The question of Decent Work (DW) – employment under conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity – is, fundamentally, a question of human development. The Decent Work Agenda (DWA) has become part of the Millennium Development Goals, many of the world’s governments have signed its core conventions, and international institutions have incorporated the DWA into their development discourses. Despite these achievements the possibilities of achieving Really Decent Work (RDW) for the world’s labouring class appears distant. There are several reasons for this, but one is the limited and conservative nature of the DWA and the ILO’s conceptual inability to link RDW to broader processes of human development. DW’s conceptual weakness stems from its authors’ inability to see beyond labour’s subordinate relation to states and capital. DW does not generate a vision of a fundamentally different world, but an ameliorated version of the present. This accommodation to the present leads to a deep theoretical and conceptual weakness at the heart of the DW concept, so much so that it undermines its own immediate objectives. Put differently, the ILO’s efforts to promote DW are valuable, but their inability to adopt theoretical categories that explain reasons for indecent work undermine their objective and hamstring the efforts of labouring classes as they attempt to ameliorate their conditions.
In a global world, the question of solidarity is acquiring new dimensions. Transnational solidarity seems an adequate response to the power of multinational corporations and global finance. A number of analysts have depicted how activists are now working across state boundaries and forming transnational networks, campaigns and organisations. The problem is that more often than not, the new forms of solidarity have been limited to resisting privatisation, deregulation flexibility, and welfare cutbacks. At the same time the emerging field of transnational labour regulation has been mostly confined to the private, voluntary sphere. A wider and deeper conception of solidarity seems to be missing.
Meanings of solidarity Solidarity is a modern concept. It is tightly bound with the juridical concept of equality and the political concept of democracy. Although legal in its origins and commonly used for many purposes, in the workers’ movement the concept of solidarity has essentially been also a way to overcome the dilemmas of organising collective actions. The concept of political equality in the bourgeois democracy of 1792 turned into a guiding concept of the social emancipation of workers just half a century later. Since 1848 activists have often envisaged a common debt or solidarity obligation and, by acting upon it, sometimes have made it at least partially true. In the contemporary global world, it is this moral and future-oriented application that should characterise attempts to create and sustain various transformative social and political movements and to globalise labour unions.