Only one in four workers have decent jobs: Konvitz lecturer

The world may be getting very close to doomsday, Philip Jennings said in his 2018 Milton Konvitz Memorial Lecture, “Future of Work, Peace and Justice: Is It Two Minutes to Midnight Yet?” The lecture was held at the ILR School March 13.

“The Doomsday Clock was there to draw the world’s attention to the dangers of nuclear war and weapons,” said Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union, which represents more than 20 million workers. “Now, I have begun to see the Doomsday Clock in terms of our democracies, our rights, our human rights and what the future of work means to our people.”

The Doomsday Clock was established in 1947 to represent an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war; since 2007, it has also represented climate change and other threats to humanity.

The Doomsday Clock is once again the closest it’s ever been to midnight – 11:58. The only other time it reached that point was in 1953, Jennings said.

“The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth,” he said. “They stem from a disregard and contempt for human rights and stem from oppression.”

Jennings quoted what poet Dylan Thomas said to his dying father – “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Jennings added, “This is a time for rage and resistance, I feel. Therefore, when we look at the nature of what we are confronting for me a global union, there is a bigger picture of anger and closing of democratic spaces.”

The gradual shrinking of union rights worldwide constitutes an affront to democracy, according to Jennings.

“Sixty percent of countries exclude workers from the right to establish or join a union, 83 percent countries have violated the right to strike, 82 percent of countries have violated the right to collective bargaining,” Jennings said. “This is a picture of a world of closing democratic spaces. We have a global labor market of 3.2 billion people; only one in four have what we would consider a decent job.”

Jennings said the world is experiencing its fourth industrial revolution and it must be taken seriously. “We think that it is different this time and we have argument of what it means for jobs with some people saying that the jobs will be there and others saying that they won’t be there” he said. “I prefer the Armageddon view from the latest statistics that we see.”

Jennings said he wants to return to the center of the conversation: “We now have a new conversation about work taking place that has more gravity and weight at attracting political attention than the world of work attracted previously.”

Quoting James Truslow Adams in “Epic of America,” Jennings ended his lecture: “Ever since America became an independent nation, each generation has seen an uprising of its citizens to save the American Dream from forces seeking to overwhelm and dispel it. I am sure that Mr. Konvitz in his 46 lectures on American Ideals could attest to the resistance, and the persistence of this nation to its ideals and to its values.”

The Konvitz Lecture is named for the late Professor Milton Konvitz, a founding ILR faculty member who taught at Cornell for nearly three decades and inspired thousands of students with his popular course “American Ideals”. Among his students were U.S. Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54.

The lecture is supported by Irwin Jacobs ’56 and Joan Jacobs ’54 and was part of Union Days, sponsored by The Worker Institute at Cornell.

David Ticzon is a writer intern for the ILR School.

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