World Day of Social Justice: Trade unions must remain at the forefront of the fight for social justice

Feb 2024

Trade unions are always striving to achieve social justice and fight injustice.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) specifies in its Constitution that the role of trade unions is to “strive for human rights, social justice, gender equality, peace, freedom and democracy” and the first line of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization (ILO) says: “…universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”.

Of course, the meaning of social justice varies depending on time, place and people’s attributes. Our society is composed of diverse groups of people; ideally, this diversity is united by common values in a democratic manner embracing all different interests and allowing everyone to come together, without submitting to anyone.

In any age and place, the people have never stopped raising their voices against “things that are not right”. They speak out about various issues whenever there is dissatisfaction with their work or lives. As long as there are people who hope that tomorrow will be a little better than today, and talk about what kind of a future of work they want, the trade union movement will continue - and must continue - to provide a space for these people, lend an ear to their concerns and advance better policies to address their problems.

The ITUC - Asia Pacific has made it its commitment to negotiate a new social contract based on six demands: jobs, rights, wages, social protection, equality and inclusion. If we were to embody a common global value in this era, it would necessitate a consistent effort to realise the world of work that empowers all to break out of poverty through jobs, guaranteed rights at work, fair working conditions, and adequate social protection for all without discrimination, harassment and violence.

However, the reality is harsh. In many countries, corporate interest is prioritized over the majority’s aspirations for decent work, adequate social protection, and quality social services. Furthermore, leaders and their governments who fear that a working democracy is a threat to their tight grip on political power continue to restrict the legitimate activities of trade unions and oppress their leaders.

Trade unions, however, are not giving up. Throughout their history, trade unions have been relentlessly fighting for dignity in the workplace and for social justice for all. We should not compromise the gains in social justice that we have secured over centuries and must continue to hold governments accountable for their violations of human and workers’ rights in accordance with international rules - most importantly, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

The tripartite commitment to social justice is clearly enshrined in many ILO instruments, including the Philadelphia Declaration (1944), the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (2008) and the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work (2019). However, amidst the wonderful pronouncements and nice words agreed by governments, employers’ organisations and trade unions, we have to continue working hard to bring them to fruition. ITUC-AP will continue, through its national affiliates, to listen to the voices of workers who have never been heard by governments or employers, and must remain at the forefront of the struggle for social justice for all.

Shoya Yoshida
General Secretary
ITUC Asia Pacific