At G-20, union leaders make the case for jobs not austerity

LOS CABOS, Mexico (PAI) — A group of union leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, delivered the strong message that “austerity does not work,” and indeed only makes things worse for workers, to the G-20 leaders of the industrialized world, meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The world’s unions, who now have “a seat at the table,” made the point that the crisis of jobs, worker rights and social protection must be solved to help pull the globe out of its tailspin, according to Philip Jennings, general secretary of Union Network International (UNI), a coalition of 900 world unions with 20 million members.

The world’s national leaders are “more focused” on the crisis in jobs in their countries and globally than they were six or seven months ago, as Europe is in another recession and the rest of the world may be heading for one, Jennings says.

One difference this time, Jennings said in an exclusive interview with Press Associates Union News Service, is that union leaders were “inside the room” making their case to U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders.

Another difference is world leaders – or at least some of them – are listening.

Obama, Merkel and the others met in Los Cabos against the background of sluggish to non-existent worldwide growth, the European slide – which affects workers in other nations – and what Jennings, Trumka and other unionists call the failure of austerity policies preached by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both Conservative Party leaders, and U.S. tea party Republicans.

Union leaders spent the days before Los Cabos meeting with the G-20’s labor ministers and drafting an agenda to restore growth and jobs. They’ve spent the summit itself in formal presentations and one-on-one lobbying of the national leaders.

“Our key point is the austerity that Cameron and Harper in particular pushed onto their colleagues at the last summit is not working to produce jobs or pull the world out of its slump,” Jennings said. “So we have to rethink the harshness of austerity.”

Trumka convinced Obama, Jennings said. The AFL-CIO leader met at the White House before the summit at Los Cabos, to make the same points: “Obama came out with two messages: He agrees with us on ways to get jobs and growth and his message to Europe is to ‘Get your act together.'” Trumka had no immediate comment.

The union leaders’ blunt messages for the world leaders demanded that nations get large firms to “put the mounting cash pile they’re sitting on back into the economy to stimulate investments.”

The unionists added that abandoning austerity schemes “would put more money back into working people’s pockets,” in turn stimulating demand and create jobs.

Finally, unionists demanded world leaders “change the rules of the game,” to speed up financial market reforms and deliver a coordinated international jobs plan.

And they cited an International Trade Union Confederation poll of citizens in 13 of the developed nations at the summit that showed mass discontent with the economic austerity foisted upon the world, and its impact.

“People think the banks have too much power, that politicians are not listening” to their citizens “but looking the other way, and that they (leaders) are not helping working people,” he said.

The unionists got positive reactions from Obama and new French President Francois Hollande, as well as leaders of Brazil, Argentina and India. Cameron refused to meet with the union leaders. Russian President Vladimir Putin met Russia’s union leaders attending the G-20. Merkel also reacted positively, but was puzzled when Jennings told her that her words ran counter to the austerity that Germany imposed on Greece.

The Greek financial crisis led to a European bailout, conditioned on deep cuts in wages and pensions, plus mass layoffs. The crisis there continues, with Greeks trying to form a government that would stay in the European financial system – instead of one that would pull out, producing a cascade of dominoes in other financially troubled nations and another worldwide slump.

When Jennings warned Merkel of the impact of the Greek austerity moves, she “promised to look into it,” he said. “But I can’t believe she was unaware of the effect.”

He also said that what the leaders say and what they may do for their workers, coming out of Los Cabos, could be very different.

“They’re coming up with a response” to the world jobs crisis “but not at the speed we’d like,” Jennings said of the G-20 leaders.

“And their response looks good on paper, but can they bring it home?” he asks.

Photo: Front pages of newspapers the day before elections in Greece, June 16. Greeks vote for the second time in six weeks on strict austerity measures taken in return for billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund. Dimitri Messinis/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.