Vol. XLIII No. 26 June 30, 2019

TUI of Workers in Agriculture, Food, Commerce & Allied Industries Meets in Paris

Suneet Chopra

THE extended executive committee of the Trade Union International of workers in agriculture, food, commerce and allied industries met in Paris on June 5-7, 2019. 39 members from 22 countries took part in the discussions. Suneet Chopra,  AIAWU joint secretary and executive committee member of TUI and V S Nirmal, (national secretary, BKMU) who was present on behalf of Nagendranath Ojha, attended the meeting. The discussion was centred on continuing the work and decisions taken in its secretariat meeting in Havana from January 18-20, 2017 followed up by the Lisbon meeting in April 2017. Each of these concretised the aims and perspective of the 4th Conference of the TUI, which was held in Paris from June 13-16, 2016, a period of militancy in all continents and the city itself being the scene of an unprecedented demonstration of working class unity and solidarity in which we all participated.

The union undertakes a class based trade unionism under the banner of the WFTU and struggles to effectively combat the strategies of a crisis ridden capitalism and the evils of sharply competitive imperialism that go with it,  linking the powerful history of struggle of the European working class with those of the mass of the workers and peasants of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who are united in resisting the attacks of finance capital pursuing the path of neoliberalism in different countries with different regimes.  This broader framework includes the struggles not only of the working class of advanced capitalist countries but also developing states in Asia, Africa and Latin America, a number of which have established socialism under the concrete conditions of their countries.

The building up of a broad alternative approach to the capitalist agenda of the WTO, World Bank and IMF can be best achieved by not only exchanging our views at meetings and conferences, but also by ensuring grassroots work in different continents and countries with TUI bureaus in Asia in India and Vietnam, for Africa in Senegal and Zimbabwe and in Latin America in Cuba. As a result, it has been possible to think of bringing together different parts of the world in a common struggle on account of the problems and issues of workers and peasants being similarly geared to opposing neoliberal policies imposed on the mass of people of the world by global financial institutions working in the interest of the multinational corporations and through the exploitation and oppression of the mass of workers and peasants all over the world. From this perspective, the trade union international is a powerful weapon to resist the attack on the vast mass of the people by using a worker-peasant alliance to resist the competitive imperialist pressure of exploitation, oppression and even wars to strengthen the richest and strongest exploiters against the direct producers of wealth.

To concretise the discussion over two days of the meeting, two papers were presented – one on “Our trade union activity in Europe”, and the other on the “Quality of the products in the global agricultural and food system”. The two papers highlighted the common struggle of the working class all over the world against their worsening condition economically and also from the perspective of restoring the social rights won since  the defeat of fascism and the end of Second World War, as well as forging ahead to pose a concrete alternative to the policies of neoliberalism that have led to the increase of the marginalisation of sections of the working class in Europe faced with the global experience jobless growth, insecure employment, wage austerity and immigration resulting from the intervention of imperialist forces in different parts of the world. The implementation of these policies has provided the working class of different countries with a common basis of struggle and solidarity which was voiced by a number of the 39 participants in the discussions.

The document notes: “Poverty, hunger and malnutrition are growing in Europe. 150 million people are in poverty or experiencing social exclusion, almost 100 million live below the poverty line, and around 22 million workers are unemployed”. It goes on to state that in Europe 6 million adults are victims of hunger and malnutrition despite the fact that the right to food is a fundamental right recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even a country like Germany shows an increase in the working poor of nearly 73 per cent in the last ten years. Hungary an increase of almost 47 per cent , France 32 per cent, Italy and Austria 30 per cent each, Spain 29 per cent, Netherland 27 per cent, Denmark 18 per cent, Belgium 15 per cent and Norway 10 per cent. As a result, “Life expectancy at birth is falling in Europe due to deprivation”. Although it is 80.6 years on average in the European Union, it is only 74.1 years in Lithuania, 74.3 years in Latvia and 74.9 years in Bulgaria. It is about the same level in countries like Romania and Hungary.  

 The number of homeless people has increased by 70 per cent in the last ten years, with Ireland, Germany and Great Britain being above this figure. In fact, 23.7 per cent of the population is at the risk of poverty. Women and young people are at greater risk than the population at large. Clearly this is a very different situation from what is presented as the wonderful conditions of work in advanced capitalist countries. This should not surprise us as it is the surplus value exploited from the labour power of workers that contributes to the huge profits being made by corporates.

 No trick of the trade is spared to maximise exploitation even using one section of the proletariat against another like the employed against the unemployed, local labour against immigrants and men against women. Apart from them we have those who are in a precarious employment situation, with part time workers who would like to work full time, temporary workers, workers on fixed term contracts and so-called seasonal contract, especially in our agricultural and food industry professions, who are forced to accept work at any terms in order to survive.

The problem of unemployment is also acute. Croatia has some 8 per cent unemployed, France 9 per cent, Italy with over 10 per cent, Spain with almost 15 per cent and with Greece as many as 20 per cent. To add to these we have immigrant workers in almost slave like conditions and no legal status reducing the wages of legal workers who are used by their capitalist exploiters against their fellow workers instead of themselves.

 In these conditions the wages not only among different sections of the working class but also in different countries show considerable variations which offer considerable possibilities of struggle and success  against inequality of wages through unionisation, not only of different sections of workers in the same country but those in different countries as well.

So a proper orientation of international trade unionism towards resisting not only the policies of neoliberalism and imperialism in the concrete conditions in each country and industry, but also require a proper understanding of the importance of international solidarity and support between workers and peasants of different countries to improve the conditions of work in general. This cannot be done without being aware of the common basis of capitalist exploitation at a global level even though it must be tackled in individual countries and industries concretely on the ground. Both class struggle and international solidarity play a complementary role in struggle.

The second discussion paper notes how, over a billion people suffer from hunger or malnutrition in the world. 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Three quarters of these people are farmers or former farmers who, driven out by poverty, have been condemned to flee to slums in urban areas or sometimes to refugee camps. Although 43 per cent of the world’s working population is agricultural, this figure rises to between 60 and 70 per cent in the countries of the global south, including informal work which is closely linked to rural and agricultural environments. This amounts to 2.5 to 3 billion  people who live almost exclusively from agriculture. 4 per cent of land owners control half farmed land. In 83 poor countries, 3 per cent of landowners own or control four-fifths of the land.

The document notes: “These realities are the result of the capitalist system which has turned food into a weapon working against the independence of people, which has broken up subsistence crops and replaced them with export crops, exploiting the people and natural resources and destroying biodiversity, patenting the living world by preventing farmers from using their seeds, thereby privatising the world’s genetic heritage, monopolising land, commodifying food and violating the fundamental right of peoples to feed themselves by subjugating agriculture to the laws of the capitalist market”.

The situation is one in which, “On the one hand are 600 million agricultural producers, around 2.5 to 3 billion human beings living directly from agriculture, and on the other hand there are 7 billion consumers. Between the two, there is a capitalist concentration of a world power that is extremely dangerous for humanity. The ten largest companies in this sector dominate 75 per cent of the production of services, 90 per cent in agro chemicals, 95 per cent of grain trading and 30 per cent of food distribution and processing”.

 This explains their current domination and role of products and their quality in the profession as a whole. It also requires trade unions to protect the maintenance and development of smallholder agriculture as well as cooperative farming under socialist conditions, but a firm resistance to public-private partnership and so-called cooperation agreements between advanced imperialist countries and the developing world, which should depend far more on right to food sovereignty for all people, the cancellation of debts, the privatisation of socially owned land and free trade and economic partnership agreements.

 To add to this, discussions followed concentrating on access to land for working farmers in comparison to so-called “Land system reforms” or “market-assisted agricultural reforms” that are nothing more than the privatisation of land needed to expand capital. In contrast, progressive agrarian reform ought to develop along revolutionary dimensions that can contribute to the abolition of private land ownership which must not be transformed into a marketable commodity. Progressive agrarian reform must be accompanied by struggling for the provision of the means of production and processing, as well as for their collective use for greater efficiency. The discussions that followed were well informed and reflected struggles in countries as far apart as Brazil, Colombia and Cuba, Vietnam and India, Senegal and Rwanda.

(To be continued)