Workers and Development

The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish on April 18th, 2013 in La Jornada, Mexico City’s leading daily newspaper, considered by many scholars as one of the last remaining independent newspapers in the Americas.


This week, from the 16th to the 18th April, in Vancouver, Canada, the National Policy Conference organised by United Steelworkers (USW) is taking place. On 52 occasions this exceptional meeting has brought people together to analyse and discuss important issues such as global strategic alliances, business and the economy, the challenges of corporate power, the comprehensive review of what we have learnt from the past and what the future will bring for a new generation of unionists and politicians.

A considerable number of leaders were invited make official speeches, including Leo W. Gerard, international president of USW; Ken Neumann and Steve Hunt, national directors for Canada and district 3 of USW respectively, and hosts of this meeting; Jyrki Raina, secretary general of the world’s biggest union, IndustriALL Global Union with 50 million members; Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party and leader of the opposition in Canada; myself as president and secretary general of the Mexican mining workers, metalworkers and steelworkers, and other political and union leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Peru, and from across five continents.

The messages and opinions that we have heard have lead us to reflect deeply on the future of society, the working class, inequality and injustice, the risks implicit in social peace such as excessive ambition and greed, the lack of awareness of the impact on coming generations, ignorance, irresponsibility and unchecked exploitation. Of course it would have been impossible to leave specific issues of jobs, security, the environment, health, and working conditions out of the passionate discussions, and they were tackled with great intelligence. No room was left for doubt about how we can be better prepared to face up to the challenges of brutal capitalism, to improve labour harmony and tranquillity, as well as how to project a new and fresher image of the world union movement.

This conference will draw to a close today. It has been a real success for the almost one thousand delegates, and it will have to grow and expand and cast its message wide because these forums must provide the best solutions for reducing marginalisation and deprivation, and strategies that will allow faster progress in the construction of a better world in which there is more respect, justice and equality. These qualities generate greater stability, peace and progress for everyone, not just for a few.

In Mexico we will have to review and assimilate the conclusions that will allow us to change the direction of politics more profoundly and efficiently, and thus move towards a new stage of development, building on the foundation of our membership of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) together with Canada and the United States. All of us, workers, government, business people and society in general, must take note of the conclusions of this meeting, which are framed by demands for equality and fairness, because none of the three countries, although they have very different levels of development, can pretend to have resolved the deep social inequalities that exist within their borders. That is why we have proposed that the Free Trade Agreement to which we have signed up should become a real plan for cooperation and development between the three countries.

Only in this way will it be possible to turn the international cooperation that is implicit in the NAFTA, but which today remains incomplete, into a solid tool for the economic and social development of the three nations. We cannot and must not ignore the fact that the United States and Canada are facing difficult social challenges, despite a lopsided and biased message that in those counties there is no poverty or destitution, because there is. In the particular case of Mexico it is important to develop this new vision of international cooperation through which, while maintaining respect for the sovereignty of each nation, we will be able to channel the resources and efforts that are currently concentrated solely on commercial activity therefore do not press the buttons of real economic progress, namely equal opportunities and respect for the rights and interests of all sectors of each one of the countries involved.

The first step to take in this direction must be in the area of labour cooperation between the three countries, because here agreement on the issue between the signatory governments has been practically dead letter. Workers in Canada, the United States and Mexico, facilitated by miners, have contributed a wealth of ideas about how to turn the labour cooperation agreement into a genuine commitment to social development. This should, by all means, serve the interests of employers, but it must also have a substantial parallel focus on how to resolve issues of well-paid work, fair settlement of labour disputes and respect for the freedom and autonomy of union organisations. Such an initiative will eliminate the increasing employment instability and inhuman forms of exploitation that are proper to the brutal capitalism practiced in all our nations, but which is thrown into clearer relief in Mexico than in the other two.

Mexico’s new government has the opportunity to enter into this new vision of international development efforts. The two previous National Action Party governments were deaf and blind to the demands of genuine economic and social development in Mexico, and they completely turned their backs on the possibilities offered by international cooperation for development.

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