The World Around Us: Trades, Unions, Ideologies

At the ITUC world labour congress in Vancouver this week, I heard that BC premiere Gordon Campbell was invited, but did not show. That seems ridiculous to me. These are workers, people. So you have some disagreements. There are union reps and leaders from all over the world, where in many places, one of the few hopes for decent rights for workers is in solidarity. Show up. Actually, I also heard he was invited to the Bilderberger meeting (I’m not sure if that was true or not), which has a different agenda, I am sure. At the same time:

Canada’s Senate voted in favor of the [Canada-Colombia free trade] agreement late Monday, an official told AFP Tuesday…

The deal is expected to boost Canadian investment in Colombia’s mining and oil sectors, as well as increase agricultural exports, primarily wheat and barley. Canada-Colombia trade topped 1.3 billion dollars in 2008, according to the latest figures.

The accord contains several annexes on the environment and labor standards, in part due to concerns in Canada over assassinations of union leaders in Colombia in recent years.

These concerns were the primary reason behind US lawmakers’ rejection of a similar US-Colombia free trade deal signed in 2006. The Americans felt Colombia’s assurances were insufficient.

If workers are being killed in serious, terror-riddled numbers, it’s difficult to understand how that can be a part of a ‘free’ trade agreement.

Colombia continues to lead the world by a wide margin in the number of trade unionists murdered—although the situation, evidently, has actually improved. This from the Economic Policy Institute in 2007:

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Over the past 21 years, more than 2,534 unionists have been assassinated.


I had an interesting and sometimes inspiring day today. I find filming both wonderful and strangely stressful all at the same time—especially when you’re also arranging the interviews. I need to stretch my back a lot just to keep the flow going. I can forget to breathe for several hours on end. It’s sort of an unfortunate skill. I think it’s tough because, when you’re filming a film or a documentary—and who isn’t these days?—things go wrong all the time. Wrong with equipment. Wrong with lighting, which by definition in an open space, tends to change! With sound, of course. And wrong with time. Not enough time. Set up time. Oh yeah, and money. I think the stress comes from the nature of the immediate pressure, trying to catch something temporary and make it immortal, and having to settle for something less, mostly due to my own lack of skills.

But whether great magic is caught or not, I was able today to interview trade unionists from four large and currently important countries. They were really great. A trade unionist from Iraq, who has had to put up with a war-torn country since 1980, and many years of Saddam Hussein before that—and lose friends and colleagues to one violent, brutal event after another. Making matters worse, they actually had their anti-Saddam, anti-sectarian violence, pro-democracy tiny trade union building ransacked by American soldiers in ten Humvees on a raid in 2003.

I got to interview a woman from SEWA, a remarkable trade union in India, first inspired by Gandhi in 1920, and who today has some 1.3 million of informal workers under its umbrella. The woman said that one someone asks her what SEWA is, she says “I am SEWA.” This was not boasting—she was saying that SEWA is its people, period. It wasn’t a slogan. The energy of this women’s group feels to be full of grass roots solidarity (with 1.3 million informal women worker’s organized) and, in my opinion, likely far less inclined to that awful drift towards mass, sloth-like bureaucracy found in so many organizations (including unions, obviously).

And then I interviewed a trade unionist whose political and even spiritual journey began in a sense at the moment of the Tiananmen Square uprising when, before he knew anything truly ideological or philosophical, he said, he was helping to form a Trade Union, Beijing Autonomous Workers’ Federation. He would subsequently end up in prison for his efforts, and described it in some detail. He continues to fight on behalf of workers across China. He was excited about the future, feeling this was the best time in history for workers to organize in China—and referred to the organizing Honda plants specifically.

And the woman from Brazil was full of grand affection for her career path and the President there, Lula da Silva, a not very highly educated former Trade Unionist leader who seems to be able to talk with conviction across a real spectrum of leaders: from Hugo Chavez, to George Bush, to China’s leader Hu Jintao etc.

But it’s 1:30, and my lids are dropping. Soon!

Pete xoxo


One Response to “The World Around Us: Trades, Unions, Ideologies”

  1. Sue says:

    Dear Pete,

    Sounds like you had a very exciting day. I hope you’re going to keep us posted (no pun intended–really!) on this latest documentary and let us know when it’s finished, released and available for viewing. By the way I gave my Dad a copy of “Facing Ali” for his (belated) birthday present. I’ll have to ask him how he liked it. (I forgot to ask last time I spoke to him.) He’s always been interested in boxing so I was pretty sure that he would enjoy listening to all of the interviews.

    Bright blessings, love to you and your beloved and have a wonderful day.


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