This week, I am in Guyana to offer the support of Unifor members to workers in this country’s vital sugar industry.
For almost 20 years, Unifor and its predecessor unions have helped these workers through our Social Justice Fund and other measures as they stand up for their rights and work to build better communities in their country.
Unifor has a long and proud history of standing with workers in another countries, whether Guyana or elsewhere. The reason cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a political union – as Unifor is proud to call itself. There can be no progress for any worker without progress for all. It is our history of internationalism and solidarity that has and can continue to make a difference for workers and communities around the world.
While things can often be difficult in Canada, we largely take for granted what workers in other countries are fighting hard to still achieve. Workers in Canada struggled hard to build the social justice and democratic structures that we now have in place. With that success, which we continue to build upon, we have a responsibility to help others around the world.
Helping to achieve that goal is why the Social Justice Fund (SJF), a registered charity administered through Unifor, is so important. Funded by contributions from our members and employers, the SJF and its predecessor funds at Unifor’s founding unions have helped thousands of workers around the world through more than 1,100 projects since 1990. About 20 per cent of its money is used for projects in Canada.
Supporting human rights and workers’ struggles for higher wages and decent working conditions in other countries helps ensure that poverty-level wages and brutal working conditions do not distort investment decisions by large multi-national corporations. In the end, that just hurts all of us.
Make no mistake. Left on their own, big corporations and their corporate-friendly trade deals will do little, if anything, to lift workers in any country out of poverty.
Just take a look at NAFTA. Billed, in part, as a way to help improve the lives of struggling Mexican workers, it has failed in any real way to do so.
In fact, since 1994, when NAFTA came into effect, Mexican workers have suffered through declining conditions in both manufacturing and agriculture, and growing inequality. Since NAFTA was signed, per capita GDP growth, a measure of per person income growth, in Mexico has been just 1 per cent per year – ranking the country 18th out of 20 Latin American countries.
For the workers of Mexico, this means they and their children often go hungry – with 20 million living in food poverty. Fully 25 per cent of the population does not have access to basic food. One-fifth of Mexican children suffer malnutrition.
Making matters worse, heavily subsidized American corn flooded into Mexico under NAFTA, driving some 1.3 million farmers of this staple Mexican crop off their land and into cities to provide cheap labour in newly built factories, or into the US to provide cheap labour there.
It is far from the prosperous future sold to workers across North America. The desperate situation in Mexico, in fact, has put downward pressure on wages and working conditions here as companies pull up stakes and move south.
It is clear we cannot count on large companies to lift workers out of poverty. Instead, as it has always been, it is up to workers themselves to assert their rights, push back together and demand a better life.
In an era of ever-expanding international trade and wider ranging trade deals, it is vital that workers unite and work in solidarity across international borders.
Unifor members, whatever job they hold, have more in common with the needs and desires of sugar workers in Guyana than they will ever have with the corporate titans who would play us off against one another.
International solidarity matters, it's a proud part of our union. Together we can and we will build a better world for all.