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Unions winning for working people across the world

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Last week our HeartUnions international event welcomed some fantastic speakers. Below are the highlights on how unions are winning around the world – and the power of collective action to deliver change.

We started with Cristina Faciaben (@Crisfaciaben) – international secretary of Commissiones Obreras, one of the two main federations in Spain. Cristina told us about the labour law just passed through the Spanish Parliament. It restores rights that ensure that collective agreements between unions and employers can’t just time out – leaving no incentive for employers to come to the table to renew them.  It brings outsourced and contract workers in from the cold – making sure they’re covered by agreements negotiated across whole sectors. And there’s new tougher penalties on employers who try to wriggle out of the law. (read more about the new law). As Cristina said – trade unions didn’t get everything they wanted in the new law. But it’s a real step forward for union and workers’ rights.

Next up was Fred Redmond (@STRedmond)– Secretary Treasurer of the AFLCIO in the US. While the Biden administration have committed to overturning outdated labour laws which hold workers back Fred told us that Republican lawmakers are likely to block progress. But that’s not stopping workers organising – and there’s been a wave of both worker action and of inter-union solidarity, including in the campaign to defeat Amazon’s union-busting tactics. Fred talked about the building a virtuous circle; the more we organise, the more we build leaders who can work for pro-union policies and beat back the far-right attacks on democracy.

Far-right attacks on democracy have marked Chile’s history. The coup led by General Pinochet in November 1973 against the democratically elected government is often seen as the birth of neo-liberalism. But the recent election of Gabriel Boric, leader of the broad left coalition, was a triumph for the trade union movement against the far right. Tamara Munoz, (@ciudadanatamara), vice president of the Chilean CUT told us that the national strike organised by trade unions played a critical role in the victory. Trade unions have worked along other social movements, first in the vote to overturn the Pinochet era constitution, and now to elect a government that can put in place policies to tackle poverty and to bring down working hours. Unity was key to the victory Tamara told us – refusing a politics that pits workers against immigrants in order to leave both behind.

Our last speaker – Gautam Mody from the Indian federation, NTUI – came fresh from another victory. The right-wing government in India had expelled opposition parties from parliament in order to pass laws that would allow big business to overtake small farms, ending the jobs of tens of millions of workers. Working with farmers organisations, trade unions were key to the protests that eventually led to the repeal of these laws. But workers and trade unions in India still face huge problems. Attacks on union independence and right to strike, job losses and the impacts of the pandemic are all hitting workers hard. Solidarity between workers was key to defeating the farm laws Gautam told us – and its solidarity that will eventually help defeat the challenges they face now.

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