The 21st century witnessing ‘new forms of slavery’

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of PSI addresses delegates in Brighton. Photo: Marcus Rose / Workers' Photos.

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of PSI addresses delegates in Brighton. Photo: Marcus Rose / Workers’ Photos.

Modern society is witnessing the growth of “new forms of slavery”, national conference delegates heard in Brighton today.

Rosa Pavanelli, the general secretary of global trade union federation, Public Services International (PSI), said that as a result of the financial crisis “we are currently suffering the highest level of unemployment ever reached, and it’s increasing worldwide”.

“Those who created the crisis are still enjoying their wealth and privileges, while the number of people suffering as a result is growing, even in developing countries.”

And she declared: “International solidarity is no longer just about campaigns for union rights in developing countries. It’s something bigger and more global nowadays.

“Speaking about international solidarity is speaking about you, and it’s speaking about us. In the 21st century it is a truly global fight.”

Ms Pavanelli, the first woman to be elected to her position, was the international guest speaker at this year’s conference.

She read out a list of countries which PSI has denounced for violating trade union rights this year, which was extensive and too long for her to finish.

“As you can see, from north to south, at all latitudes, under all kinds of political, government and economic conditions, public service workers rights are under attack.”

She said that UNISON’s aims were very much those of the federation, including fighting for jobs and for a living wage, closing the pay gap between genders and generations, and the protection of public services.

And she added that recent UNISON campaign successes, such as George Eliot Hospital and Care UK, “have been followed by PSI members around the world”.

Indeed, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, who has just been re-elected as president of PSI, was making a video about those victories that would be presented to a union meeting in South Korea against the privatisation of that country’s health care system, she said.

But Ms Pavanelli added that, “a domestic victory can be fragile if you don’t dare to threaten your enemies globally”.

She also warned of the “new generation” of free trade agreements, notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated in secret between the EU and the United States, which has “the potential to destroy all public services”.

In September leaders of the biggest trade unions in PSI, including UNISON, will be meeting in Washington to discuss the trade agreement threat.