2019 ITUC Global Rights Index: Bourgeois democracy exposed again

domestic workers

The facts that the recently released 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  again exposes the bourgeois democracy.

Advanced/matured bourgeois democracies are denying bourgeois democratic rights. Labor is the main victim of this denial.

The 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index (Brussels, Belgium; henceforth Index) presents much significant information on workers’ rights in countries from both the global South and North. Among these countries are Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US. These are the advanced bourgeois democracies. In the global south, to cite a few, there are Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The Index has covered all the continents and most of the countries.

All the countries are within the world capitalist system. Global production/extraction and supply/distribution chains connect all the countries with global markets of raw materials, finished products and labor.

The Index ranks 145 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where law and practice protects workers’ rights best. The Index rates countries according to the indicators, with an overall score placing countries in rankings of one to five plus.

These include: (1) sporadic violations of rights, (2) repeated violations of rights, (3) regular violations of rights, (4) systematic violations of rights, (5) no guarantee of rights, and (5+) No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law.

The Index found 12 countries including Iceland and Sweden violating rights sporadically while 24 countries including Belgium and Republic of Congo violating rights repeatedly and 26 countries including Canada and Rwanda violating rights regularly. It also found 39 countries including Chile and Nigeria violating rights systematically while 35 countries including Brazil and Eritrea not guaranteeing rights, and nine countries including Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen having no guarantee of rights due to breakdown of law.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Right to strike violated in 85% of countries.
  • Deny some or all workers collective bargaining in 80% of countries.
  • The number of countries excluding workers from the right to establish or join a trade union increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019.
  • Workers had no or restricted access to justice in 72% of countries.
  • The number of countries workers arrested and detained increased from 59 in 2018 to 64 in 2019.
  • Out of 145 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
  • Authorities impeded the registration of unions in 59% of countries.
  • Workers experienced violence in 52 countries.

On percentage of countries, which have restricted free speech and assembly, the Index informs: It’s 30% of countries in Europe, which is almost one-third of the bourgeois democratic Europe. And, this happens after dismantling of post-revolutionary societies and unfurling of capital’s democracy-flag.

On percentage of countries where workers have experienced arrests and detentions”, the Index finds: It’s 25% of countries in Europe. On strikes, the Index reports: “In 2019, strikes have been severely restricted or banned in 123 out of 145 countries. In a significant number of these countries, industrial actions were brutally repressed by the authorities and workers exercising their right to strike often faced criminal prosecution and summary dismissals.” On percentage of countries, which violated the right to strike, according to the Index, it’s 68% of countries in Europe. “In Belgium, 18 FGTB members were charged for blocking the road during a protest. The FGTB president of the Anvers branch was sentenced, but no penalty was imposed. Similarly, in France, 5 CGT and FO members were summoned by the police for distributing flyers at a tollgate. The general secretary of CGT Lot was charged with “illegal occupation of public roads” […]” In 2019, serious restrictions to collective bargaining were recorded in 116 countries. Countries that violated the right to collective bargaining in Europe was 50%. In the Netherlands, Norway and Spain, companies often bypassed collective bargaining with unions and pushed for individual agreements directly with workers.

The Index said: “Under international labor standards, all workers without distinction have the right to freedom of association. In 2019, 107 out of 145 countries surveyed excluded certain categories of workers from this right, often on the basis of their employment status from informal workers to non-standard forms of employment.” On worldwide basis, the percentage is 74, and 50% of countries in Europe exclude workers from the right to establish or join a trade union.

Capital has increased its old tact: “There is a worldwide trend, which is particularly evident in Europe but spreading globally, to seek to exclude workers from employment rights through ‘non-standard’ forms of employment, which reduces the organizational capacity of unions, as many workers are physically or psychologically isolated from permanent workers. Non-standard forms of work include temporary work; part-time, on-call, and contracts with zero- or variable working hours; temporary agency work; and disguised and dependent self-employment, in which many of the workers are found in platform, gig or digital work.” In 104 countries out of 145, the Index said, “workers had no or reduced access to justice, and the due process of law and justice was denied.”

This story is throughout the 62-page report. Facts from the global South have not been mentioned here, as those are not different, rather worse than the advanced bourgeois democracies. All of the ten worst countries for workers’ rights in 2019 are in the global South.  

Hence, the Index said: “The systematic dismantling of the building blocks of freedom and democracy […]”

The reality that stands stark is:

  • The labor is not only as usually under assault by capital, but the assault has also widened and intensified. This means: (a) exploitation has increased; (b) capital has turned desperate as it feels resistance by labor is absent; and (c) workers need spreading of their understanding of the reality and building up of their organization.
  • The advanced bourgeois democracies are shredding off mask that it used to put to hide its brutal face. This unmasking will take away words of optimism regarding the system that the so-called liberals market; but this depends mainly on the words the labor forcefully spreads.
  • The bourgeois democracies themselves are in crisis. That’s one of the reasons behind inability/incapacity of the system – the bourgeois democracy – to give concession to the labor. And, that inability leads the system to denying of minimum rights, executing murder, etc. as the Index The more the inability increases the more capital will brutalize its assault on labor.

The Index tells almost the same. Two of the three global trends for workers’ rights identified by the Index show that

  • democracy is in crisis,
  • governments are attempting to silence the age of anger through brutal repression.

The situation is so desperate – “age of anger” – that the mainstream is failing to deny the dominating system’s crisis and muzzling down – “silence the age of anger through brutal repression” – of the labor.

This practice of capital – silence, repress, etc. – has been told in the Index:

“There was also a growing number of countries where the authorities or employers resorted to court orders to ban strike actions on the dubious pretext that such actions disrupted economic activities.”

Court of law, the seat of justice as the capital propagates, is colluding with capital, is colluding to snatch away the workers’ rights. This is an old fact showed by proletarian theoreticians, but denied by the mainstream scholars. Bourgeois court is not blind; it knows where capital’s interest lies. Therefore, as the Index tells, holy courts don’t discard “dubious pretexts”.

However, the third global trend, as the Index identifies, is “legislative successes for workers’ rights are still being won.”

This means: Workers can challenge the system, can win over space from the system; and that’s possible whenever workers have appropriate organization and leadership – not sold out to capital.

One point needs a brief clarification: The Index by the mainstream labor organization tells: “democracy is in crisis”. The democracy it tells about is bourgeois democracy, which a section in the rank of the people very often fails to differentiate.

One faction of capital, extreme right wing, will try to capitalize this situation by forwarding popular slogan that sounds “sympathetic” to the labor. Even, this extreme right wing, often with fascist characteristics, will raise/is raising slogan that feeds divisive politics in the rank of the people, especially within the labor. Divisive politics is a trap capital sets up for the working class.

However, one part of capital is aware that this situation is a threat to the democracy and stability of capital. But, there’s no urgency from capital to enter into any compromise with the labor as labor is being allured by popular slogan, and labor’s organization and politics are not that strong that can compel capital to give space to the labor.

The figures cited here are not from a radical labor literature. Based on the figures from the mainstream labor literature cited above it can be claimed that no other class faced/faces such denial of rights, justice and democracy in today’s world. It’s worldwide persecution of labor. It’s an old story known to many, but discussed least.

The grave situation appears graver if incidents of the last few years, since the Great Financial Crisis, are taken into account. There’s unemployment, homelessness. There’s the mighty austerity program. There are wars, civil wars initiated by imperialism, imperialist interventions. In addition, there are outsourcing and special economic/export processing zones. In the global South, the reality is much worse. It’s a reality of violence and murder perpetrated by capital against the labor.

No other class but the working class has to tell these facts, find out facts more burning from life of the working class, and interpret these facts in relation to capital, and capital’s politics and democracy. It has to be said that the working class is the most oppressed class today when capital’s profit and politics moves forward without facing much hindrance.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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