«Building Social Rules for the Global Economy»
Remarks by John J. Sweeney
President, AFL-CIO and President TUAC
Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD
(November 16, 2000)
Thank you, Mr.Chairman
I am pleased to express the views of the Trade Union Advisory
Committee to the OECD Liaison Committee about the moral imperative and
political necessity of «Building Social Rules for the Global Economy.»
Surely, whatever our disagreements, we can all agree that neither the
existence of open markets nor their value can or should be taken for granted.
The rules must be defined; the benefits must be demonstrated.
We must ask ourselves: what is the fundamental test of globalization?
It's not whether markets are more open or less open. That mistakes the
means for the end. The end is human development. The fundamental question
is whether globalization is helping to lift the poor from poverty; whether
it is empowering the many, not just the few; whether its blessings are
shared widely; whether it works for working people.
The global market that has been forged in the last decades is now being
called to account. The recent global financial crisis was an economic five-alarm
fire. Seattle provided a political wake-up call. Both suggest the current
course cannot be taken for granted, and should not be.
Yes, globalization is creating vast new wealth. But financial crises
are growing more frequent and severe, and inequality is rising, as the
UN reports, both among and within nations. This means that the seeds for
the rejection of globalization are in every political system, in developed
nations as well as developing nations.
That is why Seattle is so important. The protests in the streets by
workers, environmentalists, farmers, and students from across the world
were mirrored by the anger inside the hall from developing country delegates
who felt just as locked out as the demonstrators. If we care about equitable,
sustainable development, then the impact on people — not only incomes,
but the environment, health, food safety and democratic participation —
as well as urgent issues such as debt forgiveness, development assistance,
market access for the least developed countries, universal access to education,
the growing digital divide and the devastation of the HIV epidemic in the
world - these issues must be addressed. They can no longer simply be left
Understand the message of Seattle. It wasn't an isolationist rejection
of open markets; it was a call for new global rules. Workers North and
South marched together. And the many different voices made one clear statement:
the current course cannot be sustained; fundamental reform is needed.
All of us need to think anew. Leaders of the global institutions face
a legitimacy crisis that cannot be solved by better public relations. Their
institutions will become more accountable, or more irrelevant.
Leaders of developing nations face a growing inequality of income and
hope. They should not be forced into one economic strait-jacket. For they
will either find ways to empower workers and protect the environment, or
face growing popular resistance.
Heads of global corporations need to be held accountable for how they
do business — by consumers, by workers, by governments. Leaders of the
corporate community should embrace the OECD’s work to promote the
newly adopted revised Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises. They should
aggressive support the efforts of the ILO to popularize and publicize the
Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It is in the
self-interest of multinational corporations and the governments that regulate
them to have rules that are agreed upon by all.
Labor leaders across the world also must change to meet the new challenges.
At the ICFTU, TUAC and the ITS’ we know that we have added our voices with
those in developing countries calling for high-road development strategies.
We must work to ensure that developing countries are no longer crippled
by unpayable debt burdens, and that they have the resources they need to
engage in trade negotiations on an equal footing as well as the technical
support to implement and enforce labor and environmental standards.
Seattle marked a crossroads. Now, joined by millions of others across
the world, we pledge not to rest, but to continue to press for core workers'
rights that are the basis of economic freedom and equitable development.