Introductory Document- UITBB’s 11th Asia-Pacific Meeting,
Kathmandu, Nepal, 5-8 April, 2018
Allow me to begin by expressing our warmest and gratitude, on behalf of UITBB, to all the comrades in Nepal, and especially our affiliated member, the Nepal Engineering Professionals Association (NEPA) for the organization of what is shaping to be a very interesting meeting. We would like to express our thanks for their warm hospitality and cordial welcome, which reflects the most important characteristic: our sense of international solidarity.
The fact that we are all here, underlines our commitment to organize, coordinate and strengthen our actions around the world, and especially in the Asia-Pacific region, always keeping in mind our ultimate goal: to reaffirm our commitment to the improvement of the living and working conditions of the workers around the world and to express our firm belief that despite the difficulties the workers are facing, we will be victorious in the end in creating a new society and, in fact, a new world.
We are going through a turbulent period in the world in general, and the Asia-Pacific Region in particular, an especially volatile region with numerous issues. It is, therefore, our belief that this meeting comes at a crucial time for our international organization as well as for our members in the region. Such meetings, even though they are not the only way for us to react, are organised for well-known reasons and each one of them has its own importance.
What needs to be done, is to irrevocably and definitively change the situation which the unfair capitalist system has created at the expense of the workers. Such an ambitious goal will certainly be achieved when we manage, through our daily struggles, to change the mentality and the consciousness of the workers and their allies, who are, in every country, the majority of the people, so that they can take their fates into their own hands.
This can only happen when a society is created which will no longer serve the interests of the few and the privileged, but those who, through their daily work, produce the wealth.
We are all here then to work towards this goal: discuss, listen and share our experiences, specifically for and from this region and I am certain, comrades, that through the discussion and the decisions to be made in this very important meeting, we will all emerge wiser, stronger and more ready to continue our fight for the benefit of the workers. I would like to wish everyone then, a productive and fruitful meeting, as we focus on the following issues:
The true causes which are to be blamed for the problematic situation the workers and their allies are in every country
Focusing on this issue, I am certain we can all agree that we can identify capitalism and its more extreme stage, imperialism, as the perpetrators of the continuous military aggression in various parts of this region, which creates a situation that has grave consequences for the workers. At the same time, we must examine the current state of capitalism, the danger for a total, nuclear war, as well as the other issues the workers are facing such as unemployment, the attack on social insurances etc.
It is indeed clear, comrades, that the period we are going through, is characterised by a deep and long capitalist crisis which stems from the very nature of the capitalist system. This deep and prolonged economic crisis, is being shouldered by the workers who, even though they are not to be blamed, are paying for it. Capitalism, this exploitative system, through the worsening of its inner conflicts and antagonisms, whose only goal is to increase the profits of the capital, has entered in its final stage: imperialism.
This is evident in many conflicts around the world and especially in this region, as the continuation of local wars only serves to heighten the possibility for a larger, global, nuclear war that could possibly mean the end of humankind as we know it. The numbers frighten every forward-thinking person:
– In Syria, more than 500.000 people have been killed since the beginning of the war in 2011. Among them, almost 20,000 children and 12,000 women fell victim to imperialist greed for profit and expansion. By December 2017, a total of 6.5 million people have been displaced within the country, while a further 4 million people have fled to countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey (UN data). What is more, Turkey has invaded Syria in its ironically-called “Olive Branch” operation, attacking the city of Afrin in an attempt to establish a safe zone against the Kurds. It seems then that the imperialist war is far from over.
– In Korea, the imperialist coalition of South Korea, Japan and the USA is threatening to start an all-out war with North Korea and, if nuclear weapons are used, it could mean the devastation not only of the region, but of large parts of the world itself.
– In Iraq, despite the defeat of ISIS, the war is still going on in some parts of the country, and based on the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) numbers, 3 million Iraqis are still dispersed.
– The number of nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific region is staggering: Currently, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia have an estimate 7500 nuclear warheads, most of them being in Russia. The network of foreign military bases in the region is vast, NATO’s enlargement is alarming and the concentration of powerful military means in Asia represents a serious threat to the workers and civilians as militarism and war are inseparable from the violent attacks on them.
Unfortunately, comrades, the people find it hard to fully understand all the new forms of imperialist wars, so that we can coordinate them towards a proper response. People today see the increasing militarisation of their lives, with the presence of the army and the police everywhere, and they do not react. On the contrary, they feel a fake sense of safety, as religious fanaticism, jihadism and terrorism are used as tools of fear to keep the people from reacting as well as tools for the bourgeois governments to suppress any movement by the people now and in the future.
It is up to us, then, to educate the people, so that they can understand that imperialism is becoming more and more aggressive and it is imperative that we assume an anti-imperialist and anti-military stance as the wars are clearly the results of the inner-imperialist antitheses. We must also make them realise that they need to react against such militarisation of their lives. Towards this goal, it has to be made clear that for the workers that, despite everything they are being told, it is the bourgeois classes in all the countries which guide and control these wars, with their only aim being to maximise their profits. The victims of these situations are always the workers, who are suffering from the consequences of the spread of these wars in the region.
The role of the women in the construction industry, especially in the Asia-Pacific region is also an issue that preoccupies us on a daily basis.
The reason is that women are doubly marginalised due to their gender and their class. Despite some positive developments, women are the main victim of domestic and public exploitation, violence, slave labour and impoverishment, as they are discriminated against in terms of the gender pay gap, social securities, retirement age, maternity leaves and equal access to jobs, etc.
The same goes for young people, who are, along with women, the two most vulnerable groups within the working class, as they are the ones who are the victims of the imperialist wars, the ones who are mostly unemployed, they are the main body of immigrants, and they have become a generation without any rights. How can we defend the youth and women’s’ rights, and how can we attract more women in the construction industry though? It is a fact that female workers are hugely under-represented in construction. What we can do is provide targeted apprenticeships and education to change this phenomenon.
According to ILO figures for 2017, an estimated 925 million women and men in Asia-Pacific are engaged as an own-account worker (part-time or self-employed) or contributing family worker, which is the equivalent of 47.8 per cent of total employment. By sub-region, nearly 54 per cent of these vulnerable workers are concentrated in South Asia alone.
This is the case, even though women in Asia-Pacific are nearly half of the entire population. We must break down the gender stereotype of the male builder, if we want to see more women in the construction industry, and battle unemployment at the same time. How many parents visualise their daughters working as a builder? We need to change that.
The construction industry must change drastically to become a job option for more women. We must push the employers not only to attract more women in their sites, but to create a safe environment for them to work, with respect towards their gender, free from harassment, with full health and safety measures, and of course, equal pay as the men. We must push for:
– Active promotion of the construction industry to include women
– Inclusive selection policies
– Higher number of apprentices for women
– Support in the workplace
– Zero tolerance of sexual harassment and bullying of women in the worksites
– Promotion of the advantages of having women on the job to employers
Of course, comrades, there are specific issues in the Asia-Pacific region which the workers are facing. So, we need to share our ideas and experience and ideas as to how we can effectively face them.
Indicatively we can briefly mention (and the comrades from Japan can give us their insight on this), given the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 and the World Cup organisation in Qatar in 2022, the role of the multinational construction companies in these countries, the exploitation of migrant workers, the health and safety issues etc. If we take a look at the list with the biggest multinational construction companies which are active in the region, we can see the magnitude of the exploitation of the workers as they are building the stadiums for the Olympic Games and the World Cup. These multinational companies, in full cooperation and harmony with the bourgeois governments, are exercising great pressure on the workers, thus worsening their living and working conditions.
As UITBB, we organised demonstrations outside the offices of FIFA around the world, where we demanded that the stadiums in Qatar are not be built on workers’ blood. It is my belief that, as we are nearing the date for these major sport events, that we should step up our pressure to these companies, so that the rights of the workers are to be respected, and that everyone works with safety in the workplace. We need to strengthen our class oriented struggle and enhance the class consciousness of these workers both on a local, and an international level, in order for them to be able to defend themselves against such a barbaric attack perpetrated by the capital.
Our demand is clear: no worker’s life to be sacrificed for more profit, and that all worksites implement proper health and safety measures. We must stand with migrant labour and the workers who are being exploited in these areas, as we believe that:
– There is only one working class, irrespectively of colour, religion, language or origin.
– Migrant labour is not done by choice, but due to the deeper causes which are poverty, unemployment, bad living conditions, wars and imperialist interventions
– UITBB utters a clear, class-based position against xenophobia and racism, expressing the willingness to fight with its affiliated members for the rights of migrant workers in the construction industry and to further protect them
– New, special programs need to be created which will facilitate the smooth integration of migrant workers in the labour market, which can focus on language learning, information about their rights etc
– The trade unions in the countries of origin should work closer with those in the countries of destination, so that their efforts to protect and inform the workers can be better coordinated and successful.
It is undeniable, comrades, that the workers are experiencing an unprecedented attack on their rights.
This is materialised on many levels, like in anti-labour legislation, decrease of wages and social insurance rights, inhibition of trade union action and the right to organise, ongoing privatisations of essential public services and attacks on the right to strike.
Moreover, the accumulation of wealth and the need to maximise profits, has led capitalism to de-localise production to lower labour costs and attack public social security systems, which leads millions of human beings to hunger and poverty, by an increasing control of land and food productions by very few multinational companies. These attacks are clear-cut class-based, coming from the various capitalist centres and this is how we should evaluate them, as we need to on the counterattack to reinstate the vested rights of the workers which are being taken away from them.
In the Asia-Pacific region, we are also witnessing:
– The Transpacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Even after the withdrawal of the USA from the treaty, capitalism has not stopped, as negotiations have started on a new trade agreement called Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP11).
– The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), which is a trade agreement currently being negotiated by 23 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including the EU. Together, the participating countries account for 70% of the world trade in services.
These are nothing but imperialism’s instruments of international economic domination, trying to attack national sovereignties and democratic rights of the people, especially those of the workers.
One of the ways in which we must move forward, comrades, is undeniably to faithfully implement WFTU’s action plans, as these are outlined in the Platform of Action (2016-2020) which was agreed upon during the 17th World Trade Union Congress in Durban, South Africa, as well as all other decisions made, as UITBB is one of the most significant international unions in WFTU. We side with WFTU with our hearts and minds, as it is through such actions that we will be able to unite the workers and strengthen the class orientation of the trade union movement around the world.
We wholly believe and shall try to implement the Platform of Action by WFTU, in observing the days of actions, participate in calls of actions promoted by WFTU, follow closely its daily work and fighting in general for the unity of our class. At this point, I would like to condemn the recent refusal of the USA to grant a visa to WFTU General Secretary to Comrade George Mavrikos, due to his prior visit to Syria. Such actions showcase the true face of imperialism, which is afraid of the truth, voiced by international organisations such as WFTU.
What should unite all of us is our common antithesis to imperialism and our steadfastness in defending the poor man, the impoverished woman, the defenceless child: we stand with the common man, comrades, not with the arrogant plutocrats! They will find us standing side by side, fighting against them, with all the might of our right and we will emerge victorious! The power of the working class cannot be contained.
Given all that, comrades, we must organising better our work for the future, especially in this region, by deciding the stance the international, class-based trade union movement must assume in the region.
The working class is the biggest class of every society and it is through their intellectual and manual labour that wealth is being produced.
However, the distribution of wealth is abysmal:
– The 3 wealthiest people in the world, have more wealth than the poorest 700 million people, which is 10% of the world’s population!
– Half of the world’s health, belongs to the top 1%
– The top 10% of adults, holds 85% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 90% holds the rest 15%.
Wealth distribution is beyond unfair. Even though it is the workers who are producing the wealth, they do not take their equal share and this is even more evident in societies where the workers cannot organize in a political formation that expresses them, or create a clearly class-based trade union movement that will serve and promote their interests and needs.
So, it is imperative to strengthen and coordinate our international actions and expressing solidarity to the workers of the region and to keep showing our fighting spirit by defend their demands. It is only through organised fight that the workers can take their lives into their own hands and change their destinies.
It is only through organised struggles that the working class can stop the wars which is claiming the lives of their children for more capitalist profits, save our planet from destruction. It is through such organisation in the ranks of the class-oriented, international trade union movement that we can guide, enlighten and educate the workers, so that we can succeed in reaching the goals we have set.
The working class around the world needs to be ready both on a national and an international level to defend itself against the imperialist attacks. The working class has the same desires and the same enemies; therefore, it is through the international trade union movement that these desires can be met, and these enemies can be fought off. The class orientation within the international trade union movement is the only thing that can mobilise the huge strength of the masses of the workers around the world, making them a formidable force to be reckoned with. If we manage to do so, if we manage to show our militant spirit, and our sense of international solidarity, there is nothing that can stop us comrades! The progressive war that is coming will be the one to be fought between the working class and the protectors of imperialism.
We will win it comrades, because it is the only way we can create a socialist society. We will be victorious, comrades, because we are right, because we are many, because we are unstoppable! I call upon you, then, to reaffirm UITBB’s presence in the area and underline the fact that the organised struggle will continue against all attacks the workers are currently under, for the ultimate goal which is a new society, without the exploitation of humans by humans. A global, peaceful society such as this, comrades, is not only our destination, but our destiny!
Long Live International Solidarity!
Long Live the Workers!
Long Live UITBB!