By Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union
Devastating wildfires in Australia, deadly floods in Bangladesh and Indonesia, mass protests in Chile and Lebanon. Stock markets roar as income inequality soars.
Decades of political neglect have left our planet in a state of upheaval, and it’s becoming clearer that “business as usual” will lead to catastrophe.
In country after country, wage stagnation is the new normal for the many while CEO pay skyrockets. Massive protest movements, often sparked by small embers such as a bus fare increase or a WhatsApp levy, are on the rise. Right-wing populism, stoking fear and division, has attacked our common humanity.
The emergence of digital monopolies only intensifies these problems, with a handful of companies, like Amazon, tightening their grip on commerce, the infrastructure of information, and our data.
Against this backdrop, a new “Davos Manifesto” was unveiled at the recent 50th annual World Economic Forum (WEF). It calls for “stakeholder capitalism,” a kinder, gentler entrepreneurship that aligns company interests with social goals like fair taxation, respect for employees, and protection of the environment.
But as the union delegation pointed out at every opportunity at Davos, in order for our economy to be sustainable, there must be a fundamental shift in power from corporate elites to working people. While many in the circles of power may wish to dismiss the labour movement as a relic of the past, unions and collective bargaining are the necessary remedies to the power imbalance of the 21st century.
In fact, there is no solution to our most pressing problems — environmental degradation and widening inequality — without unions and collective bargaining at the core.
Strong bargaining mechanisms redistribute economic power, and they also expand workers’ political voice, creating more stable economies and more trust and confidence in government.
Indeed, recent reports from the OECD, the ILO, and the Global Deal, show that countries with more collective bargaining have a stronger social fabric, better growth, and are more able to weather economic ups and downs.
It is time to move beyond the annual alarm about the dangers of inequality. We must have concrete goals. Among the OECD countries, workers covered by collective bargaining shrunk nearly 30 percent over the past three decades, and outside of the richest countries, there is a similar downward trendline.
Shared prosperity will not become a reality unless we reverse these trends and get collective bargaining back up and fast. We need measurable progress now. Governments have to wake up to the fact that they don’t only serve the corporate elite and enact profound reforms so that unions and bargaining can thrive. One small step could include using government procurement to promote bargaining.
Companies should be transparent about the percentage of their global workforce covered by collective agreements and take meaningful steps to remove obstacles for workers who want to organize a union and bargain a fair future.
Unions are ready to seize the moment by continuing to elevate workers voices to make sure they are heard.
We don’t have another 50 years of Davos meetings to get it right. The clock is ticking, and we haven’t a second to waste.