There is no respite from class warfare. Past annual Global Rights Index reports issued by the International Trade Union Confederation have invariably shown that there is no country on Earth that fully protects workers’ rights and the 2022 edition is not only not an exception but finds that repression of labor organizing is increasing.
The best any country scored for the 2022 ITUC Global Rights Index was “sporadic violations of rights,” and only nine countries, all in Europe, managed that. That’s down from the dozen classified at this rating two years ago. Capitalism, and its neoliberal variant now four decades old, is not becoming more gentle. It is doing what it must do, what the holders of capital must do to keep their party going.
Let’s take a look at a few general highlights before we highlight individual countries. Or should we say lowlights? Then again, they are “highlights” for industrialists and financiers.
- 87% of countries violated the right to strike.
- 79% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.
- 77% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish or join a trade union.
- 74% of countries impeded the registration of unions.
In its executive summary, the Global Rights Index report says:
“Workers are on the front lines as they face the impact of multiple areas of crisis: historic levels of inequality, the climate emergency, the loss of lives and livelihoods from the pandemic, and the devastating impact of conflict. And workplaces are the front line in the fight for democracy. Brutal governments know how much this matters when four out of five countries block collective bargaining and one third of countries violently attack workers. Trade unionists have been murdered on every continent. Where people stand up for rights and social justice they are silenced with brutal repression.”
Lest we think these are problems only in undeveloped countries, there are Global North countries that score poorly in the index, including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada and the United States. Almost all trends are getting worse, in all parts of the world. Several indicators — including the right to strike, the right to establish and join a trade union, the right to trade union activities and the right to civil liberties — have steadily worsened since the survey’s annual reports began being issued in 2014. “The number of countries which exclude workers from their right to establish or join a trade union increased from 106 in 2021 to 113 in 2022,” the report said.
The Global Rights Index ranks the world’s countries from 1 to 5, with 1 the best category, denoting “sporadic violations of rights,” defined as where “Violations against workers are not absent but do not occur on a regular basis.” The nine countries given a rating of 1 are Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Sweden. (These are green on the report’s maps.)
Rating 2 countries are those with “repeated violations of rights,” defined as where “Certain rights have come under repeated attacks by governments and/or companies and have undermined the struggle for better working conditions.” Countries with this rating include the Czech Republic, France, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain. (These are yellow on the report’s maps.)
Rating 3 countries are those with “regular violations of rights,” defined as where “Governments and/or companies are regularly interfering in collective labour rights or are failing to fully guarantee important aspects of these rights” due to legal deficiencies “which make frequent violations possible.” Countries with this rating include Argentina, Britain, Canada, Mexico and South Africa. (These are light orange on the report’s maps.)
Rating 4 countries are those with “systematic violations of rights,” defined as where “The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers, putting fundamental rights under threat.” Countries with this rating include Australia, Chile, Greece, Peru, Senegal and the United States. (These are dark orange on the report’s maps.)
Rating 5 countries are those with “no guarantees of rights,” defined as “workers have effectively no access to these rights [spelled out in legislation] and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices.” Countries with this rating include Brazil, China, Colombia, South Korea and Turkey. (These are red on the report’s maps.) In addition, there are countries with a 5+ rating, those with “No guarantee of rights due to the breakdown of the rule of law.” Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen are among the 10 counties listed in this category, and are colored deep red.
The ITUC says it represents 200 million workers in 163 countries and has 332 national affiliates. It determines its ratings by checking adherence to a list of 97 standards derived from International Labour Organization conventions. Those 97 standards pertain to civil liberties, the right to establish or join unions, trade union activities, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Worth noting is the poor rating of the United States and Britain, the two countries that most like to scold other governments and present themselves as democratic beacons that the world should emulate (or else). The United States has consistently been given a 4 rating, including in 2020 and 2019. The 2022 report notes a myriad of union-busting offensives used by employers there. The United Kingdom, which has had 3 and 4 ratings in past years, has seen workers summarily sacked and replaced with agency workers at below minimum wage.
Conditions are not appreciably better in those countries most eager to follow U.S. and British leads. In Canada, failures to comply with collective-bargaining agreements are a “common occurrence,” union leaders are prosecuted for participating in strikes and workers participating in strikes are fired. In Australia, criminal charges are filed against unions and union leaders as intimidation tactics, and governments not only allow employers to refuse to bargain with unions but intervene in disputes on the side of employers. Both countries are ranked worse than where they had been two years ago.
And so it goes, to channel Kurt Vonnegut. In its latest report on “the world of work,” the International Labour Organization (ILO) said “three out of five workers lived in countries where labour incomes had not yet recovered to their level prior to the crisis,” while inequality and the gender gap in pay remain large. A separate ILO report said “a return to pre-pandemic performance is likely to remain elusive for much of the world over the coming years,” with a global deficit of 52 million full-time equivalent jobs. Tens of millions of adults fell into extreme poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic.
These dismal results aren’t any surprise to anyone paying attention. The wealthy, and especially billionaires, have only gotten richer at everyone else’s expense during the pandemic. In just the first year of the pandemic, 2020, the world’s billionaires accumulated an additional trillion dollars. At the same time, corporations across the Global North enrich speculators and their top executives with trillions of dollars in dividend payments and stock buybacks and the world’s governments, through their central banks, handed out an astounding $10 trillion in free money to the financial industry through “quantitative easing” programs, the technical name for intervening in financial markets by creating vast sums of money specifically to be injected into them and thereby inflating stock-market bubbles. Despite these incredible sums of money, there is never more than crumbs for working people. It’s always austerity for those whose work actually creates the wealth that industrialists and financiers divvy up between themselves.
But central bank interventions are profitable for the financial industry, and that’s all that matters. The object of capitalism is to make the biggest possible profit, regardless of cost to employees, consumers, anybody else, the environment or the community; providing a useful product or service is incidental to the goal. Forcing down wages and working conditions through legal manipulation and outright force and violence is always prominent among capitalists’ methodologies to accomplish their goals. The International Trade Union Confederation’s sad results are not the result of some mysterious failure; they come standard with the system.