By Rosa Pavanelli*
One of the broadest conclusions from the political shocks of the past few years has been that many people have lost trust in elites. As long as the news cycle fetishes celebrity scandal and 15 minutes of fame over real stories of working people, it is difficult to see how this will change.
In the mainstream media, workers and unions are often presented as impediments to progress - or as 'anti-everything.' Perhaps this representation stems from our long-term opposition to neoliberal globalisation and the stagnating wages and skyrocketing inequality it has brought with it.
However, this narrow perspective ignores the everyday achievements and victories of working class people. While a strike might make the news, a nurse or firefighter saving a life or a teacher making a breakthrough with a tough student will not.
As unions, our legitimacy stems from one source only. Our members – workers – whose interests we are charged with advancing. It is our job to ensure that their voices are not sidelined from the conversation any longer.
Featuring 16 stories from nine countries – Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Italy, USA, Chad, Lebanon, Guatemala and Brazil – these films from the frontline show struggles against privatisation, austerity and neoliberalism and campaigns for trade union rights, disaster preparedness and access to quality public services.
While their stories may differ, the goal of these public workers is the same: to make their communities better for all – not just for the few. We hear, for example, from Dr Younous
in Chad, who fights for his patients’ lives – and against the dictatorship. From Reina Aoki
in Japan, who fights fires – and for her right to unionise. And from Georges
in Lebanon, who fights to bring water to his community – and for the rights of local refugees.
These are journeys which are rarely reflected in the media and certainly won’t make the evening news. But that is why it is so imperative that they are told.
It’s up to us to pass the megaphone to public sector workers across the world especially when it is no secret that they are constantly under attack.
Like in Turkey, where in the space of 18 months over 152,000 civil servants were dismissed
under terrorist legislation. A situation which forced, for instance, Lami Özgen, Co-President of the national confederation KESK from 2011 to 2017, to leave the country after being sentenced to imprisonment for his trade union activities.
Or Zimbabwe, where just a few days ago, 16,000 nurses were fired
due to their legitimate strike action – impacting directly on members of PSI affiliate Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA).
And it's not just about media representation. By sharing these stories we can forge solidarity, showing that workers such as Georges, Reina and Younous share the same struggles and can celebrate the same victories. We can present a positive, human vision of union activism, grounded in our grassroots.
The longer elites and experts attempt to 'explain' to working class people why things are the way they are, the less they will be listened to. It's time for them to make some space. It's time for workers to tell their stories.
*Rosa Pavanelli is General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI) and chair of the Council of Global Unions.