After much anticipation, UNI Global Union’s 6th World Congress opened with a bang in Philadelphia. More than 1,200 union leaders from 109 countries heard from powerful voices of the worldwide labour movement and US politics.
Ruben Cortina kicked off the evening reflecting on his term years as UNI’s World President. “We made a commitment five years ago to keep moving forward with our affiliates–organizing, unionizing, signing global agreements, and standing in solidarity for a better world,” he said. While we have not achieved all of our goals, he noted, we have made progress and we will keep going, stronger than ever.
The night was expertly MC’ed by Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA, who brought the struggle of striking 160,000 actors to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The actors are fighting for work with dignity in a digital age—a struggle familiar to unions everywhere. The UNI crowd sent our support to them.
We were welcomed to Philly by Mayor Jim Kenney and reminded that Philadelphia is a union town by Central Labor Council President Danny Bauder.
Then SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry moved the crowd with her call for unions for all:
“We know there’s only one way forward, together, with millions of us united in unions to voice our demands: Respect us. Protect us. Pay us. We want to build thriving, joyful, safe communities for our kids, for our parents and grandparents, for our families, and for our neighbours.
“Our work has dignity. Our lives have value. And we have hope. We’re using that hope to fuel our fight to win Unions for All, no matter where we work, no matter where we live.”
“We, as a diverse, global union family, must seek new and more powerful bonds – with each other and within our own unions.
“No matter the burden we face, how long it takes, the size of those we confront, we must strengthen our fights for justice and better world we seek.”
Before an amazing, energetic journey through American music, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler brought the house down with by urging us all to “organize like we’ve never organized before.” Workers are lacking social protections and the ILO is reporting a drop in income.
“So we have a worker-centred reconstruction in Ukraine. So we have the means to fight back against worker and human rights abuses in places like the Philippines. So we are making it clear to every worker across the world: You are not alone.
“We are rising together. We are building a future of dignity and justice for workers all over the globe. I’m ready to keep fighting. Are you?”
That call to action was amplified by Senator Bernie Sanders, who moved the crowd to their feet railing against the increased concentration of wealth and inspiring hope for a more just and equitable future.
“With all the new technologies out there and all the wealth that exists, we have to change the reality of so few have so much and so many having so little. And it is the trade union movement who is going to bring about that change.”
“If together we fight together to make sure that new technologies benefit workers, not just the CEOs, there are unlimited possibilities we can accomplish.”