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Development For Whom?

Labour asks whom the G8 development ministers are representing

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

Unions are calling for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatments, while G8 countries are taking a different approach.  Illustration: Carel Xero
Unions are calling for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatments, while G8 countries are taking a different approach. Illustration: Carel Xero

As Halifax prepares to host a gathering of development ministers from eight of the world's richest countries, local labour groups are educating their members on the G8's impact on workers.

"Workers in Nova Scotia need to be more up to speed about what is being discussed behind closed doors, and what the impact is on them and our counterparts internationally," says Tony Tracy, Atlantic Representative of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

One of these issues is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is devastating communities around t he world, says Tracy.  The CLC is calling for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatments, while G8 countries are taking a different approach. 

"Policies of G8 countries have been favourable to big pharmaceutical companies; in many cases to the privatization of healthcare," says Tracy, making access to essential medication out of many people's reach.

The CLC, which represents the interests of more than 3 million workers in Canada, is working with its partners in over 20 countries to pressure the Canadian government to put universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support on the G8 agenda. 

"Labour centrals in Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Sierra LionneLeone, South Africa and many others have been contacting Canadian embassy officials," says Tracy.

It's no coincidence that these countries are not members of the Group of Eight, which counts France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US and Canada as its members.  G8 countries make up only 14 per cent of the world's population yet account for over half the world's monetary wealth.

Sub saharan Africa, on the other hand, accounts for 10 per cent of the world's population, but is home to 67 per cent of people in the world who are living with HIV, according to the United Nations.   

Globally, between 1.7 and 2.4 million people died of AIDS in 2008, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of those people were of working age.  "Workers make up the vast majority of any society," says Tracy.  "Issues that affect workers are issues that affect the communities in which we live - our families, our parents, our children." 

This outlook explains the labour movements involvement in many struggles for social justice, both globally and locally, says Tracy.

The labour movement has played a key role in organizing resistance to the G8 in Halifax.  "The labour council initiated a call in late February to start organizing," says Kyle Buott,  President of the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labour Council.  The labour movement also booked off two full time organizers in the lead up to the development ministers' meeting, to educate union members on the G8.

The actions of the G8 have a tremendous impact on workers in Nova Scotia and around the world, according to Buott. "The biggest thing is that these are the folks [G8 leaders] responsible for the economic crisis that's...devastating many workers’ lives."

Nova Scotians continue to make one of the lowest wages in the country, says Buott. The province also has one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada - over 20 per cent in some regions, he continues.  

Something needs to change, says Buott, and he doesn't think it's going to happen through the G8.  "If we're going to have some kind of discussion about the economy it needs to be democratic; it can't happen behind closed doors.  Some kind of economic democracy wouldn't hurt either, which means there is worker control and participation in the economy."

Although Buott isn't investing much hope in the G8 meeting itself, he does see an opportunity emerging from the resistance movement to the development ministers’ meeting.  "Groups in the labour movement can make new connections with women’s groups and other organizations," he says.  "There's room for building alliances, so we can continue to build social movements here in HRM and more broadly in Nova Scotia."

Hillary Lindsay is an organizer with the Halifax Media Co-op and part of the Dominion Newspaper's Editorial Collective. 

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Topics: LabourHealth
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