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Congress begins

We'll try to keep a live blog going here, reporting on what is happening as the 25th IUF Congress gets going. There's a slight delay in getting started.

On the platform are a number of speakers, including Paul Andela, IUF President, Andreas Rieger, Co-President of UNIA (IUF Swiss affiliate), Charles Beer (President du Conseil d'Etat, Geneva) and Fred van Leeuwen, chair of the Global Union Council and general secretary of the Education International.

Delegates are watching a video of a stirring performance of 'Solidarity Forever' from Cosatu in South Africa.

Paul Andela is welcoming guests, including two former IUF presidents and general secretaries -- which was greeted with applause.

He is now speaking about the first IUF congress in 1920, and the changes they confronted back then. He talks about some of the new concerns facing the IUF today, such as private equity. Essentially the same issues now as then. We need a trade union response -- and this is the point of the congress slogan, 'Power through organizing'.

He is discussing the issues congress will address over the next few days -- workers rights, defending employment, etc.

Andreas Rieger is now welcoming delegates to Switzerland, and is discussing the stereotypical views of this country -- but mentions poverty, social exclusion and unemployment as well. A huge gap is growing between rich and poor. Poverty wages -- defined as lower than 60% of an average wage -- strongly affect the IUF sectors, and particularly affect women. UNIA has been carrying out a major public campaign about poverty wages in Switzerland. Organizing workers is a difficult task. Many of the workers are migrant workers, many leave after only a few months here. International cooperation is becoming more and more important. More and more of the employers are transnational companies. Globalization ensures that we are all facing similar problems.

Fred van Leeuwen is now greeting on behalf of the Global Unions Council, which unites global union federations such as the IUF. He has pointed out that we are meeting in a city filled with international institutions (Red Cross, UNHCR, etc.) but says that global institutions are not enough -- we need a reinvigorated international trade union movement in the 21st century. Solidarity may seem old-fashioned to some, but is needed more than ever. Unions must lead the fight for social justice and against poverty, which is now a global struggle. A final task for unions is the building of democracy through creating free and independent unions everywhere.

Charles Beer from the city of Geneva is now welcoming delegates. He is discussing the dominant role of transnational corporations and the role of unions as a countervailing power to those corporations. He is commending the IUF for its more than 8 decades of work.

Congress has adjourned for a half hour.