World unions warn G20 leaders ahead of summit to think beyond business

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VANCOUVER — International labour organizers say they have a message for world leaders ahead of the G8 and G20 summits: things must change.

The International Trade Union Confederation, which began its world congress Monday in Vancouver, says it plans to tell the world leaders that there won’t be economic recovery without more jobs.

In fact, a large part of the confederation’s second world congress, entitled “Now The People,” will look at how to move forward from the global economic crisis. The five-day conference will examine restructuring the worldwide economy with an emphasis on workers’ rights and continued financial stimulus.

Guy Ryder, the confederation’s general secretary, and Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told reporters at a news conference Monday that global leaders need to take more than just finance into account when assessing the economy.

Ryder said global economic recovery is extremely fragile and unemployment levels are still too high. He and Georgetti met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week and relayed that message.

“I take away from the meeting his repeated phrase — and I welcome it — that between fiscal consolidation and job creation, he said ’it’s a balancing act,”’ Ryder said.

The confederation represents 176 million union workers around the globe. During the summits in Ontario later this week, it will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other world leaders.

Greece Prime Minister George Papandreou made an appearance at the conference Monday via video link.

Papandreou’s debt-ridden country introduced a multi-billion dollar austerity package earlier this year that cut wages of civil servants, froze pensions and raised consumer taxes.

But during his speech Papandreou said Greece, which saw its government bonds cut to junk status by Moody’s Investor Services last week, is bouncing back.

“We have made difficult decisions, we have already reduced the first six months 40 per cent of our deficit compared to last year and we will be on track,” he said.

Papandreou, who spoke from International Labour Organization headquarters in New York, did not take questions after his speech.

He said much of the world’s wealth is unequally distributed “with great injustices for many societies.”

“The share of wealth by labour today in our world is at the levels of the 1930s and this is not only a question of standard of living,” he said. “When wealth is concentrated in power in the hands of the few, it not only creates inequality, but it also creates a political situation where politics itself can’t be captured because our democratic institutions are all captured by big interests.”

Papandreou conceded Greece has a responsibility for the European debt crisis, but said the country was a weak link in a flawed global system. He also called for greater regulation in financial markets.

“We are a few days away from the G20 summit in Toronto and let’s present a clear message: workers’ rights are directly connected both to green development, (and) a balanced economic system where financial services work to serve our citizens,” he said.

The confederation’s delegates will debate a resolution that demands deep reform to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

“Working people are angered by the cause of the crisis and feel a deep sense of injustice at the massive suffering it has brought,” the resolution reads.

Sharan Burrow,the confederation’s president, said working people around the world are angry about the financial crisis developed by the corporate sector.

“They know that they’ve, in fact, been the victims of this greed,” she said. “People lost their jobs, they lost working hours, the lost pension entitlements, in many cases they lost their homes.”

The confederation believes some kind of financial transaction tax is essential, but Harper has aggressively opposed such a tax. 

Georgetti said he told Harper that the way the federal government characterizes the fee as a bank tax gave him a way out, to argue that Canada’s banks weren’t part of the problem. 

“I likened it to the BP oil spill in the gulf. This would be like letting BP start drilling the day after they had that spill,” he said. “We’re always taught, and should expect, that if you make a mess you have to clean it up.”

And if the message doesn’t get through to world leaders through dialogue, Georgetti said union workers will be a “loud peaceful voice” on Toronto’s streets on Saturday. 

Organizations: International Trade Union Confederation, Canadian Labour Congress, Investor Services International Labour Organization BP International Monetary Fund World Bank World Trade Organization

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Greece, Ontario Toronto New York Canada

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