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News

June 1 2006

ILR Global Labor Institute Hosts Meeting on Sustainable Development 

David Foster, United Steelworkers of America, US and CanadaInternational trade union solidarity got a healthy boost on May 8, 2006 when an international delegation of trade unionists attending the Fourteenth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in New York met with American brothers and sisters to discuss mutual problems and share solutions relating to their struggle for sustainable development.

Named “A Sustainable World is Possible”, the conference was the second annual North American meeting on labor, the environment and sustainability and was held as part of a Global Labor Institute Conference Series in the downtown New York campus of ILR-Cornell. It was organized by the Institute in conjunction with SustainLabour, and co-sponsored by the Apollo Alliance, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, UNITE HERE!, and the United Steelworkers.

The meeting explored topics ranging from sustainability in anundefined era of globalization, the resurgence of international labour to job creation and energy alternatives. More importantly, it provided a rare opportunity for trade unionists, community activists and sustainable development advocates to become acquainted and share ideas in a supportive environment. 

The meeting was kicked off by a Panel discussing ‘Global Milestones for Labor and the Environment.’ Lucien Royer of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions/Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (ICFTU/TUAC) pointed out that search for sustainable development, as defined by its three ‘pillars’, has been the prime mission of trade unions from the time they first appeared in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. He was followed by Hillary French of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) who discussed the growing ties between UNEP and the labour movement which resulted the first Conference on Trade Unions and the Environment in Nairobi, Kenya last January. Ivan Gonzales of the Regional Inter-American Organization of Workers (ORIT) informed delegates about the Conference on Labor and Environment in Latin America and the Caribbean in Sao Paulo, Brazil 17-19 April 2006 that was organized by SustainLabour and led to a ‘Sao Paulo Declaration’ which situates the sustainable development in the struggles and social movement of working people in that region.

A panel on ‘The Coming Transition: Sustainability and the Resurgence of International Labour’ was chaired by Angela Lomosi of AFRO, the ICFTU’s regional organization in Africa. Jaoquin Nieto Sainz of the Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CC OO) in Spain illustrated how intensification of international environmental and social crises has defined a clear role for a stronger, more dynamic international trade union movement. David Foster if the United Steelworkers spoke about the growing movement amongst American trade unions to respond to mobilize members behind the search for sustainable development. Bhekie Ntshalintshali, Deputy General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) spoke to the need for a clearly-defined approach to counter attempts by the business community in concert with pro-business governments to dominate the sustainable development agenda.

Following a luncheon break, Working Sessions allowed Conference delegates an opportunity to engage in lively discussions and come to conclusions on three issue areas: ‘Job Creation and Energy Alternatives’, ‘Chemicals and Community’ and ‘Holding Corporations Accountable’. Facilitators/Rapporteurs included: Jerome Ringo - Apollo Alliance, Laura Martin Murillo - SustainLabour, Diane Heminway - United Steelworkers, Nick de Carlo - Canadian Autoworkers, David Boys - Public Services International and Eric Frumin – UNITE HERE!

A final Panel chaired by Ken Margolies of the Cornell Institute defined ‘Next Steps: Making the Environment a Core Issue for Unions Everywhere’. Bernard Saincy of the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT- France) explained why framework agreements provide a useful tool with which trade unions can meet the challenge of multinational corporations in a globalized labour market. Monica Onyia of the Nigeria Labor Congress described how African trade unionists were responding to the social and environmental excesses practiced by multinational petroleum companies in region. Joe Radisich of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) described a campaign he was leading to address pollution in the major ports along the U.S. Coast, beginning with his home port in Los Angeles.

The Global Labor Institute, located at the Cornell ILR Conference Center, 16 East 34th St, 6th Floor, New York City, provides a unique venue for unions to work together to strengthen labor's response to the challenges posed by globalization. The goal of the Institute is to help union officers, staff and activists gain a deeper understanding of the policies and institutions that operate at the global level, and assist in bringing unionists based in different countries into contact with each other. It also brings together unions and other civil society organizations and movements committed to global justice.

Contact: Sean Sweeney, director, Global Labor Institue