracting foreign investment to low-wage countries.
AFT National Priorities
The AFT has a long history of supporting democratic governance, workers' rights and free trade unions throughout the world, as well as a strong interest in supporting the work of the AFL-CIO, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Education International (EI) and Public Services International (PSI) in defending the rights of teachers, public sector employees and private sector workers throughout the world:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers:
- Continue to monitor the impact of globalization on education, health care and public services, as well as the impact on workers and trade unions in these sectors.
- Provide information and education on globalization to AFT affiliates and members and assist them to participate in legislative and other campaigns to combat violations of workers' rights, democracy and other adverse affects of globalization; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT cooperate with the AFL-CIO and its allies in calling on the U.S. government to address the following national priorities:
- Ensure that the U.S. government consistently and effectively demand the incorporation of enforceable workers' rights and environmental protections into the core of all new trade and investment agreements.
- Strengthen the workers' rights provisions in existing U.S. trade laws and enforce these provisions aggressively and unambiguously.
- Vigorously monitor and enforce existing trade agreements.
- Strengthen and make enforceable the labor and environmental side of agreements within NAFTA.
- Ensure that trade agreements and other international policies do not lead to the privatization of education, health care or other public services.
AFT International Priorities
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers cooperate with the AFL-CIO, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Education International, Public Services International and their allies in calling on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization to take concrete steps to:
- Carry out institutional reforms, enhancing transparency, accountability and access, so that citizens can understand the basis for decisions, as well as provide meaningful input through a democratic process.
- Review the impact of trade liberalization, structural adjustment and stabilization policies on income distribution, economic development and financial instability before launching major new negotiations and initiatives.
- Incorporate enforceable rules on core workers' rights (including the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and prohibitions on child labor, forced labor and discrimination in employment).
- Establish accession criteria requiring that new WTO members be in compliance with core workers' rights, human rights and democratic principles.
- Ensure that IMF and World Bank policies and WTO rules do not create pressure on governments to privatize education, health care or other public services.
Provide more technical and legal support to developing countries so their participation in negotiations with the WTO and international financial institutions is not hampered by lack of resources or technical expertise.