Sharan Burrow's speech to the Put People First Rally

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Put People First

March for Jobs, Justice, Climate

Saturday 28 March 2009



Congratulations on turning out to stand up against the extraordinary corporate greed that bought us the global financial crisis - now a crisis for working people and their families as they increasingly lose their jobs,

Congratulations for standing against poverty and against environmental destruction.

But most of all thank you for standing up for those who can't;

  • Standing up for the 50 million workers who will lose their jobs and join those who are already unable to get work,
  • Standing up for the 200 million more people who will be forced in to extreme poverty, joining the 1.4 billion of our sisters and bothers who are already desperately trying to live on less than $2US dollars a day
  • Standing up for the rights of our children and grandchildren to a secure job and a safe planet.

They want, we all want, a better world, a world where people come first!

The anger of people around the world is growing.

This anger is understandable as more and more of the world's people realise that their jobs, their houses, the value of their pension funds have been stripped away by a crisis caused by greed and incompetence in the financial sector.

The message is loud and clear for the leaders of the G20 next week - there can be no business as usual.

There must be an end to unrestrained financial markets, the fraud of self-regulation and the greed and stupidity of our bankers and businesses leveraging massive profit from unconstrained debt.

The rampant free market must be buried - replaced with a more caring, more equitable society where people do come first.

There must be strong role for government, for public services, for job security and for workers' rights.

Even the President of France says there must be 'a new moral foundation for capitalism'.

We want to see action from the political leaders in London this week - leaders of nations that control 85% of the world's economic activity.

They must act on:

  • a co-ordinated international recovery plan that includes poor and vulnerable nations
  • a plan for jobs, a jobs pact, that guarantees investment in a 'Green New Deal' to shift the world onto a low-carbon growth path.
  • intervention in insolvent banks to restore confidence, managing the toxic debt the world's casino capitalists have mounted up and establish new rules and reformed institutions to control global finance and save our houses and our pensions,

and then -

  • We want the ILO at the table to help create decent and secure jobs, fight against wage deflation and reverse the growth of income inequality by extending the coverage of collective bargaining and the minimum wage.
  • We want governments to take a more honest look at the impact of the policies of privatisation, liberalisation, and labour market deregulation of recent decades, and
  • We want their determination to conclude an ambitious international agreement on climate change at Copenhagen in December.

Trade unions can say 'I told you so'. We have been warning for many years about the explosion in inequality, the growing gap between wages and profits, the increase in precarious employment, the rising debt levels for working families and the casino capitalism of a financial sector increasingly divorced from the real economy.

The shameful reality is that not only have there been no apologies and no jail sentences but outrageous multi-million bonuses are still being pocketed by financial engineers who created a financial house of cards now destroying the livelihoods and the real homes of millions.

And there can be no doubt that the corporate world has lost its moral compass when CEOs are still taking home salaries many times the average wage, while at the same time closing factories and sacking workers or sending their jobs to even lower paying countries.

Indeed some of the corporate cowboys who created this crisis are saying 'just bail us out' and 'leave it to the market'! They are shamelessly still acting as if they run the show.

Well here's a news flash from working people around the world: the party is over!

The global financial crisis has demonstrated once and for all that unfettered markets don't work. They don't work for the economy, and they do nothing for workers and their families.

And the same unfettered economic development has also rushed headlong down a path of environmental catastrophe, with climate change threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of the worlds people and whole communities in vulnerable continents like my own and many of yours.

It's over!

We want a different world, a world where people really do come first!


Sharan Burrow is the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and of the International Trade Union Confederation

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