End of the Davos Man, says labour union leader

Uni Global Union general secretary Philip Jennings.
Uni Global Union general secretary Philip Jennings.

Cape Town – A rising force of organisations seeking change in the unequal balance of wealth and income distribution in the world will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, which starts this Wednesday.

Read: 80 people have the same wealth as 3.5 billion - Oxfam

One such organisation is Uni Global Union, which represents over a thousand trade unions from 150 countries around the world.

Their general secretary, Philip Jennings, who was re-elected to the top job at their congress in Cape Town in December 2014, told Fin24 that the current economic model was no longer sustainable.

“What we have seen in the last decades is that the bulk of the wealth is gravitated to the top 1%,” he said. “This is serious because it means that with economies that are based on 60% to 70% consumption, it is the wage of working people which makes the wheels turn. It’s not just the 1%.”

“What we are seeing is unsustainable,” he said.

Read: Dark clouds on trade union horizon

Fixing inequality

The problem of inequality can be fixed, he said. “It’s about political choices that have to be made,” he said. “There are no miracles required. We do not need divine intervention to find a solution to this. This requires hard political choices and the world has a chance this year.”

“The United Nations has a major conference on sustainable development and that includes dealing with inequality,” he said. “This is about the distribution of income. And we can fix this in a number of ways.

“In Europe, we have to turn the corner on austerity policies and put growth and demand back in our economies,” he said. “The world’s largest economy, the US, has to do the same thing.”

“We have to have policies geared towards improving the income share and you do this by minimum wage, you do this by collective bargaining, you do this through tax policy, and you do it through very strong commitment to giving workers a voice on the job.”

Watch the full interview:

How did the world get here?

Jennings said inequality comes from globalisation, where people could produce and manufacture anywhere in the world. He said it also came from the technological revolution, which opened the flow for businesses around the world.

“We’ve also seen the rise of the political right wing,” he said. “If you look at the period from the 1970s, there was clearly a period of political agenda.

“It was about the market, deregulation [and] liberalisation; [where] monetary [issues] took precedence over others.”

He said this cycle of political change weakened all the institutions set up after the Great Depression in 1929 and World War 2 that were “geared to lifting all the boats”.

“What we’ve seen is a political assault on these institutions that were put in place to try make sure that all the boats were raising at the same time,” he said. “Now we’ve come to the end of what I think is a bankrupt political model, because it’s not working for all of us.”

Watch the full interview:

Read: Threat of machines worries union congress

“It provoked the world’s financial crisis; it has provoked economic instability, so it’s time in this new global context where we can draw the data and conclusions together,” he said. “The solutions we require are known, … but it means that the political lobbying of the liberalisers [and] the privatisers will have to confront a new reality that their model does not work.”

“They’ve reached the end of the road with the “Davos Man” [and] market rules kind of approach, which has dominated discussions in previous years.”

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