Workers Rights

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Making Globalisation work for people

What does 'globalisation' mean?

‘Globalisation’ is a term that has suddenly become very common. It refers above all to the rapid increase in economic activity that is taking place across national boundaries. It includes the way that goods, services and financial capital are produced, traded and moved around the whole world.

Globalisation has profound social and political, as well as economic, implications. It is stimulating a level of interdependence that goes far beyond the international trade and communication of the past. It is having an enormous impact on the lives of workers and their communities everywhere.

Is it a good or bad thing?

Globalisation could be beneficial. Trade has the potential to generate wealth, stimulate technological innovation that improves living standards, and bring ordinary people in distant parts of the globe closer together, increasing mutual understanding and spreading values of social justice.

But this is not what is happening. At a time of unprecedented wealth and technological capability for some, the majority of the world's population finds that things are getting worse. The free market model of globalisation that is being promoted is focussed on the needs of business, particularly large-scale multinational companies, not on the needs of ordinary people.

Workers everywhere are seeing an erosion of their job security, working conditions, and wages. Hard-won rights to organise trade unions and negotiate collectively with management are being undermined. Millions of workers, particularly in the developing countries and Eastern Europe, are experiencing greater poverty and hardship.

The globalisation we are experiencing is increasing the gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries. Ever larger numbers of the poor are having to leave their traditional homes and migrate to wealthier cities or countries in the hope of earning a livelihood.

Meanwhile very powerful media and entertainment corporations from the industrialised countries dominate and marginalise other cultures, languages, and ways of living and thinking. These trends encourage resentment and bear the seeds of conflict.

Who Are the Key Players driving Globalisation?

  • Multinational Enterprises: otherwise known as ‘transnational corporations’, these are companies which run their business across national boundaries; they are the major beneficiaries of free trade.

  • World Trade Organisation (WTO): this is the international body through which international trade agreements are negotiated and enforced; it champions the freeing up of trade from those government restrictions which are said to interfere with the activities of business.
  • World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF): these international financial institutions provide loans and technical assistance to governments; they also champion policies of free trade and the privatisation of public services, often making these policies a condition for their loans.
  • Governments: those from the industrialised countries dominate the international institutions and so have great influence over what kind of globalisation is promoted.

Today’s globalisation is sometimes portrayed as an inevitable, technologically-driven process that we must adapt to if we are to survive and prosper. But this is not true. It is being driven by a laborious process of international rule-making and enforcement by governments that support the needs of business above those of their own citizens. Meanwhile, the regulations that protect workers and their communities are being downgraded.

Little wonder that many ordinary people have become angry or cynical at governments and democratic political processes. This lack of legitimacy will only worsen until people’s social, developmental and environmental concerns are properly addressed.

"Left unchecked, free market globalisation will lead to a wider gap between rich and poor, with the poor getting poorer. Globalisation needs to be managed so that it supports fundamental human rights and leads to long-lasting development and prosperity for ordinary people, particularly the poorest.

The trade union movement, locally, nationally and internationally, must play a leading role so that people are not the victims of globalisation, but so that globalisation works for the world's people."

David Begg, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions