Women´s Economic Empowerment: Strategizing and Networking across Boards and Borders

by Lisa Bengtsson
Swedish Municipal workers Union (Kommunal), PSI intervention the Women´s Economic Empowerment:  Strategizing and Networking across Boards and Borders PSI-FES-RLS-WGP

First of all - thank you for arranging this important reception and for letting me make some remarks on behalf of PSI and the Swedish Municipal workers Union, Kommunal

I want to start by saying that there are many reasons to be concerned about the developments in the world today.

But personally I am strengthened in my conviction that strong, fair and democratic labor unions are more necessary than ever.

Absolutely necessary – If we are to secure a future where societies are built on the principles of social and gender justice.

I refuse to be negative – but as a union activist I am well aware of the need to be realistic. It is only then we can make the necessary assessment of what needs to be done.

And this is one reality of today:

  • Global competition creates social dumping – states worsening the conditions for their workers in the hope of attracting foreign capital.
  • Or, when dubious companies exploit insufficient legal framework to drive down wages below the nationally accepted levels.

Economic globalization has had a negative effect on workers and their ability to organize their union activities.

And that reality makes it important that unions – together with the global union federations – work to combat the ongoing dumping of the terms of employment. We need to move forward and strengthen our position on several areas.

One such area is the demands for social conditions in the procurement of both goods and services.

It is laid down in the ILO Convention on public procurement, No. 94 that dumping of wages or working conditions to win public contracts is not allowed.

But even though my union – Kommunal – has lobbied for ratification of the convention for a long time, Sweden has not yet ratified it.

Although Swedish legislation is adapted to the convention, a formal ratification would strengthen the work against social dumping and send the clear message that the issue is a priority on the political agenda.

This is one thing that simply needs to be done – and Kommunal will keep reminding the decision makers about.

We, Kommunal, are doing this in what is still a quite well working context where the right to organize is protected by the constitution.

But - what should we as unions do globally to support and reinforce positive conditions in the countries where free trade unions are not self-evident? That is another issue.

As I started by stating – globalization has had negative effects on workers and their ability to organize their union activities.

The possibilities to build strong unions are affected by different conditions.

The right to organize and the right to negotiate and conclude agreements are fundamental.

In countries that lack these rights the presence of organizations that stand for human rights and democracy is vital. Within the framework of the Global Union Federations many efforts are made to support and strengthen affiliates around the world.

One such effort is trade union development projects.

The objective is to build strong, democratic, equal and independent trade unions in countries where this today is far from evident.

Only if the workers themselves are organized can they improve their conditions and demand their rights.

My union, Kommunal, can see the relation between our own union power and the union strength in other countries. We need each other.

And that is the reason why we contribute to the development of free trade unions in other countries.

The objective of our commitment to development cooperation is to increase the trade unions capacity to do 3 things:

  1. defend the interests of their members,
  2. develop strategies for the union’s development and
  3. increase the density and membership of the unions.

Our work focuses on women and youth. And three principles govern all our projects:

  1. Solidarity and cooperation: The project must be characterized by respect and mutual exchange of experience.
  1. Democracy and equality: Projects should aim to build independent and transparent trade unions and strengthen democratic structures and working methods. An important objective is to improve the social and working conditions for women and men from a gender perspective. Therefore, all our projects include a gender analysis.
  1. Sustainability and ownership: Every organization has the responsibility for their own development. Projects should be based on the needs as decided by the unions we work with. The emphasis shall be placed on strengthening the unions' own ability to develop.

I belive these three principles is fundamental in all contexts when it comes to building strong unions.

 * * *

I would like to end by sharing a success story that is the result of a good trade union development project:

In Tunisia, we support a project where Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) is one of the unions active in the project.

A social dialogue took place after the Islamism phase. This social dialogue where UGTT played an important role, led to an agreement between different parties and to the creation of a consensual government.

This led to them winning the Swedish Nobel Peace Prize. This was a very important recognition of the role of trade unions as peace builders and as democratic agents cementing the gains of Tunisia’s democratic revolution.

It was widely recognised that without the positive and progressive interventions of trade unions in the country, the likelihood of civil conflict and rising religious extremism was high.

Concerning human rights and social and gender justice – it is not possible to wish away the storm clouds that show in the sky.

But us – people committed to the strength of unions and our common conviction that people working together has the ability to shape their own future – there is much we can do to ensure a future that puts the rights and freedoms of all people at its heart.

I am sertain that the only thing that really can make “Womens economic empowerment” happening is women around the world organising themselves and making demands for a better future.

So lets continue and further develop our international solidarity work.

Thank you.

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