Peace & Equality: turning back the Doomsday Clock
“It is two minutes to midnight,” UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings told the crowd gathered at Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations School.
The message of Jennings’ lecture, part of the Milton R. Konvitz Lectureship in American Ideals, was not only that the threat of nuclear war hangs over us, a risk compounded by closing of democratic spaces and attacks on workers’ rights, but the speech, titled The Future of Work, Peace, and Justice: Is it Two Minutes to Midnight?, also served to galvanize the audience to action, to turn back the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock. Time is running out unless we stand up.
Jennings said, “Our economic future is threatened, our prosperity is threatened, our very planet is threatened. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists say that world leaders have failed to ‘address the largest threats’ to humanity.
“When our leaders have failed it is up to us. We have a duty to shout it from the roof tops and shame the leaders and the political systems responsible, even our own. Martin Luther King put it, given into silence, ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal.’ You cannot stay silent and neither can we.”
Jennings drew a clear connection between the global labor movement and peace. Unions are at the forefront of the fight against inequality, right-wing populism, and a climate catastrophe—all of which fan the flames of conflict.
In 2016, the Global Peace Index estimated that the worldwide economic impact of violence was $14.3 trillion, or a total of 12.6 percent of the total world GDP, the equivalent of every individual across the globe paying about $2,000 per year to fund violence. This tremendous resource drain occurs in a world where half the population, more than three billion people, live on less than $2.5 dollars a day.
“This is a world that overfunds arms while under prioritizing peace and shared prosperity. As a result, jobs are becoming scarcer and lives, more precarious,” said Jennings.
The talked also turned to the future of work which threatens a digital dictatorship where companies monitor and monetize every scintilla of data produced by employees with no worker input. Often this data is used to build artificial intelligence which threatens to eliminate jobs and exacerbate economic and social displacement.
“Data collection and artificial intelligence are the next frontier for the labour movement. Just as unions established wage, hour, and safety standards during the Industrial Revolution, it is urgent that we set new benchmarks for the Digital Revolution.”
There are signs of that the tide is turning. The UN has approved a treaty banning nuclear weapons. UNI is advancing principles on ethical data collection and artificial intelligence, and there is an uptick in global labor solidarity.
Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Jennings noted, there is a renewed push to make businesses accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. The labor movement is demanding a change to the rules of the game so that corporations value human rights, not just their share price. UNI has signed more than 50 Global Agreement with multinational companies that establish respect for freedom of association and other workplace rights. Another capstone example of this expanded responsibility is the Bangladesh Accord, a ground-breaking, legally-binding pact that goes miles beyond traditional CSR to improve worker safety.
Additionally, from the UN to the OECD, there is a greater acknowledgement of this need for change. In the last week, the OECD advanced Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct.
Jennings said that United States must play a part in a transformation to a more just and more peaceful world.
From the West Virginia teacher strikes, to the Women’s March, to Time’s Up, #MeToo, the Fight for $15, and the growth of the U.S. union movement, democratic spaces in the country are starting to re-open. Jennings called on the crowd to recognize a “fierce urgency of now” to work to make American values like democracy, a respect for rights, and equality not just an abstract American Dream but a reality.
He quoted James Truslow Adams, who coined the phrase “American Dream,” to close, “Ever since America became an independent nation, each generation has seen an uprising of its citizens to save the American Dream from those forces seeking to overwhelm and destroy it.”
It's two minutes to midnight, said Jennings. “We have to rise up now to save our dream because tomorrow may be too late.”