Unionists Talk Strategy on How to Fight the Right, Worldwide

WASHINGTON—Do these phrases sound familiar?

“They talk very simple language, and of very simple feelings and they appeal to people.”

“Corporate power understands they needed new strategies to get power and to take advantage of democracy.”

“In our last election, the main winner was a right wing party, the second was an extreme right wing party, the third was a leftist party and the fourth was billionaires.”

“Education isn’t helping at all. People don’t care about facts. I can show them we have a lack of workers, and it won’t move them.”

“The wave of right wing conservatism is not in the U.S. alone, but across Europe, in Latin America and elsewhere. So in the labor movement, we believe it’s our responsibility to fight back against this wave of right wing populism across the world.

All those quotes, except for the last, could describe why the right wing, in the person of GOP President-elect Donald Trump and his Republican congressional colleagues, swept the November election. But they aren’t about the reasons for those wins in the U.S.

They came from unionists from around the world – Belgium, Tunisia, Argentina, the Ukraine and Germany – at a 3-day international conference, hosted by the AFL-CIO and the International Trades Union Confederation in mid-December, about how to fight the right.

Delegates agreed on key points during a panel discussion on Dec. 13. Among them:

• That corporate interests and the business class are behind the shove to the right, symbolized by the election of business-backed Marcello Macri as Argentine president, multimillionaire Petro Poroshenko as Ukrainian president, and, of course, Trump.

• The right skillfully disguised its true stands through a simple message that appealed to people’s fears, instincts and economic insecurity. Macri “didn’t say everything he would do. He lied to the people,” added Matias Zalduendo of Argentina.

• That fear of the “other” – immigrants in Europe, African-Americans and Latinos in the U.S. or fundamentalists, including terrorists, elsewhere – drove many voters to the right.

• That, as Belgian delegates Goda Neverauskite, who also spoke for the ITUC, said, “education doesn’t help when people ignore facts.”

 

“There are so many similarities to how the right has deceived voters worldwide,” said Carmen Berkley, the AFL-CIO Civil and Human Rights Division director, chair of the panel – and author of the last statement in the opening set.

 

Where the delegates could not come to a consensus, yet, is in trying to craft a global, universal solution to battling the right.

“We are trying to protect not only labor rights, but all human rights,” declared Ukrainian unionist Olesia Briazgunova. “We don’t care about ideology, because we are trying to unite all people, especially young people. It’s important human rights, not just labor rights, and on the global level, where we need more solidarity.”

She added labor, as well as “the political system” needs new, younger faces.

Neverauskite suggested unions establish programs to specifically organize migrants and refugees, as some European unions are now doing. That would both help integrate those migrants into civil society, lessening fear on the other side, while bringing in new members and raising living standards, she noted.

German delegate Ronja Enders said the fear was not all on one side. “The one thing that moved the needle a little” in Germany, she added, “was the election of Trump. People were saying ‘We don’t want to be like that.’ And they” on the left “too were driven by fear.”

Kholoud Mannai of Tunisia noted that two years ago, her union federation – which is mostly public sector workers – led a long general strike in favor of the constitution, and its non-religious ideals and non-discrimination, and democracy.

But the result of the downfall of the dictatorial president was a narrowly averted civil war and election of a coalition government, dominated by the right, that is privatizing more and more of the North African nation’s economy.

For Mannai, more organizing is a big answer. That will also help the future of Tunisian labor, she said, since “53 percent of the workers in the private sector are young people.” She also advocated campaigning for alternatives to the current economic system, saying that mistrust of politicians and parties has left an opening for unions to exploit.

But young workers may not be open to traditional unions, Belgium’s Neverauskite pointed out. “They are apolitical and not participating in decision-making,” she commented. “And they don’t believe in solidarity and in the power of a movement.

“So we have to show them the power of solidarity and of being together” through concrete victories that aid them and their future, she warned.

“And we have to find allies in civil societies and among (other) non-governmental organizations. Because we were slow to adapt, a lot of” younger workers “are not interested” in the union message, Mannai noted. “Many want change – but not necessarily in unions.”

Briazgunova was more optimistic. “Trade unions can achieve this goal” of solidarity to fight the right “because we are organized around common values,” she said.

Source: PAI