Understanding the scale and depth of corporate power’s impact on workers, the environment and public services—and channeling that knowledge into joint action to coordinate and maximize an effective response—is crucial to decreasing economic inequality and reclaiming space for the 99 percent, panelists said yesterday in New York City.
“Our solidarity is what’s important in addressing global power”—Kate Lappin, APWLD. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Our solidarity is what’s important in addressing global power,” said Kate Lappin, regional coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). “The answer is not about blaming migration or ‘the other,’ the answer is solidarity,” Lappin said, speaking at “Impact of Corporate Power on Women’s Economic Empowerment,” a session sponsored by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Solidarity Center, APWLD and Global Policy Forum.
The panel was one of several sessions the Solidarity Center and its partners held in conjunction with the March 13–24 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Some 200 union women activists from around the globe are taking part in events.
The panel stems from the 2016 report, “Challenging Corporate Power: Struggles for Women’s Rights, Economic and Gender Justice” produced by AWID and the Solidarity Center, in conjunction with Just Associates (JASS). The report explores how corporations in collusion with elites and other powerful actors are exerting their power to transform economic and political systems. The report then illustrates how this power impacts women and oppressed peoples.
Earlier this week, the Solidarity Center and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) convened sessions examining the prevalence of gender-based violence at work and mobilization strategies for championing passage of an International Labor Organization (ILO) convention preventing gender-based violence on the job. Yesterday, three women union activists shared their experiences helping women form unions at the AFL-CIO panel, “Building Power for Women Workers in the Changing World of Work.”
Workers Have Power because Their Labor Fuels Economy
The labor movement and women’s movement have a lot to learn from each other—Lisa McGowan, Solidarity Center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
One of the most promising areas of cross-movement collaboration is the campaign to end gender-based violence at work, said Solidarity Center Gender Equality Director Lisa McGowan.
“It’s a really powerful issue—it helps bring together lots of different movements, primarily the labor and women’s movements—who have a lot to learn from each other,” said McGowan.
Last fall, the Solidarity Center held a multi-session workshop on building alliances around ending gender-based violence at work during the AWID Forum in Brazil, part of the Solidarity Center’s outreach efforts to connect with women’s movements and other likeminded allies around the issue. More than 2,000 women activists from around the world attended the AWID event.
“Of the 100 largest economies today, 31 are countries”—Barbara Adams, Global Policy Watch. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Barbara Adams, senior policy adviser at the Global Policy Forum, discussed how growing economic inequality is hitting women workers especially hard, as wages decline along with women’s ability to exercise their rights.
Describing the increasing influence of corporate money on governments, which often contract out public services to less accountable private-sector providers, Adams said the stated goal of some corporate players is “governance without government.
“Of the 100 largest economies today, 31 are countries,” she said. “It’s no longer one person, one vote, but one dollar, one vote.” Unlike governments, corporations cannot be held accountable through the democratic process.
The role of the union movement is especially key in such an environment, said McGowan. “Workers have power because their labor is what fuels our economy,” she said.
Building on worker power in relation to corporations, the challenge for all progressive allies is to link the movements and link the strategies, she said.
Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice
Ana Abelenda, AWID, described the cross-movement dialogue behind “Challenging Corporate Power.” Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Ana Abelenda, AWID economic justice coordinator and panel moderator, described the process behind the “Challenging Corporate Power” report, which is based on a 2016 cross-movement dialogue convened by AWID and the Solidarity Center. Facilitated by JASS in São Paulo, Brazil, the meeting brought together women trade unionists; women workers; feminists; indigenous and black women; lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LBTQI) activists; and women human rights defenders to discuss, debate and share understanding of corporate power and what it means to their struggles and their lives.
The report reflects the participants’ explorations of successful movements to demand accountability—for labor rights violations, ecological damage, trade liberalization and privatization. Women beer promoters in Cambodia, for example, are increasingly forming unions with the Cambodian Food Service Workers Federation (CFSWF) to protest poverty wages, sexual harassment and violence, long working hours and toxic working conditions in bars and restaurants.
CSW meetings this month involve hundreds of high-level government delegates who, for the first time, are discussing women’s economic empowerment and the role of labor unions as core to achieving women’s rights—a huge milestone for working women around the globe in achieving recognition of their workplace struggles by the world’s human rights body—and one that worker rights organizations like the ITUC and Solidarity Center have long championed.
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Globally, women are paid 30 percent less than men—but “imagine instead of corporations making 30 percent more off women’s labor, imagine if that 30 percent were coming back to our communities in the form of wages,” says Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director.
Speaking on the panel, “Women’s Economic Empowerment and Workers Rights,” a Solidarity Center-sponsored session at the 2016 Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum, Bader-Blau said challenging such wide-reaching corporate power means “we need to partner across social movements.”
Cross-movement building is a goal and theme of the September 8–11 AWID Forum, where more than 1,800 participants from 120 countries are gathering to find strategies for mobilizing greater solidarity and collective power across diverse movements.
Union and worker association leaders from Brazil, Morocco and the United States taking part in the panel shared how unions are helping empower women to achieve economic justice.
Seventy million women around the world are in labor unions or worker associations, says Bader- Blau. “The labor movement is by definition the broadest movement for women on earth that is membership based.”
“In the frontlines of this battle we have women who are fighting for labor rights”—Saida Bentahar, CDT Morocco.
In Morocco, the Democratic Confederation of Labor (CDT) in Morocco is helping agricultural workers win bargaining rights with their employers. Most of the workers are women, who live in difficult, fragile conditions, says Saida Bentahar, a member of the CDT Secretariat.
“They sometimes cannot read or write, they live in extreme poverty, they are not paid good wages,” she said, speaking through a translator.
Together with the Solidarity Center, the CDT is training women on their workplace rights, including standing up against sexual harassment.
“Some women wouldn’t even speak at first when we would hold sessions but now they really stand up for what they believe,” says Bentahar. “Together they have written a declaration to guarantee stable labor rights. They will now have equal pay, certificates to assure their skills and capacities. They will have equal opportunities for work and training as well.”
Junéia Batista, CUT national secretary in Brazil, describes union women’s efforts to negotiate day care and other key issues in bargaining with employers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Junéia Batista, national secretary of the Confederation of Workers Union (CUT) in Brazil, described how women in the confederation have worked to be part of contract negotiations to ensure issues like day care are included, and to achieve leadership since the confederation formed in 1983.
“We want more,” says Batista, speaking through a translator. “It has been 33 years with men, men, men presiding in the presidency,” she says, and women members are working to establish gender equality measures throughout their union structures.
In Mississippi, a state in the southern United States, the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights (MWCHR) is helping empower working people in Oxford, an impoverished area with a history of racial violence.
“Wages are not the only point of resistance and struggle we need to be dealing with,” says Jaribu Hill, MWCHR executive director.
Panelists also discussed the increasing attacks throughout the world on workers’ ability to form unions.
“Our broader labor movement is suffering from a closing of democratic space,” says Bader-Blau, citing a 30 percent rise in attacks on worker rights around the world. “Our governments, aided by corporate power, are defining worker rights in narrower and narrower terms.”
“In this environment, in this context, we feel it is so important that women’s work be respected and valued … and dignified and that we fight for this,” she says. “The primarily vehicle for fighting for women’s rights at work is trade unionism.”
As Bentahar says, “In the frontlines of this battle we have women who are fighting for labor rights.”
Women, people of color, indigenous and other disenfranchised and marginalized groups have been hit especially hard by the increasing concentration of transnational corporate power and escalating global economic inequality—but a new report showcases how women and oppressed people are shifting the dynamic through their own power of resistance.
Key to the success of such movements, according to the report, “Challenging Corporate Power: Struggles for Women’s Rights, Economic and Gender Justice,” is “a deliberate effort to unite experiences and struggles across different movements.”
“Each struggle … uses cross movement collaboration in some way to defy corporate power,” according to the report.
“Challenging Corporate Power” stems from an early 2016 cross-movement dialogue convened by the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the Solidarity Center. Facilitated by Just Associates (JASS) in São Paulo, Brazil, the meeting brought together women trade unionists, women workers, feminists, indigenous and black women, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, Intersex (LBTQI) activists, av nd women human rights defenders to discuss, debate and share understanding of corporate power, and what it means to their struggles and their lives.
The report will be released September 10 at AWID’s 13th International Forum in Bahia, Brazil, where more than 1,800 participants are gathered this week to strategize around “Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice,” the report’s key finding. Cross-movement initiative sessions throughout the conference include the Solidarity Center-sponsored “Building Alliances to End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work,” a three-hour discussion how gender-based violence at work links to larger struggles for economic and gender justice. The Solidarity Center also is holding a panel on “Women’s Economic Empowerment and Worker Rights,” moderated by Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.
Women Workers Form Unions to Reverse Tide of Inequality
At the January meeting, participants discussed five successful movements to demand accountability—for labor rights violations, ecological damage, trade liberalization and privatization. Women beer promoters in Cambodia, for example, are increasingly forming unions with the Cambodian Food Service Workers Federation (CFSWF) to protest against poverty wages, sexual harassment and violence, long working hours and toxic working conditions in bars and restaurants.
They are some of the 70 million women organized in trade unions today, with many millions more in cooperatives and other worker rights associations, according to the report. Increasingly, there “is a call to scale up struggles of resistance, build bridges between different social movements, and foster and grow people’s power to build new forms of production, consumption and distribution of the world’s social and economic resources,” the report finds.
Through a lens of power analysis developed by JASS, the report examines how corporate power—defined as an excessive control and appropriation of natural resources, labor, information and finance by an alliance of powerful corporations and global elites in collusion with government—affects gender justice, women’s rights and lives through its influence on police that shape the global economy.
The power analysis lens illustrates how corporate power operates and its impacts on women and oppressed peoples. For instance, 63 percent of the top 175 global economic entities are transnational corporations, not countries, a concentration of power that affects gender justice, women’s rights and lives through its influence on policies that shape the global economy.
At the same time, some 70 percent of workers are in vulnerable employment. Women from racially and ethnically marginalized groups and migrant women worldwide, including those living in the global North, have less access to education and skills training, are responsible for an unequal share of unpaid work and domestic homes and are more likely to be in low paid and informal employment without social security benefits.
The recommendations and reflections emerging in the last moments of the Cross Movement Dialogue speak to how women trade unionists, LBTQI activists, feminists, indigenous women and women human rights defenders can sustain their victories by consolidating the power within their movements, nurturing collective power with other social movements, and exerting power over corporations and governments acting in their interest.