World labor leader says protest movement weakened

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ATHENS: Globalization has weakened the union movement, making it increasingly difficult to coordinate protests between Europe’s debt-stricken countries, says the head of a global union group.

Muhammad Shaaban Azouz said unions in most countries have become increasingly divided between traditional protest groups and rival organizations more willing to engage with employers.

Azouz, a Syrian union leader, spoke to the Associated Press at the start of a three-day conference of the World Federation of Trade Unions. The event is being hosted in Greece by a Communist-backed labor group which has its own bitter rivalry with the country’s largest union, the GSEE.

Debt-strapped Greece avoided bankruptcy last year after receiving a €110 billion ($157.11 billion) bailout loan deal from European counties and the International Monetary Fund through 2013.

"Unfortunately part of the trade union movement is accepting the idea that they should share the burden of the crisis … They’re working with the IMF and the World Bank," said Azouz. "The trade union movement is divided … It has been weakened by globalization, under the guise of pluralism."

Azouz said decades of working rights were being swept away in countries that had built up huge national debts and problems caused by irresponsible financial policies — including Greece and Ireland, which is also dependent on rescue loans.

"The people who caused this crisis don’t want to pay the penalty, so they are passing the cost to working people and trying to get them to accept pay cuts and to go without work insurance and other benefits," he said.

Azouz backed recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, arguing that the protests were inspired in part by anti-austerity street rallies in Europe.

But he strongly opposed the Europe-led bombing campaign against forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi — insisting that revolts in the region should not seek outside help.

"The region remains a capitalist target because of oil … and wars tend to separate people from the wealth of resources that their countries have. That’s because infrastructure gets destroyed and outsiders then have to rebuild it," he said.

The WFTU meeting — following the last world congress in Cuba five years ago — is being attended by delegates from more than 100 countries, organizers said.

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