International Union Leader: World’s Top Nations Recognize Widening Income Gap

PARIS –Leaders of the world’s richest nations recognize the widening income gap between the rich and the rest of us is a global problem, an international union leader who addressed the group says.  But now those nations have to figure out what to do about it.

One big solution that Phillip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, urged them to adopt is to strengthen the right to organize and collectively bargain so workers “can have a seat at the table” and be able to reap more of the gains of the wealth they produce.

Swiss-based UNI includes more than 90 unions worldwide, representing 20 million workers in cleaning, security, finance, gaming, graphics, packaging, hair and beauty salons, information, communication, technology and services industries, media, entertainment and the arts, post offices and logistics, social insurance, temp and agency workers, and tourism.

Speaking for them, Jennings addressed 300 government and business leaders on May 5 at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.  He told Press Associates Union News Service afterwards that reaction – including from a top Obama administration official – was favorable.  But the meeting was not set up for concrete moves.

An OECD report released just before the Paris session made the same point that the gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing and that it harms workers, economies and societies.  OECD includes the U.S., Europe, Japan, Brazil, India, Canada and other nations that account for most of the world’s economy.

OECD said national governments can increase economic equity by investing in infra-structure and extending benefits for the long-term jobless.  Local governments should invest in early education, quality housing, public transportation and training for disadvantaged groups.

“It’s promising to have this reassessment of the threat” of income inequality by the OECD, Jennings said.  And it includes reassessing how well the labor market works, or doesn’t, for those nations’ workers.  That’s where the U.S. goes part-way, he added.

“President Obama called for pay increases and raising the minimum wage,” Jennings explained, quoting a speech by the lead U.S. delegate, Jason Furman, chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.  “He (Furman) shared the realization income inequality has reached unacceptable levels.  But you need the institutions of collective bargaining to give working people a seat at the table,” Jennings told PAI.  Furman’s speech was silent on that.

Policy and political choices for the last three decades have helped produce and accelerate income inequality, Jennings explained.  “Now we want to see evolution of policy within the OECD” in the other direction.  “Worker rights have to be respected, and you will not make a difference” on the issue “until collective bargaining is reinstated,” Jennings warned the group.