One hundred and fifty years ago, workers in Britain came together to create the world’s first national trade union centre, the TUC, in the city of Manchester. They, and working people in many other places at that time, laid the first foundations for the global trade union movement of today, more than 200 million strong. Ever since those early steps, men and women organizing together have built and grown their unions and changed the course of history.
Today, May Day 2018, we pay homage to all those who have given so much in fighting for the basic rights that so many today can take for granted – freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, protection from discrimination and exploitation and safety at work. We also stand in solidarity with those who are denied these rights and who, in a world where the rules that enshrine these rights do not apply to all, are fighting just the same struggles against exploitation and abuse that the mothers and fathers of our movement had to fight a century and a half ago.
We know as well that formidable forces are at work to eliminate those rules for everyone. Corporate power is running out of control, democracies are being hijacked by the 1%, and too many governments are standing by instead of standing up for working people. The future of the planet and its people are in the balance as the greed of a tiny elite preys on the living standards of people and the economic model they impose depletes the finite resources of the earth. Demagogues and xenophobes are taking power, exploiting popular discontent fuelled by the inequality and insecurity that are the hallmarks of today’s failed model of globalization.
Trade unions will always stand up for our central values of equality, dignity, development, democracy and peace. It is the realization of these values, through the strength of collective action and solidarity, that provides the promise of a better world. A world where the rules work for people.
It’s time to change the rules, to cast off the shackles on democracy and human rights. It is unions organizing to build workers’ power, in the cities, towns and countryside, in workplaces and communities across the world, that will make that hope a reality. We celebrate May Day with confidence and determination to ensure that the founding tenets of our movement are the cornerstones for the future.