The IF Campaign is important but the TUC is not signing up to it


by Owen Tudor    
11:10 am - January 24th 2013

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It’s undoubtedly unfortunate timing that British international development charities chose yesterday for the launch of their new campaign which has coincided with the Prime Minister’s big speech on Europe.

The IF campaign is being run by a group of charities with which the TUC and unions have worked closely for years. We co-operated over Make Poverty History in 2005, helped run the Put People First campaign around the G20 in 2009, and we’ve been working for three years on the Robin Hood Tax campaign (all three of these were broad coalitions that went beyond the international development community, with green groups and unions playing a leading role, while IF is a rather more sector-only campaign.)

Many of the specific policy demands of the IF campaign are ones the TUC agrees with, such as legislating for spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid; tackling tax havens; and making transnational corporations act openly and honestly.

So I should perhaps explain why the TUC isn’t part of the IF campaign. It’s because there are too many “buts”. Here are three.

One big ‘but’ is that the IF campaign wants global hunger to be the big campaign of 2013, focusing in particular on the G8 leaders’ summit being hosted by David Cameron in Northern Ireland this June. Unions agree that hunger is a big issue and a terrible tragedy (it’s part of the manifesto global unions have issued at the Davos World Economic Forum this week.)

But this year, we think the priority should be fighting the austerity that G8 leaders like David Cameron are forcing on their own people and also on the rest of the global economy (this week the ILO revealed that only a quarter of the rise in global unemployment in 2012 had been in the industrialised world – three times as many were thrown out of work in developing and emerging economies.)

Secondly, the IF campaign has identified four key areas for the campaign – aid, tax, transparency and land. But they haven’t addressed one of the main causes of hunger, which is poverty, both at home or abroad. The world produces enough food for everyone to be fed, but too many people simply can’t afford it, and that applies (albeit to a lesser extent, and rarely to the point of starvation) in developed economies like Greece and, yes, even in Britain. Oxfam was started 70 years ago to help feed the hungry in Greece under Nazi occupation, and they have done fantastic work to highlight the scandal of how many people in Britain rely on food banks. People in Europe go hungry because of poverty and unemployment, and in reality the same issues apply around the world, even in famine-hit countries in Africa. But the IF campaign doesn’t cover this crucial issue.

And thirdly, well, we would say this, wouldn’t we? But what about the workers? The campaign focuses on defending smallholders against corporate land grabs, which is fair enough. But it has little to say about the millions of people who are employed in the food industry, not just growing food but processing and distributing it, including the many smallholders who supplement the produce of their own land with work in part-time or seasonal employment. As long ago as 2005, 40% of the 1.1 billion agricultural workers were employed. Decent work in rural areas is obviously a key element in ensuring people have the income necessary to support themselves, as well as pay for social protection, public services and so on, and decent work is the only sustainable route out of poverty, where aid is often only a sticking plaster solution, vital though it is.

Overall, unions are also concerned about the lack of southern voices leading the campaign, and we’re concerned that a campaign that focuses on hunger – despite the underlying demands that go much further in challenging the way the global economy works – will merely reinforce popular images of starving African babies, and reinforce popular misconceptions that people in the global south are powerless victims and that endless charity is the only solution.

So, while we will work with the IF campaign on specific elements of their campaign, the TUC won’t be signing up, and we’ll continue to argue the case for tackling inequality and injustice globally, at home as well as abroad.

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About the author
Owen Tudor is an occasional contributor to LC. He is head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department and blogs more regularly at the Touchstone blog.
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Reader comments


There’s a much better reason for not supporting the campaign.

We know very well that food wastage comes in two forms. There’s the rich world one, where people buy too much and don’t eat it.

There’s the poor world one where the logistics systems to collect and process the food from the farm to the consumer don’t work very well. We’ve had reports from both Oxfam and IMechE on this recently.

The necessary solution in the poor world is to improve those logistics systems. To get more of the food that is already grown into the hands of consumers while it is still viable.

And we know how to do this too. You need efficient logistics chains like we have in the rich world. You know, the big commodity companies, the supermarkets etc. This is what they actually do.

What’s the campaign actually saying? That those big bad corporations should be kept out of the poor world.

Go figure, hunh?

2. Chris Brennan

Yet again unions choose the sectional interests of the bloated working class of the rich countries over a real campaign for the globally oppressed. Great

2

As 99% of the wealth is owned by 1%, the term ‘bloated working-class’ is either made tongue-in-cheek or reflects a seriously delusional world-view, I wonder which it is.

Bit odd to see me defending Owen Tudor and the TUC but still:

“Yet again unions choose the sectional interests of the bloated working class of the rich countries over a real campaign for the globally oppressed. Great”

Yes, that’s the point of unions. To promote the interests of union members. Nothing else. Just as the point of a corporation is to promote the interests of shareholders (in a long term and legal manner, of course) so the point of a union is to promote the interests of union members. Non-union members have nothing to do with it: they’re not members, are they?

“As 99% of the wealth is owned by 1%,”

Be fascinated to know where you got that number from. Certainly not true of the UK. The top 10% have “only” 44% of all wealth. So the top 1% certainly can’t have 99% of it.

5

Certainly for the UK, I agree, but even so, with half the population owning less than 10% of the wealth, the term ‘bloated working-class’ is nonsense.

Btw, as the OP addresses possible foreign investment, the global view is much worse – according to Davies et al (2006) ‘The World Distribution of Wealth’ the bottom half of the world adult population owned 1% of global wealth, although I accept that a large percentage of the world population does not belong to an industrial economy.

This is pathetic.

Hunger is overwhelmingly a developing-country phenomenon. Even the poorest person is the UK is vastly better off than the *average* person in Malawi.

For the UK’s major working-class political organization to duck out of an international campaign to fight hunger is jingoistic and shameful.

I suspect this decision has more to do with personal relationships between the key people than anything else. Oxfam worker and TUC worker having a drunken argument or something along those lines.

I’d quite like to see some attention paid to Fair Trade withing the UK by Fair Trade campaigners.

There’s the matter of local farmers, but also for example Oxfams chain of specialist Record Shops which (I assume) get 80-100% business rates relief and free staff and many free goods, like the bookshops.

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/local-shops/oxfam-music-shops

Not to say the Wedding Shops and the rest, which have an uneven competitive field with small business, which are supposed to be supplying the new jobs…

A very sensible move by the TUC, articulated, by of all people, Tim “i’m a tory muppet” Worstall.

Trade unions represent their members. Not the global poor. Their paying membership. That’s their job.

If morally bloated liberals don’t like it, then carry on voting for the Orange Bookers.

Some pretty potent criticism of the IF campaign from War on Want: here.


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