BATAY OUVRIYE sent two of its members to participate in the Clean Clothes Campaign International Forum held in Brussels between April 30th to May 5th of 1998. Here are some of their thoughts about the event.
We went to this Forum to take part in the sessions of the Permanent People’s Tribunal to denounce the working conditions in the Haitian factories where garments are produced for one of the biggest multinationals of the world, the Walt Disney Corporation. And we went also to share our thoughts regarding our experience in building an autonomous workers’ movement in our country and to discuss the need to construct a strong international solidarity movement. We feel that our participation in the Forum was a very positive experience and a good opportunity to meet other workers and unionists from different parts of the world who are fighting also against the exploitation of those transnationals that are getting richer on the backs of workers.
Before we went to this international forum, we were very much aware of its importance as a springboard to denounce in front of the public opinion the atrocious working conditions that workers are enduring in the garment and shoe industry all over the world. However, we were also conscious about the limitations of this body. And what we experienced during its course and particularly in the Permanent People’s Tribunal confirms our opinions.
The Tribunal as a place to expose the mechanisms of exploitation used by the big multinational corporations to get their products made wherever it can be done the cheapest and to denounce all that in front of the world was of great importance. But other activities held within the Forum were also spaces for getting to know other delegations and to debate among ourselves, share strategies or to learn diverse forms of struggles that are being attempted in our respective countries.
This Forum enabled different organizations and people to learn about each other and to establish a working relationship.Workers and unionist from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe or Bulgaria who did know about our struggle in Haiti against Disney became aware of that and agreed to keep in touch or to work a relationship that will contribute in building a dynamic international solidarity movement with the support of certain NGO’s and other progressive people who want to support workers in their fight against exploitation. To us, this a step toward coordinating and unifying our forces together and to maintaining our autonomy while searching for support in building a strong international solidarity movement.
Moreover, the Forum was a place of struggle or confrontation between different orientations. That was particularly the case on the Code of Conduct question. In the debates that followed, participants became aware of the diverging positions in the labor movement and in the solidarity movement. This opened up the debate and permitted workers and their organizations to understand that they should no way give a simple stamp of approval even to people that are supporting their struggle. And what is fundamental is the defense of the interests of the workers and developing their autonomy.
With regard to the Tribunal, the verdict was an important step also. It responded to two important concerns: the right of the consumers to be rightfully informed about the products they are buying and the use of code of conduct by the multinationals.
The Tribunal reminded everybody that there is much work to be done.All participants should understand that it is imperative that they build alliances through the solidarity movement in support of workers that is developing now. As for the workers, they should develop an international worker’s organization to fight against this global system through their own organizational work or practices in their respective countries. Furthermore, the participants at this Tribunal should seek through their organizations to file lawsuits against the multinationals to make sure that they get the sentences they merit for causing so much miseries to working people everywhere. The lawsuit against Nike filed by Global Exchange is a good example for all of us in that sense.
Despite all, the Forum had its limits. For one thing, for a tribunal to be effective, it should be able to call upon the justice authority to execute the rendered verdict. That was not the case for the session of this Tribunal. But that does not take anything away from its importance.
However, it is also true that the Tribunal is taking place in a moment of ebb and confusion at the international level in the progressive or radical movement (we are no longer in the Vietnam war period ). That international context limits its impact. But the consequence for us is that we must gather our forces and work more to make it as profitable as possible without illusion.
From its conception, the Tribunal was challenged by many limits that we were very conscious about. But in the spirit of Unity-Struggle-Unity and certainly through Struggle, Unity and Struggle, we will contribute to overcome those limits.
This is specially true on the position about the codes of conduct and the role they play and can play in the interest of the bourgeoisie and the necessity for workers to not tie themselves to them by endorsing them. This also true on the question of human rights in the production process. We have to acquire other concepts to designate objectively the exploitation and the domination that exist in the capitalist production process. The humanistic approach regarding these aspects prevents us from fully engaging the fight against the social class that benefits from them.
We felt that we contributed in putting forward the conceptual problems that underpin these questions, and this is a task that should continue as we should struggle for reforms(as elementsdetermined by our final objectives). We also think that we should not engage in a struggle where the final goal is to improve certain working conditions, without putting into question the over all system. Thus, we cannot get ourselves into a situation where what we are doing is improving capitalism or improving exploitation.
That is why we need to arm ourselves with much determination. In order to advance, this must be done correctly, with a good line and genuine practices. This is also true for the solidarity movement. We believe we should work to unify this movement and avoid scattered efforts(where everyone is doing its own little thing) so that we have more strength in the face of an international bourgeoisie that is everyday gaining more grounds despite the crisis in which it finds itself.
Finally, we must work for the advancement of the working class and continue to build solidarity with other wage laborers and workers in general.