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IUF general secretary Ron Oswald: “We need a new international order where politics steers the economy”

11 February 2009 News
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photoExtracted from IUF Latin American regional website: On occasion of the meetings of the IUF Administrative Committee and the Latin American Executive Committee, held recently at the facilities of the UTGHRA SASSO Hotel in the city of Mar del Plata, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald summarized for SIREL the key points of his analysis of the current situation.

-What are the threats and opportunities that the financial crisis poses for unions?

-The meltdown of the international financial system and its consequences for the economy will put thousands and thousands of workers, many of them IUF members, in a dire situation. In that sense, it’s very hard to talk of opportunities. But it is also clear that as a result of this crisis there is greater acceptance that this system cannot go on operating as it has until now. Deregulation is being criticized more strongly than it has for decades, and the free market has been completely discredited as the basis for the workings of the economy and, therefore, of the world.

We have an opportunity to change the neoliberal system that has governed the world in recent times, a system where the economy dictates what politicians can and cannot do.

What we do have is an opportunity to change the neoliberal system that has governed the world in recent times, a system where the economy dictates what politicians can and cannot do. There is now a fairly widespread willingness to accept the idea that politics must regain their capacity to steer the economy. So when we talk of opportunities we’re referring to political opportunities, in a world in which in the wake of capitalism’s control over everything to the detriment of many, the international institutions must now focus on regulating capital, instead of deregulating the economy.

-Is anything being done in that sense?

-What we’ve seen to date are national efforts in different countries around the world aimed at imposing a political control over the free market. Many governments are intervening directly to take control of the banking system, even if they then aren’t able to actually exercise the power they have. The British government, for example, has intervened the banking system, but instead of giving clear directions, it limits itself to suggesting or requesting that certain actions be taken.

We need an intervention but on a global scale; the international institutions must act as the market’s regulators in order for a sustainable global economy to be created, something we are sorely lacking at present.

-When you say international institutions, what institutions are you referring to?

-I’m referring to the Bretton Woods institutions.1 Sixty years have passed since Bretton Woods and we now have a different global economy. We must ask ourselves if the world isn’t then in need of new, more democratic institutions.
The spread of poverty and destitution throughout the world is a much bigger problem for the security of the planet than any of the other issues the Security Council pays such keen attention to.

-Could you give an example?

-I’m thinking of the UN ECOSOC2 but with real power, with the actual political capacity to impose a sustainable economy, something like the UN Security Council, which is often assigned the responsibility of imposing the peace. The spread of poverty and destitution throughout the world is a much bigger problem for the security of the planet than any of the other issues the Security Council pays such keen attention to. Poverty is the worst security problem faced by the planet.

<-How is the IUF positioned to face the current situation?

-I think the IUF has two tasks before it. First, we must work with our members to protect them as best as we can against the effects of this financial disintegration. We are sometimes told that there is a “financial economy” and a “real economy.” This is an illusion. There’s only one economy. The financial manipulation of corporations and companies makes it possible to separate financial matters from real economy matters. But there’s only one economy, and it’s global, which is why we must join together to protect ourselves.

We are facing transnational corporations that are probably under strain because of the crisis, but which will also try to take advantage of the fear spread by the crisis to impose changes they’ve been intending to make for a long time, in particular with respect to employment. Our second task will be to join others in rising up and mobilizing together to call for changes in the foundations on which the rules that regulate the economy rest. This is something that is being demanded like never before. We must move quickly, because this clamoring for change may not last long, as capital is not standing still, it’s restructuring, and it’s possible that before long everyone will be back to believing that free trade and the free market are the solution to everything, when we really must put politics where it’s supposed to be: steering the economy.

We are facing transnational corporations that are probably under strain because of the crisis, but which will also try to take advantage of the fear spread by the crisis to impose changes they’ve been intending to make for a long time, in particular with respect to employment.

We have to join a broad movement aimed at attaining radical and fundamental changes in the international institutions, so that they will adapt to the objectives of controlling and regulating today’s world economy.