Speech by ILO Director-General, Juan Somavía
GENEVA COUNCIL - Working for global peace and stability in a world of conflicts without borders, 29-30 June 2007
Querido Luis Ayala, Presidente Talabani, Presidente Abbas
Querido amigo Moritz Leuenberger
Thank you very much for inviting me again to speak in this gathering of the Socialist International and I welcome you to the ILO.
We are sometimes called the world parliament of labour, or the international home of social dialogue.
So, let me tell you where you are.
You are meeting today in the room of the Governing Body of the ILO. It is the most democratic decision-making body that you have in the international system today. You have workers sitting here. Governments sitting here. Employers sitting here. Governments sharing decision-making with non-governmental actors. There is no veto. There is no "one dollar, one vote" in this room. This is also the most open decision-making process that you have in the international system because the discussions of the Governing Body are open to media.
So, I could not be more happy to receive you in this room and to tell you that what has kept us going is an obsessive conviction that dialogue is essential for a mutual understanding and the belief that social dialogue works. It’s hard, it’s difficult, it’s complicated, you need to build trust, you need to be able to develop the conviction that the other will agree and will do what has been agreed to. But in the end, once you sign one time, you sign a second time, you sign the third time, and those agreements stick, the fourth time, you probably just need a handshake. And this is what this institution has been about for all of these years. It has kept us going since 1919.
This house is built on values.
- Work must be a source of dignity;
- Labour is not a commodity: it is about people, human beings, families, communities are impacted by the way we work;
- Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere and social justice is the foundation of lasting peace.
All of this has been put together in ILO conventions which constitute the largest international legal system that you have today in the world. We have around 7,500 ratifications of ILO conventions world wide.
And today we are implementing these values through our Decent Work Agenda which promotes workers' rights, greater employment opportunities through enterprise development, access to social protection and promotion of social dialogue. And we are developing with our three constituents Decent Work Country Programmes.
I am happy to say that the Decent Work Agenda has received widespread political support at the highest level in all regions of the world as well as in the United Nations Summit of 2005. And I want to thank all of you. In every region of the world, you have been influential in making this support happen through governments, through the role that you play in opposition, through parliament, and other spaces in which you are active. The voice of social democracy has carried the Decent Work Agenda. You know that this is what people are asking for. You said "this is a widespread democratic demand and we want it to have the national and international support that it merits". You have been successful and I want to thank you for it.
At the UN it is now a global goal. Decent Work is a global goal together with the Millennium Development Goals. And it is seen as a central pillar of sustainable societies based on the values of sustainable development.
But I think that the most significant thing that has happened is that the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda has connected with politics. No better group than yours to know that people are voting for more and better jobs. It is difficult to be a candidate without talking about jobs in the world of today and when you look at the Decent Work Agenda, it is very linked to the reasons for how people are voting. They say, yes, these are the sort of policies that we would like to see implemented by those who win the elections.
But at the same time, people see the difficulties of implementation on the day-to-day practical policies and they ask themselves, why?
Why something that is obvious for everybody, which is let’s get people better conditions of work, why is it so difficult? And why is it that those who have authority in the world, in the public and private spheres, cannot put together the policies that can deliver this very simple aspiration of people who say, give me a fair chance at a decent job and I’ll take care of the rest.
Let me make some personal comments on this situation based on one conviction. I believe that there are deep-seated and persistent imbalances in the current workings of the global economy, which are ethically unacceptable and I don’t think that they will be politically sustainable.
And I think that this is where the Socialist International is playing, and can continue to play, a major leadership role to develop a new consensus, new alternatives for a fair globalisation in a sustainable world. What George Papandreou calls "democratising globalisation".
Let me tell you that the positive message is that this can be done. Globalisation is not a natural phenomenon, as it has been presented, and that we all have to adapt to it. No, it has been policy-made in finance, in trade, in migration, in a number of other fields, and policies can be re-oriented, can change, can shift, can move the forces of globalisation, many of which are positive, in the direction that gives better results.
So, I think that it is essential that we counter this feeling of powerlessness we sometimes see. People saying "there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it. These are powerful forces that are sort of moving on their own". They are not. They were created 25 years ago by a number of decisions that are called the Washington Consensus. And if we create the political momentum or the political will to change, they can be changed for the better. We can benefit better from its upside and control better the downside.
And that’s why I welcome so much the creation of the Commission on a Sustainable World Society. Because it is a way for the Socialist International to continue leading on these issues.
But to do so, I think we are going to have to confront head on some neo-liberal taboos that have dominated thinking these last 25 years. Let me mention them rapidly.
- Reaffirm the legitimacy of democratic politics over markets
- Ensure that policy-making based on dialogue, on people’s democratic demands and participation is the norm. Not on everybody’s adaptation to global market forces. Göran Persson has been very clear in highlighting this issue.
- But also confront the fact that globalisation is already polarising our political systems, whether towards the extreme right or to the extreme left. But it is happening because people are trying to find simplistic solutions to a problem which doesn’t have simple solutions. It is a complex matter. Politics must find the necessary balances.
- We need strong states, with a strong capacity to both regulate in the public interest and stimulate investment, innovation and competition. This very clearly can be done. The other Co-Chair of the Commission, Ricardo Lagos, has very often referred to the need for rules, international rules.
- And from my own perspective, we must address the present imbalance where the rights of capital are better protected than the rights of workers. And that is the situation in which we are living today. And where financial deals and speculation that eliminate jobs are more attractive than productive investments that create jobs. The European Socialists have taken an initiative in this field.
- We also need a strong civil society. People matter. They, we, are more than just consumers. Organization is essential: in political parties, in trade unions, in community initiatives, in women’s organizations. We need an expanding network of citizens’ organisations as a foundation of a more participatory democracy. We know from history that successful social struggles need strong social movements. And I believe that one of the key things for the Socialist International is the link-up with the capacity to organise people in whatever area, in whatever sphere people want to organise themselves. But there has to be this link between social movements and political processes.
- We need an international understanding to progressively build a global social floor under the global economy, so that nobody falls between the cracks. I think that this is an essential element. We have concentrated on the economic dimension of the global economy. The social dimension is basically lost and particularly the whole space of social protection. Social development has been presented in the past by the prevailing policies as "a cost". Cut cost in health, cut cost in education, cut cost in social protection. On the contrary, we all know that it is obviously a long term investment in people.
People in every country have a right to a social floor. And whether rich or poor, the foundation of a social floor can be established in every country according to its means and, for some of the least-developed countries, through international cooperation.
And fifth and finally,
- We need a review of the respective role of governance of major international organisations. The High-Level Panel on UN Reform is a very good start, on which we can build.
But we have to make with respect to the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and with a number of other international organisations, the same analysis of how efficient, how effective, how useful and what role should they have in the future. If we pretend to reform just the UN and we leave the rest of the system untouched, we are not going to be able to find policy coherence.
Dear friends, all of this and many other changes are possible. And I believe that the key message of the Socialist International today is that it has the capacity to give political leadership to changes that people want.
It has been said, and with this I finish, that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. I find it a pretty nice description of the situation. The Decent Work Agenda is pretty good poetry as an election platform and to make these ideas attractive and understandable. But it is also good prose, it is down to earth, it’s doable, it’s feasible. It is good governmental policy.
So, let me conclude where I started, there is a demand and we have a window of opportunity, a profound opportunity to strengthen the role of politics nationally and internationally, by connecting to the main demands and priorities of peoples all over the world. And by recognising, and it becomes so clear in the agenda item of this morning on the Middle East, that conflict transcends borders, and can simply dissolve the idea of decent work into a mirage. But aspirations, values and hopes also transcend borders.
And I think that one of the effects of the widespread endorsement of the Decent Work Agenda as a development strategy, is that people are recognising that it is a clear way to reduce tension in society and help contribute to building peace.
You are on the frontlines of all of these challenges, you also keenly understand the connections between economic opportunities, social justice and lack of conflict, and the need for a just balance between economic growth and social progress.
This is what this meeting is about in its conflict dimension, in its social dimension, but particularly, and let me finish here, because of what you have represented, of what you represent and what you will represent. And I think that the potential of expressing the feeling, representing the demands of this enormous amount of people who are asking, who is caring for my interests? Who is thinking about the very fundamental problems at the centre of my life--my lack of work, the stability of my family, the peace of my community?
And I think that the Socialist International can confidently say, within the limitations and the complications of today, that it is a set of parties worldwide which are thinking about the issues that people care for. That is why you are meeting here today and that is why I think that in this room you have a limitless capacity to be relevant. It is your hands to continue seizing the opportunities.
Thank you so much.