Published: 22/05/2002

“Strong Unions – Safe Work – Good Food” was the slogan of the IUF’s 24th World Congress, held from May 14-17 in Geneva. The slogan emphasized the common elements in the diverse struggles which the IUF and its affiliates are engaged in, in all the IUF sectors and in all the countries where we and our affiliates are active. Underlying all these struggles is the IUF’s commitment to fundamental rights – the right of all to adequate and nutritious food, to livelihood protection, to safe food and a safe workplace, to trade union and political rights – and the need to defend, secure and expand these rights through continually building the IUF’s industrial and political strength.

Over 420 delegates and observers (74.9% men and 25.1% women) took part in the work of the Congress, which in four days adopted a series of important rules changes and policy decisions to guide the organization over the next five years.

Among the statutory changes decided upon by the Congress was a decision to amend the rules to permit representation on IUF governing bodies according to a thee-tiered system based on national income. These changes will permit unions in poor countries to have representation rights in the IUF which more closely reflect the economic reality in which they work, while assuring continuity, stability, and maximum effectiveness of the IUF structures at all levels.

Other changes included the formal integration of an IUF Women’s Committee into the IUF governing bodies and a new system of representation for the IUF’s sectoral Trade Groups in decision-making bodies.

The work of the Congress was effectively enhanced by the inclusion on the Congress agenda of three panel discussions, integrating IUF members and speakers from outside the organization. The first day’s discussion, entitled “Transnational companies: confrontation or negotiation – or both”, brought together Manuel Rodriguez, Vice-President of the Chiquita Banana Group, Bernard Housset, Social Projects Director for the Danone Group, and Jim Baker of the ICFTU’s Department on Multinational Enterprises. Panelists and delegates explored the IUF experience in negotiating framework agreements with TNCs, reviewed the areas where progress has been made, evaluated the difficulties and explored the future of negotiations at international level and the hard realities of local implementation.

On the second day of the Congress, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson opened the panel on “Globalization and Human Rights”. Robinson emphasized the unity of human rights, including social, cultural and political rights, and highlighted the dangers lurking in the real and potential limitations on rights in the post September 11 environment. Panelists Guy Ryder (ICFTU General Secretary), Ma Wei Pin (IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary, Gerard Greenfield (Hong Kong CTU), and Carol Pier (Human Rights Watch) spoke on trade union rights in today’s international context, political rights and Asia, trade and rights, and worker rights as human rights, respectively. Each of the speakers emphasized the fundamental unity of human rights and the relevance of human rights as a core value and absolute necessity for the trade union movement to fulfill its role as the guarantor of those rights in the world today. Far from being an abstract value, the fight for human rights underlies everything we do and continue to struggle for.

The third day’s panel on “Organising imperatives and the role of the IUF” had Diana Holland (UK Transport & General Workers’ Union) discussing the experience of organizing women workers, Aage Jensen (RBF Denmark) migrant and immigrant workers, Silvia Villaverde (Federation of Pastry, Confectionery and Pizza Workers, Argentina) young workers, and Jyoti Macwan (Self-Employed Women’s Association, India) on SEWA’s experience of organizing in the informal economy. The discussion highlighted the imperative need to identify directions for future union membership and growth and gave delegates and panelists the opportunity to share experiences and “best practice” for successful organizing in such areas.

Reports from the secretariat, from the IUF regions and trade (industrial) groups and from the delegates gave a solid basis for evaluating the IUF’s work over the past five years and in setting guidelines for both the deepening of existing policies, particularly in such critical areas as organizing in transnational companies, recruitment, and occupational health and safety and the adoption of new areas for strategic work. Among the many resolutions which will help determine IUF policy and activities over the next five years were resolutions on workplace and food safety, global trade and investment, land reform, genetically-modified organisms, immigrant and migrant workers, and campaigning for the right of unions to engage in international solidarity action. In the areas of human and trade union rights, strong resolutions were adopted on Belarus, Burma, China, government complicity in communal violence in Gujurat, India and Israel and Palestine.

Among the many Congress highlights were a a moving address by Edi Hudiyanto of the Shangri-La Jakarta workers’ union, who spoke of his union’s tenacious 18-month struggle for justice and union rights as one waged on behalf of the entire Indonesian working class and the comrades who, under Suharto, had paid with their lives for their contribution to the emergence of an independent trade union movement in Indonesia. His participation marked the first representation ever for Indonesian workers at an IUF Congress. And the intervention by Tatyana Krylova of the Russian Commercial and Catering Workers Union, the first Russian trade unionist to address an IUF Congress since the 1920’s. She described the struggle of Russian workers to form an independent union at McDonald’s Moscow, and called for united international union action to strengthen organization in transnationals.

Paul Andela, International Secretary of the Netherlands’ FNV Bondgenoten, was unanimously elected to take over from the outgoing IUF President Frank Hurt. Ron Oswald was unanimously reelected as General Secretary.

Congess documents, including speeches, resolutions, and the composition of newly-elected governing bodies, will shortly be available on the IUF web site.