Today, I am excited to announce the merger of two allied organizations — the International Labor Rights Forum and Global Labor Justice. Developed over many months with the strong support of our allies, board, and staff, our new partnership is coming together at a critical time. As quite literally every person in the world faces a common threat in the form of a global pandemic, workers are simultaneously more isolated and connected than ever before. At a time when state and corporate responses leave workers around the world in crisis — locked into dangerous working conditions or locked out of jobs with essential wages and benefits — it is clear we must work together to build durable transnational alliances that advance a new strategic vision with labor and human rights in the foreground. Progressive economy efforts can no longer be seen as a parochial, national issue. Transnational movements and strategic campaigns are fundamental to a future that includes decent work, development, and democracy in the U.S. and around the world. Together we will strengthen the force behind these efforts by providing greater strategic capacity, support, and momentum.
Where are We Now?
Complicated and opaque global supply chain models of production and services continue to expand wealth and income inequality among people and nations worldwide. At the same time, we are seeing a growing retrenchment of liberal democracy, the ascent of fascism, authoritarianism and anti-worker and anti-labor reforms throughout the global landscape.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent responses from employers, corporate actors and governments have had a catastrophic effect on the health and livelihoods of more than 150 million workers in global supply chains. Workers have been left to struggle against vast structural inequalities, with women workers being disproportionately affected by this crisis. Yet, a gender lens on global worker issues has been largely absent from employer and government responses. Migrant workers have also been stranded—both at home and in destination countries— ignored and left out of recovery and repatriation programs and used politically to drum up nationalism and xenophobia.
We can’t keep what we are doing. It’s time for a new vision and new way forward.
What Experience Do We Bring?
The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) was formed over thirty years ago, as a progressive coalition of labor, human rights, faith, and policy leaders seeking to mitigate the harm of economic globalization on workers. ILRF has led several successful campaigns to secure labor rights guarantees in U.S. trade agreements, establishing a model that has since become a centerpiece of U.S. law and policy. Since then, ILRF has continued to insist on prioritizing labor rights in the transformation of the global economy, with allies in the U.S. and around the world.
Global Labor Justice was created in 2017 by a set of organizers and movement lawyers in the U.S., Asia, and Latin America confronting this altered terrain. GLJ pairs legal, policy, and research approaches with organizing along the axis of global markets of goods and services, currently supporting key experiments within supply chains and across labor migration corridors in the Americas and Asia/ Middle East.
What’s the Opportunity?
To create a more just global economy, we must center working people and their families and strengthen corporate and state accountability. And as our name highlights, human and labor rights must coexist with the power to exercise them.
As we come together as one organization, GLJ and ILRF will align our histories, our networks of allies, and our expertise — to meet the challenge of building solidarity and worker power in this crisis. We will use expanded research, legal, and policy capacities to analyze global production networks, global financialization and labor migration, and converge sharp strategies to support transnational campaigns. With our combined networks, GLJ and ILRF will be an important bridge between national and regional worker movements organizing for change along global axes and across borders.
How We Seed and Grow Transformational Change
We are hopeful as we see labor and social movements strategically prying open the cracks in neoliberal models of racialized capitalism. Strikes, uprisings, and expanded organizing in the public, private, and informal sector are increasing despite the obstacles. We see workers building and using technology to facilitate transnational communication and organizing, pushing back on technology purely as a tool of surveillance and control.
As we join forces, GLJ-ILRF renews our commitment to bring strategic capacity to transnational organizing efforts built along the levers of the global economy. And as our shared name highlights, we will center labor, especially freedom of association, and collective bargaining in existing and new innovative forms.
We continue to stand in solidarity with allies who are calling for a progressive global labor internationalism committed to building organizing and worker power within the same multinationals, within sectors, and within broader strategic alliances including movements for racial, gender, immigrant and climate justice.
Our vision is clear. All workers — whether they are employees or self-employed, full-time or precarious, directly employed or subcontracted, in the public sector or in the gig and platform economies at the fringes of the private sector — deserve a living wage, safe and healthy working conditions and a social contract. Longstanding impediments to participation and leadership like gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace must also be eliminated.
To do this, we must build the transnational linkages across borders that would traditionally divide working people and communities with similar interests. GLJ- ILRF’s mission is to provide key strategic capacity at these intersections, so we can remove barriers, advance innovative directions, expand organizing, and strengthen movement capacity.
As we do this, workplace democracy and trade unions must continue to be a foundational part of democracy more broadly and are more important than ever to oppose austerity measures at a time when workers and low-income countries are least able to bear them.
We are at a critical juncture. As the pandemic forces the restructuring of global value chains and labor and financial markets, GLJ-ILRF will continue to support workers organizing for power and hold states, employers, multinationals, and their investors accountable.
As Ella Baker said, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. At GLJ-ILRF we are just getting started. We look forward to working with existing allies and new ones to win rights, justice, and freedom for all working people and create a more just and equitable global society.
Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum
Executive Director, GLJ-ILRF