Global Unions – time for a new social contract to heal a fractured world and create peace & a sustainable future
UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings reflects on a Davos dominated by Trump
"UNI and the broader Labour Movement have become experts at optimising the opportunities presented by Davos. When we first arrived up the Magic Mountain twenty years ago, we were something of a sideshow or a curiosity now we have a clear profile in the programme with every opportunity to get our point across. The global unions present made the call for a new social contract to heal the fractured world in response to the theme of this year’s Davos. ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow was once again a Davos Co-Chair giving the labour delegation access to the highest corridors of power at Davos. Sharan was one of an all-women group of Co-Chairs at this year’s Davos, credit to WEF for taking action to address the gender gap. Although Davos is a long way from imposing a 40/40 rule in line with UNI. Gender was one of the hot topics and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an impassioned call for gender equality in his speech which I commented on during an interview with France 24.
UNI’s role at Davos is traditionally that of de facto spokesperson for the labour movement, augmented by all union leaders being active with the media. This year, my final year at Davos as UNI GS, I beat my personal record with over 40 interviews, including the BBC, Le Monde, the Guardian, CNBC multiple times in its many regions, Malaysia’s flagship news programme, SABC in South Africa and CNN. CNN was particularly rewarding as host Richard Quest confirmed on air CNN’s commitment to holding a debate in the run-up to our UNI World Congress. In Cape Town 2014 , we partnered with CNBC in a debate on the future world of work which was syndicated around the globe. This was at a time when most of the world had to yet to wake up to the seismic digital shock already on its way. In Liverpool with CNN we intend to address a much older issue but one which is still a scourge today: slavery.
The theme of Davos this year was the fractured world and I called out President Trump as ‘Exhibit A’. This was a Davos dominated by Trump’s presence and when he finally spoke on the last day, wearing his hat as America’s Salesman-in-Chief the reaction was heated, as I discovered first hand. I was live on Fox News directly after Trump addressed Davos and when I had the temerity to put the case for the workers of America, I was literally shouted down, although I did still make my point.
Watch the video here:
I asserted that most economists agreed Trump’s trickle-down, regressive policies, including tax breaks for the 1% might be good for inflating the stock market and growing CEO pay, but did little to help working people make ends meet.
That was where the trouble started…
The President’s record was under scrutiny, and Fox News along with the right-wing blogosphere rallied to Trump’s defence.
Instead of addressing my concerns with the Trump administration’s policies in a substantive way, the Fox team ratcheted up the confrontation by rallying around partisan talking points. The hosts launched an inaccurate, and off-topic, attack on unions while giving incomplete information about the tax bill’s repercussions. When I tried to correct the record, I was accused of “spewing lies.” I countered that spurious allegation in the interview and we have just posted an article on the Hard Truths about Mr Trump’s record which is a clear rebuttal of the Trump supporters’ flawed argument.
The Fox interview provided a window into the growing political divisions in the United States and elsewhere, where disagreement is too often met with disrespect. It was an example of the degradation in discourse afflicting our democracies, where insults are emphasised over issues.
The media’s role is to defend the public interest not just the president’s policies and that often requires getting out of our comfort zones and moving beyond our confirmation biases.
On the show, I was serious when I invited the Fox news anchor to step out of the echo chamber of the studio and into the shoes of a union organiser. It would give a real, on-the-ground look at the struggles of working people and how Trump’s policies are affecting them.
Away from the media obligations, I was invited to speak at several sessions, including one addressing the danger to democracy of the Big Three’s (Google, Facebook and Amazon) growing global domination. This session was video streamed live and has been viewed more than a million times. It fits into our work on the Future World of Work and underlines UNI’s place as a leading voice on this subject which will feature strongly in Liverpool at the Congress in June. I addressed other panels on Artificial Intelligence and Platform Work as well as holding meetings with leaders of global institutions and government.
It’s also pleasing to report that through years of work we are now influencing the World Economic Forum itself: both its Global Risks Report and its Index on Inclusive Development reflect our concerns.
Finally, thank you for your support and encouragement in the build up and during Davos. Rest assured UNI’s message on workers’ rights was heard loud and clear.