Podium: Our protection against corruption

From a speech by the general secretary of the TUC to the Commonwealth Trade Union Conference

I SOMETIMES feel that, in the clamour, excitement, and glitz of the preparations for the millennium, some bastard has stolen our tent; not the Millennium Dome of course, but the system of common beliefs and values which used to inform our society and protect it from the random vicissitudes of existence. It is worth noting that in real life, the leaders of the Dome project have been remarkably coy about its contents and meaning.

In political matters, people seem to operate on the assumption that every belief and value is a matter of opinion and of equal validity, even when they contradict one another. There is at the heart of contemporary society a consequent lack of conviction and direction and obvious injustices remain unremedied.

Of course, the market rules in the economic sphere and largely determines much of what happens politically and socially.

The market caters only for resources which are marketable and needs which are solvent, and the demands of justice and the human needs of the poor, the unskilled, and the unemployed rarely register.

The market is not a reliable ally. Its response to righting injustice is as likely to be obstructive as positive, and its remedies are slow working.

Why, for example, has it taken the rich countries and the IMF and World Bank so long to appreciate the wickedness of the burdens placed on the shoulders of the poorest of the poor by debt repayments?

Why so long before the international community realised that the crushing impact of debt served the interests of no country? It perpetuates poverty by denying resources for education and health.

Consider the position of the two most populous countries in the world, India and China.

The first has been a stable federal parliamentary democracy from its independence. India holds together a rich variety of peoples speaking more than 150 languages, holding to all the major world religions, and espousing political views and parties ranging from the extreme nationalist right to the far anarchist left.

India has its problems, and we have pressed for new drives to combat forced and child labour, but it acknowledges those problems and there is a commitment in public policy to tackle them. And the Indian trade union organisations are not slow to expose failures of government and employers.

China is not a democracy. There is no transparency or accountability in public or economic life and working people are prevented from forming their own independent trade unions. There are widespread reports of violations of basic human rights and dissent is harshly repressed. Yet China is experiencing rapid economic growth, a rate nearly twice as fast as India, and takes eight times the inward investment which goes to India.

I am not the manager of a multinational company nor an international financier, but I wonder if those who are have missed something. I wonder if the collapse of Indonesia holds out any lessons for them - considering that there was a similar lack of accountability, a flouting of the rule of law, a pervasive culture of corruption, and the absence of independent trade unions which might channel the accumulating grievances of working people.

Does it really make sense to commit such vast resources to China and at the same time deny investment to India with its vibrancy, stability, and potential to contribute signally to the common good?

A system built on injustice will not stand. The shock of a world recession could well bring the system down.

I would also draw attention to southern Africa which is much worse placed then India in attracting investment in the globalised world though needs are acute. South Africa itself best illustrates the position. The EU still has not been able to reach a trade deal with South Africa, and there is a new slur going the rounds which must harm investment: that the South African labour market is too inflexible.

That is a bit rich when it comes from very much the same people who opposed sanctions through the 1970s and 1980s and defended the most rigid and unjust labour market in modern history.

Market forces played only a minor part in this and they must not now be left by the world's political leaders to jeopardise the immense gains made for peace and justice.

The invaluable contribution which trade unions are making in many Commonwealth countries - particularly in Africa - lies in their encouraging in public bodies transparency, candour, and accountability,

This is the essential protection against mismanagement, corruption, and arbitrary rule.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor