People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

July 25, 2010


Jobloss, Deepening Crisis Overshadow Int’l Labour Conf


Amitava Guha


THE fallouts of the ongoing economic crisis, which has caused massive joblosses, squeezed the social security measures and adversely affected the future employment creation, overshadowed the International Labour Conference this year. This annual event of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) took place at Geneva from June 1 to 18. The Israeli attack on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip was the other event that caused deep concern at the conference. Immediately before the inauguration of the conference, a small group jumped on to the dais demanding “Iran, out of ILO.” Notably, neither the UN security staff nor ILO officials displayed promptness to dissuade them. The ILO officials remained unconcerned when some people shouted similar slogans from the gallery above. Workers’ representatives from Iran rebuked by saying that these people were backed by the US government.




Gilles de Robin, a former minister in the right-centre French government, was elected president of the conference while Swiss Confederation president Ms Doris Leuthard inaugurated it. Interestingly, in the initial part of her critical speech on the market situation, she said the recession has left behind a mess in the labour market and interdependence of financial markets can very quickly cause serious problems for societies even when a problem actually originates in just one country. But she sought to convey that “globalisation is basically the result of technological changes followed by economic development which is inevitable and we hope dynamic,” and then added that “ILO is a natural partner of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.” The conference later rejected the idea.

Following the inauguration, ILO director general Juan Somavia presented his report. At the very beginning, he condemned the “unacceptable events this week off the coast of Gaza” but did not demand that the illegal occupation of Gaza Strip must be vacated. Later, a declaration from the Arab labour organisations expressed dissatisfaction with this part of the report.

Somavia’s speech was primarily concerned with macroeconomic development when he specifically talked of “no sustainable recovery without job recovery.” He was highly critical of the recovery process adopted by the crisis-ridden countries. Debts and deficits are the phenomena which are further affecting the third world countries. He asked why such levels of debts and deficits occurred. “We must not forget that partsof them went to save the financial system to avert depression,” he said. He explained that the stimulus given to the financial sector had precipitated the fiscal deficit but deficit reduction would slow down the recovery, contributing in turn to an increase in unemployment. This phenomenon is not unknown as classical Marxist analysis on moribund capitalism had described it as perpetual. He acknowledged that the ILO’s estimation of 212 million unemployed in the present year is much below the reality and that “in the first part of this year we see no sign of a reduction in the global rate of unemployment.” He lamented that “political, social and financial stability are interrelated, and because of the things I have been saying, many people believe that some actors in the financial sector have broken the social contract with the society.” His prescription was to gain only through social dialogue.




The CITU representative was part of the commission on “Recurrent Discussion on Employment.” It held 11 rounds of meetings, dealing with four strategic objectives of the ILO --- employment, social protection, labour standard and social dialogue. The workers group’s spokeperson, Ms Sharan Bourrow, who later became general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), began with an analysis of the contemporary situation. Following the usual line of the ITUC, she praised the stimulus measures taken by the rich countries to save their economies from total collapse a la that in the 1930s, but had to accept that unemployment and underemployment continue to rise. Even before a separate session of the workers group was held, she declared that the workers group supports the stimulus measures. Her only criticism was that “having implemented the right macroeconomic strategy (by stimulus measures --- A G), governments have failed to move urgently to the next important task which was financial market re-regulation and curbing the power and insider relationships that exist between the largest banks, financial institutions, rating agencies and the largest equity and bond investors.” The suggestions she made for the ILO to consider were that it should insist on policy coherence and reconvene a “Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.” This the employers group forcefully resisted. Ronie Goldbarg, spokesperson of the employers group, strongly advocated that stimulus measures should continue and that the financial sector must find out means to minimise the fiscal deficits.

The CITU representative intervened in the sessions, pointing to the emergence of a speculative market that had outgrown the manufacturing and service sectors several times. Though speculative investment has no role in employment generation, it has caused disaster in many enterprises that have thrown many out of job. He said the ILO should how to reverse the trend of rapid casualisation, increase in informal sector employment and erosion of employment generation, in order to ensure social justice. He also pointed out that the third world countries have become the suppliers of skilled workforce for which the developed countries do not pay what the former deserve to get. Also, the poor countries stand to lose productively in the process. The ILO must insist on utilisation of skilled workers by direct green field investment in the third world themselves, which are rich in primary resources. On the initial draft, the CITU representative demanded that the idea of collaboration with IMF, World Bank and WTO must be rejected as their policy prescription is itself responsible for the financial debacle. This position of the CITU received support from representatives from many other countries, and the concerned paragraph was deleted in the final draft.

Tension mounted in the commission on domestic workers, where the government of India’s representative was opposing every proposals made by the workers group. It was for the first time that the ILO had initiated a discussion on evolving a convention for domestic workers. The GoI was in the forefront to oppose any pro-domestic worker decisions including the formulation of a guideline. This compelled the trade unions from India to send a message to the prime minister to intervene. Finally, the GOI representative asked for a division and lost in the voting that ensued. The ILO will thus work next year on evolving a convention for domestic workers.




India’s labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge addressed the special plenary session on “ILO Declaration of Fundamental Right to Work with Special Emphasis on Child Labour.” Surfing through the addresses made by other eminent speakers, he dismayed everybody by stating that “job growth has returned.” He further misinformed the audience that legal guarantee had been provided in India for the right to work. He also said 14.5 million smart cards had so far been provided, which allowed the holders free treatment. As we know here, one has to search with a microscope to find out such beneficiaries. He also mentioned many other acts passed by the parliament, including those related to child labour. But the castle the minister had built in air was blown away with evidences quoted by the CITU representative when he got five minutes time to address the plenary.

The Committee on the Application of Standards continued its meetings parallel to the conference, and it heard complaints against the governments and employers. This year the target was Venezuela, which the Venezuelan government’s representative successfully countered. The committee seriously discussed the killing of trade union leaders in Guatemala and several speakers took to task the Guatemala government’s representative. At the conclusion, this representative had to assure that a thorough probe would be made and the criminals punished. Quite interesting were these sessions where the governments of various countries were found quite uncomfortable and on the defensive. Besides regularly filing reports to the ILO, we can well utilise the scope provided by this process to generate pressure on the government of India which is either not ratifying or not implementing several conventions and guidelines.




Three meetings were arranged by the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) before and during the conference. In the first meeting, a briefing was made about the conference procedure. Some countries described how they were being unjustly targeted for criticism and a kind of blockade. However, veiled attempts against the complaining countries did not get much success in the sessions due to the firm position taken by workers’ representatives from many countries of Africa, Asia and South America. The last session was on the WFTU conference scheduled to take place at Athens next year. This meeting was also attended by ILO directors and other officials. WFTU general secretary George Mavricos had a separate discussion with the CITU representative and sought the CITU’s cooperation for the forthcoming conference.

One obvious fact was that the ITUC dominated the ILO conference; its people headed most of the committees meant for workers. In some cases, a workers group meeting appeared to be a meeting of the ITUC; they even discussed the (then ensuing) conference of the ITUC which later took place in the June end. It was clear that the WFTU has not yet regained its strength enough to counter the ITUC dominance

(Amitava Guha attended the International Labour Conference as the CITU representative.)