More than 1 500 delegates from 242 trade unions from 111 countries around the world have arrived in Durban for the 17th congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions.
The federation’s general secretary, George Mavrikos, addressed a media briefing in the city this morning, saying the federation, which was formed at the end of World War II, would be deliberating what kinds of trades union working class people required to represent their interests in a world reeling from the brutality of capitalism and violent imperialist interventions.
The conference, at which a new federation leadership will be elected to serve a five-year term, is co-hosted by Cosatu and its affiliates the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Chemical, Engineering, Paper, Pulp, Wood and Allied Workers Union, all of which are affiliated to the federation.
The congress is organised under the theme “Struggle, Internationalism and Unity for the attainment of the contemporary workers’ needs, against poverty and wars generated by capitalist barbarism”.
By this evening about 800 international delegates will join 500 local delegates who arrived in Durban for the congress, which will end in a rally on Saturday.
The programme will also observe the one day of action by Cosatu this week, according to the local federation president, S’dumo Dlamini.
President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address tomorrow, following an opening performed by veteran South African trade unionist Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, one of the key figures in the formation of the South African Council of Trade Unions, which was affiliated in exile with the world federation.
Mavrikos said that of the 1500 delegates, 340 were women, 31% came from public sector unions and 69% from the private sector, and all continents were represented at the congress.
“The class-orientated and revolutionary trade union movement under the banner of the [World Federation of Trade Unions] will use this opportunity to reflect and come out with responses to the challenges facing the working class all around the world and also to consolidate and strengthen the principles of working class internationalism and universalism,’’ said Mavrikos.
Mavrikos said trade union rights, including the right to organise and to strike, were under attack all over the world, and the quality of life of working class people was deteriorating rapidly.
“Workers have to deal with the brutal reaction of authorities and the capitalists whose response against these legitimate and fair struggles is to arrest, imprison and even murder trade unionists. The working class needs stronger, more dynamic, more mass based, more class-oriented, trade union movements, trade unions with deep and stable roots within the industries, within the multinationals and within all sectors, to defend its rights and demand social justice,” he said.