2.7 An unsustainable future
A globalised economy could benefit workers throughout the world and improve prospects for social progress and sustainable development. However this will not happen by following a deregulation agenda. The growing inequalities between and within countries generated by neo-liberal policies and free trade show that workers are not receiving an equitable share of the wealth they create in society. Unsustainable commercial and production practices, spurred on by unregulated globalisation, have caused risks posed by industry, public health concerns, environmental preservation, and climate change to move to centre stage.
Climate change is a threat to sustainable development and will affect human well-being, industrial activities, and employment. It is not just a concern for the developed countries, which still account for most greenhouse gas pollutants. The rapid, energy-intensive growth in China, India and other fast-moving industrialising economies is also contributing to the increase in green-house gas emissions.
Global warming is now widely acknowledged to be the most critical environmental issue facing humanity. There is strong scientific evidence that most of the warming observed is attributable to unregulated economic activities and consumption based on a massive and excessive exploitation of natural resources, which also results in widespread industrial pollution. Fast growing emissions caused by transport, industries, and fossil fuel power plants are made possible by a globalisation that is promoted by neo-liberal policies, including a huge increase in free trade and the associated transportation costs. Production regardless of costs to the environment and the costs of recycling and disposal is prevalent. There is a scientific consensus that immediate measures such as cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, a stop to the destruction of forests (especially rain forests), and a change in agricultural production towards biologically-based systems is essential.
Furthermore, trade in dangerous wastes such as chemical and other industrial residues including nuclear power stations must either be strictly regulated, or should be stopped. Today, such wastes are often dumped by industrialised countries in developing countries. The latter accept these practices for the short term and minimal income they provide. There is much evidence that the receiving countries often cannot handle the wastes in a safe and proper manner. Frequently, they are stocked in open spaces where children and poor women go in search of the wherewithal for survival.
The global fight for environmental protection must take employment implications and opportunities fully into consideration. Whilst environmental protection has a cost, there is a huge potential for job creation in metal industries, particularly in those related to alternative energies, construction, and fuel-efficient transportation. Creation of stable, safe, and good jobs must be put at centre of the response to the environmental crisis. These jobs must be based on production of goods and services that are useful and accessible to everyone in the community. Because many environmental problems have their roots in the workplace, workers are in a unique position to contribute to solutions. Moreover, the role of trade unions, especially industrial unions, needs to be strong at the sectoral level where special attention must be given to auto, steel, aluminium, aerospace and power generation, which are all fundamental for the future of our economy. Finally, these positive developments will only happen if trade unions all around the world and their allies fight against neo-liberalism and for effective national industrial development policies.
Globalisation and its social impact is an important factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS and other new epidemics. As a result, these epidemics. cannot be addressed as an isolated issue, but only in the context of trade, investments, the employment relationship, and social protection. Less developed countries with high levels of poverty and inequality are especially vulnerable. As a result of the policy pressures from international financial institutions, poverty amongst the most economically marginalized groups is deepening. This affects both the spread and the response to the epidemics. Unions are key actors at the workplace; they can protect workers and develop agreements with employers to promote access to care and treatment, and to prevent discrimination. Trade unions also play a wider social and political role within civil society, which seeks to alleviate poverty and deprivation by raising wages, living and social standards.
A global arms race, which stirs up tensions and conflicts across the world, also threatens a sustainable future. World military spending has increased by 45 per cent since 1998. The struggle to secure access to vital supplies of energy and other raw materials is a major factor contributing to this military build-up. At the same time these limited resources are depleted by wasteful and unnecessary production and growing populations. On the other hand, investment in much-needed education and health programmes, and in official development assistance has lagged behind.Jun 19, 2009 – Alex Ivanou