Speech by Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven

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Chancellor ,
Ladies and gentlemen, Colleagues,
friends.

It is a pleasure and an honour to be here to celebrate and pay tribute to the fantastic work you do,
not only for your 180 million members that your affiliates have,
but also for all workers striving for decent working conditions and a better life.

I may be Prime Minister now,
but as a welder and a trade union member I know what a difference a trade union makes in people’s lives, every day, every hour. Thank you very much for your work.

** *

The city in which we are meeting today, Vienna, where the ITUC was founded ten years ago, has shaped world history on many occasions.

In the 15th century, Vienna became the main seat of the Habsburg dynasty, which would go on to shape the balance of power, science and culture in Europe for the next 500 years.

In the 20th century, Vienna was a melting pot of people and ideas that would shape also the modern world.

And today, in this room, we see a gathering of women and men who have the opportunity and the power to lead the 21st century away from the follies of the 20th century.

Away from elitism, chauvinism and hate.
Towards the global solidarity that has been the watchword of the labour movement since its founding.

This is a huge task. It is a difficult task. And that is why it is so amazingly enticing.
Let’s admit it – 2016 has been the year of right-wing populism.

Leaders with big promises and woolly solutions that are essentially based on pitting people against people, group against group, have won power and influence across the globe.

This seems to be history repeating itself.
But, and this is important, it is still in our power to change our future.

And the key to change lies within one central issue: work. I got my first summer job in the early 1970s.

Bruce Springsteen was playing in the United States, the Glastonbury Festival was starting in England; there was a lot going on throughout the world.
And there was I, clearing brushwood in a ditch in northern Sweden.

But I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it because I knew: a job was the key to my own money, my own choices, my freedom and own development – in short: a better life.

Most well-functioning societies of modern times have been founded on the promise of constant change for the better.

The possibility of giving your kids a better future than you were offered.

But in recent decades, that has not been the case. Societies have often failed to deliver on that promise. Real wages are stagnating; social services are faltering; feelings of insecurity are increasing – for everything from retirement to the refugee situation.

And when our societies no longer seem capable of delivering positive change, people turn to the populists, saying:
“They may be a bit extreme, but at least they might do something.”

This is our challenge.
This is our problem to solve. And it is our duty to do so.

***

It is our duty to return to the roots of the labour movement, and ensure that people’s work is the basis for a better life.

What makes the task more difficult now is the fact that it must now be done also at the global level.

A global economy, with global competition between global employers, requires a globally effective labour movement.
Without it, unscrupulous employers will be able to continue pitting worker against worker,
and cutting wages, security and working conditions.

This would be a loss for all serious employers that want to compete on knowledge and innovation.
It would be a loss for the labour movement, and it would be a loss for all decent societies.

It would be a victory only for right-wing populists. This is why the work of ITUC is so important.

This is why it is essential that all of us who are members of trade unions unite and speak with one voice in international contexts.

This is why we are here today – not only to celebrate the successes of the first decade, but also to start planning how to win the next decade for working people.

***
It is also a question of common human decency.

I remember Reshma, a seamstress in a garment factory.
She saw the light of day again, after 17 days.
Helped by rescue workers, she emerged from the rubble, having survived on dried goods and water.

But more than 1 100 of her colleagues died in that factory that collapsed in Dhaka in April 2013.

This tragedy was not a unique event.
Two million people die at work every year.
It happens all over the world, it happens in Sweden as well.
Every day, we see people exposed to terrible risks in their work, we see trade union members persecuted and killed,
we see children forced to work in the most cynical and inhumane manner, we see migrants exploited under horrific conditions.

This is done in the pursuit of profit. But a world that builds on the exploitation of people is neither ethical nor profitable.

On the contrary.

It is with decent work,
respecting fundamental union rights,
we can both increase productivity and promote inclusive growth.

If we reduced deaths and accidents in the workplace by just a quarter,
we would create resources corresponding to one per cent of the world’s GDP.

If we let more women into working life, GDP growth would keep rising.

There are opportunities here that the world cannot afford to ignore.

Social justice is both ethically right and economically smart. It is time to make globalisation work for everyone.

***

This is why I have brought together governments, businesses, trade unions and organisations in an initiative that we call Global Deal.

The Global Deal is not about promoting a specific model, but rather to generate political drive and create cooperation platforms:
to promote social dialogue throughout the world,
to ensure decent work,

to enhance productivity and economic growth

and to enable shared prosperity.

This will not only improve working people’s lives.

I think it will have a phenomenal impact on businesses. Social dialogue leads to:

-fewer conflicts in the workplace and increased productivity,
– greater opportunities for long-term planning,
-lower sick leave and lower occupational injury rates,
-and more employees who choose to stay with the employer over time.

And if governments support social dialogue –
by promoting democratic development, supporting fundamental union rights
and securing human rights in the labour market – whole societies will gain from it.

People feel better, live longer and have more energy and ability to work.
Social dialogue builds social cohesion and confidence,
it combats inequality,

and it creates a greater support for globalisation, and free and fair trade.
Working people win. Business wins. Society wins. That’s why social dialogue is a win-win-win situation.

***

The Global Deal initiative has been in the pipeline for many years, and we were able to launch it in connection with the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York in September.

I would like to thank Sharan Burrow, Guy Ryder and everyone else here today who was able to attend the launch.

However, what we launched was not a final product, but rather a start – a spark – that we are now spreading throughout the world.

We are working with international organisations including the ILO, the OECD and the UN Global Compact. We are working with unions and companies.

Seminars are being held in countries including South Africa, Israel and China.

And we are seeing governments step forward across the world, from Angola to Austria,
from Cambodia to Colombia,
from Canada to Bangladesh.

And we are joined by trade unions, businesses, business organisations and employer organisations.

So I invite you all to join us, in different ways, and in the ways you can!

Join us and help ensure that the idea of social dialogue spreads like wildfire throughout the world. Get your organisations involved, convince your governments. We need your knowledge, your engagement. And we need your power!

***

Because this is the only way we can do it.

If we strengthen our efforts at the local, national, European and global level, we will improve people’s lives at local level.

And if we improve people’s lives at local level, we reduce the right- wing populists’ growth potential.

Friends,
2016 may have been the year of right-wing populism.
But the years ahead of us, the decade, the century, the future, through global cooperation and global solidarity,
will be ours.
Thank you.