On 17 June 2019 WOW President Wayne Prins had the honour of addressing the plenary at the 108th International Labour Conference. The Conference marked the Centenary of the ILO. Here follows the full speech:
Thank you Chair, Director General, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We live in a time of significant economic and social upheaval, a time of rapid technological change, and a time of fractured political discourse. In many countries around the world, our politics and policies increasingly divide rather than unite us.
As president of the World Organisation of Workers, I would like to submit to you that this is also a time of unprecedented opportunity to set aside our differences, to work together, to bring about the changes that we need to build a future of decent work for all people.
For workers, recent trade disagreements, disruptions in investment and in financial markets, and hostility between and within nations have created instability in labour markets. Wage growth and job opportunity have been stalled by an increasing sense of fear and insecurity.
As representatives of the labour movement, we must be clear that we stand united in the cause of improving the livelihoods and well-being of all people while also protecting our fragile environment. But it is a mistake to assume that this cause can be advanced by a singular vision of labour united under a singular voice.
WOW believes that a multitude of perspectives is not only desired but essential. We speak to one cause, but with many voices.
WOW strives to ensure that its affiliated unions have the freedom to express themselves in a manner that reflects their own history, values, and vision. We believe that the diversity of our views can bring forth the creativity and ideas that we desperately need to tackle the larger issues affecting our members and workers throughout the world. Issues such as economic equality and opportunity, training and safety, gender wage parity, and violence and harassment in the workplace.
We do not succeed as a society when we seek to stifle, restrict, and conform. We succeed when we allow each other the freedom and opportunity to pursue creative and diverse solutions in a spirit of cooperation.
Success in building a future of decent work depends on workers, employers, and governments engaging in social dialogue and negotiation to resolve differences. It depends on our ability to resolve conflict through creative compromise and by looking for win-win opportunities.
We will know we have achieved success when our economies serve everyone, not just a select few. When labour and capital reconcile and work together to build a society of solidarity, social justice, and peace. When the marvels of our technological prowess benefit all people, and when we ameliorate its displacement effects by providing workers with a dependable social safety net, education and training, and new job opportunities.
Along with threats to economic prosperity, our world also faces growing challenges to the environment that threaten the well-being of all earth’s inhabitants. Again, WOW submits that solutions must depend on the best collective efforts of everyone in developing not only a sustainable economy that benefits all, but a sustainable environment that benefits our children and future generations.
Building a future of decent work is not possible if we do not protect and maintain our global environment. We cannot burn out the world in the pursuit of growth and short-term economic benefits. But neither can we forsake the needs of people around the world struggling to better their lives.
WOW’s pluralistic, cooperative model provides a way forward. By listening to all voices, by understanding all perspectives, by harnessing the ideas and creativity of us all, we can address the challenges of today and tomorrow in ways that benefit everyone, in ways that do not seek to privilege the few or exclude the many, in ways that do not leave millions struggling to provide for themselves or their families.
Building a future of decent work for everyone is within our reach. But it requires our collective best efforts and respect for all voices.