Last month a rare spat took place at the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s annual conference.
The ILO is grounded in the notion of tripartite co-operation between employer organisations, employee organisations and governments.
Year after year, a moment has been taken to highlight the worst violations of trade union rights around the globe.
This year, the employer groups pulled the carpet, and got it taken off the agenda. Union federations reacted with great indignation at this affront to the co-operative process of the ILO.
I beg to differ.
The segment was the affront to the ILO process, in fact I’m amazed it had persisted this long. How are groups supposed to discuss things rationally if one group is forced to sit through a session specifically about how untrustworthy they are? How is that supposed to build trust and co-operation?
Imagine if the roles were reversed: Suppose employers got to play a video every year about the most egregious examples they could find of union misbehaviour.
Or translate the scenario to decisions in your own family. Imagine if, every time you sat down to discuss some major decision, your spouse/parent said ‘Hang on, before we talk about that, we’ll just have to stop for a minute and watch this slideshow about the time you were given decision-making responsibility and screwed it up royally.’ Well that’s pretty much what’s been happening.
The whole scene reminds me of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland, who thought it was critically important to hold annual marches to remind people of a military victory their ancestors won several centuries ago. As a result of their confrontationalism they have the distinction of being the last place on earth where Catholics and Protestants murdered each other over their religious differences. Most other European nations had discovered toleration by the 1700s.
So, far from being “an affront to the system”, last months’ agenda change may actually herald an approach more oriented towards results and less towards grandstanding. Let’s hope.