Thursday, September 15, 2005

John J. Sweeney - Conference on Humanizing the Global Economy, "The Moral and Human Dimensions of Work and Workers in the Global Economy," Washington,

Thank you, Archbishop Gaumond, for those kind words of introduction and my thanks to the bishops of Canada, the United States and Latin America for sponsoring this timely conference on "Humanizing the Global Economy." My gratitude also extends to Cardinal Law for his continued leadership as Chair of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Bishops and as one of the most dynamic spiritual leaders of these troubled times.
In my capacity as head of the American labor movement and as president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, I'm privileged to represent some 70 million workers in 29 countries, and I'm grateful for the opportunity of representing their viewpoint.
This panel has been asked to look at how wages and working conditions have improved and how they have deteriorated due to globalization.
And what we see around the world and in this country as well is this - that globalization has not lived up to its promise to lift the lives of working people, and in the light of Catholic social teaching, that is a tragedy of huge dimension.
Our belief is that the test of every institution or policy is whether it enhances or threatens human life and human dignity— not by whether those institutions and policies lay up great riches for individuals, or generate profits for corporations, or wealth for nations.
In Catholic teaching, the economy exists to serve people, and not the other way around. By that test, the world's 30-year experiment with unfettered globalization fails and cries out for dramatic correction.
Our belief is that paths to such correction are available and traversable, if we have the collective will to find them and the communal courage to climb them.
Between 1988 and 1993, the poorest 60 percent of the world's population actually lost income.
We can look more closely at a few countries which provide important insights—in Mexico, for instance, real wages have fallen 15 to 20 percent since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. We know with certainty that while there has been rapid growth of trade, investment and the economy south of our border, Mexican workers have not shared in the prosperity.
And we also know with certainty that despite the promises of unregulated free trade, 2.8 billion people around the world still eke out a desperate existence on less than $2.00 a day—hungry, without decent shelter, with no doctor to treat them when they are sick, no teacher to help them learn to read, and no job to help them lift themselves up.
When they do find work, it is often under forced labor, child labor and slave labor conditions, living in cramped quarters, working 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week in unhealthy working conditions, subject to discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse.
And when they try to join and form unions, they are fired from their jobs, or worse—imprisoned, tortured, murdered.
Last year, more than 160 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia by paramilitary groups associated with the government.
The country of Burma continues to engage in "the systematic and widespread use of forced labor," according to the International Labor Organization, with rape, torture and murder common.
The government of China—one of the rising stars of the global economy—does not tolerate independent trade unions, and has consistently subordinated the rights of its own citizens to the convenience of foreign investors who are bound by no international human rights or workers' rights standards.
And we know that global income inequality has increased since the late 1980s, both between countries and between individuals.
And of course here in the United States, while the economic gains in this country over the last decade were historic, the chasm between the rich and the poor widened.
In our land of extraordinary riches, 35 million of our fellow citizens remain ill-housed, ill-clothed, poorly fed and living diminished lives in the shadows of society.
Since the 1970s and the advent of the free-market institutions and policies we now call globalization, poor Americans have fallen further below the poverty line and working Americans were just beginning to recover from 20 years of wage stagnation when our economy slid into recession.
The loss of good, middle-class manufacturing jobs has become a hemorrhaging.
And so after three decades of productivity growth, technological progress and trade liberalization, the typical American worker is making less, while working more hours and sending additional family members into the workforce to make up the difference.
This conference asks: How can this be corrected? How can workers' rights be protected? Should there be minimum standards locally or globally? If so, how should these standards be enforced, and what roles should various actors undertake?
The answers from the trade union movement have long been on the table of international negotiation and in the arena of public debate—we believe there should be rules and standards for labor in the global marketplace, just there are now rules and standards for capital.
Just as rules guarantee protections for business rights, rules should guarantee core human rights and workers' rights as established by the International Labor Organization—no slave labor, no child labor, freedom from discrimination and freedom to join and form unions. There should be no incentive to profit from exploitation, or to trade away the basic dignity of people anywhere around the world. And the standards should assure wages sufficient to raise a family, and workplaces that are safe and healthy for communities as well as for workers.
An example of the creative programs to build just such situations exists in Cambodia today, where with substantial assistance from the ILO, the country's new labor code facilitated the creation of independent unions in 25 percent of the factories involving exports to the U.S.
Every worldwide financial institution should be required to live by and enforce basic rules that protect human rights and workers' rights, and every trade agreement should include them—nothing short of this will guarantee that proprietors in the world marketplace compete by innovation instead of by pitting workers against workers.
However, the international labor movement does not believe that merely establishing and enforcing standards of human rights and workers' rights alone is enough to make the global economy work for working families.
We must also marshal massive political will in the developed world in support of aggressive debt relief, and greatly enhanced aid to developing nations—especially those countries beset by hunger and the AIDS pandemic.
Moreover, our goals for the global economy should include universal access to education, health care and retirement security, as well as gateways to information technology and encouragement of civil society standards and democratic principles throughout the world.
The international labor movement, the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Church all play promising roles in this effort. We must expand our efforts and commit ourselves to close collaboration, as now exists between our international project staff and Catholic Relief Services in several countries.
The magnitude of the problems is so great, however, that we must insist that governments of good will add their efforts and their financial resources to those of charity—we cannot get the job done alone.
Some say that the application of these standards and pursuit of these principles and goals are sure to destroy the benefits of global integration during this new Agilded age," but we respond that these are the same voices who sang of doom during the AGilded Age" at the turn of the last century.
Then as now, a new economic era was upon us, and we instituted new rules and regulations in this country to make sure the benefits were shared fairly.
Those guidelines not only guaranteed fairness, they guaranteed the productivity and diversified wealth that created the most competitive economy in the history of the world.
In that earlier era, Pope Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" provided a beacon to guide us through the shoals of greed and contention that were endangering our ship of economic and social justice, and it was perhaps the church's strongest statement ever on the right of workers and their families.
The Holy Father wrote, and I quote: ALet it be taken for granted that workman and employer should, as a rule, make free agreements, and in particular should agree freely as to wages. Nevertheless, there is a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, that remuneration should be sufficient to maintain the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort.
"If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder c conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made a victim of force and injustice."
The preciseness of these words added a new dimension to Catholic social teaching then, and they give no comfort now to advocates of the new social Darwinism dominating the global economy.
But if the words of the church are not enough to convince the purveyors of greed among us, the events of the past six months should be enough to convert us.
As if we didn't already know, it is now more apparent than ever that poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance are indeed the putrid loam of hatred.
And as if history hadn't already taught us, we've learned anew that islands of prosperity cannot survive unbreached in oceans of despair.
Thank you for your support of working families and our unions, and providing me with the opportunity to join in this dialogue.


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