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President Jörg Hofmann, IG Metall Delegates, Guests, Dear Friends,

I bring you the fraternal greetings of the International Labour Organization and my personal best wishes for the success of this Congress.

Colleagues, this year the ILO has been celebrating its Centenary. 100 years of global tripartite action – by governments, by trade unions and by employers – to promote social justice and decent work around the world.

So let me begin by paying tribute to the even longer history – 128 years – of IG Metall, and its predecessor DMV. Because through your organization, German metalworkers helped lay the foundations of trade union action in the late 19th century; underwent and overcame the turbulence, division and tragedy of the 20th; and today you are leading the way in navigating the challenges and harvesting the opportunities of the 21st century.

Working together for tomorrow with justice and solidarity seems to me something you have always done; but at this moment of disruptive change, widespread injustice and growing inequalities in the world, your task is more than ever absolutely indispensable.

It is a regular part of my job to speak to meetings of national trade union centres. But today is the first time – in seven years – that I have the chance to address the Congress of an individual trade union.

And this says something about the standing of IG Metall in the world.
It is not only that you are a big and powerful organization.
It is not only that you have a long and proud history of achievements.
It is not only that you have always been strong internationalists.

It is also, and above all, because IG Metall is on the frontline today, as a crucial actor in Germany’s social market economy. An economy which still – thanks to the work of your members – depends for its success on the manufacture of goods to meet human needs, and not the alchemy of turning paper into gold which drives the financial sectors in so many of our economies.

And more than this, it is because, like the ILO which has dedicated its Centenary to the future of work, IG Metall is a key actor in building a future that will be to the benefit of working people.

You are scanning the horizon and plotting the course of transition to the future we want.


We meet at a time of transformative change in the world of work. We know that those changes are being driven by:

  • technological innovation, digitalization, artificial intelligence, automation – everything we call the 4th industrial revolution;
  • by the demographics of the aging industrial countries of the north, and the youthful global south with all that means for the management of migration and the sustainability of our social protection and welfare systems;
  • by the forward path of globalization, today more uncertain than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in this era of trade wars, of Brexit and of heightened international tension.

And, of course, by climate change and everything we must do to stop it.

Except for those who ignore the evidence of science – and there are some of those – we know that climate change is advancing more quickly than our capacity or willingness to stop it. We know that climate change is the result of human activity, and we need to focus on the reality that most of that activity is work, or work-related.

This of course is what the climate package here in Germany is all about. It highlights the need to ensure that the necessary transition to climate neutrality is a “just transition”, that is a process which aligns fully with social and economic goals – including the imperative of ensuring opportunities for decent work for all.

IG Metall – and all trade unions of industrial workers around the world – stand, whether you wish it or not, at the centre of these processes – and you must not stand alone.

These are complex, demanding processes. The market left alone will not deliver them. Governments need to commit to them, and to invest in them. So do employers, and so does the international community.

And there is some good news. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement contains this concept of just transition. And just two weeks ago at the United Nations Global Climate Action Summit more than 40 countries committed to including just transition into their national climate strategies. Germany was one of them. I hope that all governments will follow this same path because if they do not, I suspect they will be reminded that there is that yellow vest in every car.

But IG Metall’s call for social and ecological transition is being heard. It is, too, the strategy approved by the Governments, Workers and Employers in our 187 member States in the Centenary Declaration adopted at the ILO Centenary Conference this June.

That Centenary Declaration sets out a Human Centred Agenda for the Future of Work. It is based on a very basic idea – that the future of work is not predetermined. It will not be, and must not be decided solely by technological or market forces. It will be as it always has been – the result of societies’ capacity to set goals for the future and to design and implement the policies for their realization.

For the ILO, these goals were decided 100 years ago. They are the goals of social justice and those goals have not changed.


Our Centenary Declaration sees the need to invest in three areas.

Firstly, investment in the capacities of people – through provision of life-long learning; through comprehensive social protection, so that they can navigate successfully transitions in conditions of human security; through a new agenda for gender equality.

Secondly, investment in the sustainable jobs of the future with a special emphasis on the green economy, the care economy, infrastructure (digital, physical, social) and, for much of the world, in rural development.

And thirdly, investment in the institutions of the labour market.

For more than a hundred years, trade unions and their allies have built up the processes, rules, and mechanisms which have made the market economy a social market economy. We need to examine how effective those institutions are now, in the face of transformative change at work.

I’ll give an example. Do we have the right tools to protect workers in the emerging gig-economy?

And a century after the ILO, in its founding Constitution, recognized that all workers should have the guarantee of safe and healthy workplaces, what must we do to eliminate the loss of nearly 3 million lives every year in the world because of injury and disease at work?

And how do we realize our constitutional goal of placing maximum limits on working time?

Think of this.

When the ILO was founded in 1919, working weeks for industrial workers were in general 65 hours. The very first international labour standard set by the ILO set the goal of a 48 hours maximum, and a later one brought that down to 40 hours. One of the first campaigns from another country that I recall when I became active in trade unionism in the 1980’s was the IG Metall campaign for 35 hours. And now the collective agreement you negotiated last year offers the option of 28 hours for those who want it.

There are lessons to be had in this chronology.

The first lesson is that most obviously, despite all of the difficulties we have, social progress has been real: working lives have been transformed and they can be in the future. But none of this has been given – it has been hard won, and it will be hard won in the future.

And as the world of work evolves – sometimes dramatically – so too do the preferences and needs of working people. There are trade-offs between work, income, and free time, and not every one of us shares the same, uniform perceptions of them.

And that is why bargaining strategies which allow workers to exercise greater control over how they work are so important and point the way to the future.

One of the claims made in favour of the technologies of the 4th industrial revolution is exactly that they allow work to be done anytime and anywhere. And on the face of it that sounds great. But we all know that there is a world of difference between on the one hand somebody really being able to decide freely when and where to work, and on the other that individual being told they have to work anywhere and anytime that somebody else decides.

It is exactly the same idea that Chancellor Merkel referred to when she spoke to the DGB Congress and said that the same technologies that enable the emerging gig-economy have the potential to bring important social progress to the world of work, but could equally if uncontrolled create a new generation of 21st century digital day labourers.

The need to master new technologies for a more human world of work is clear to us all, and a lot is at stake.

And it is equally clear that it is the determined action of strong and representative trade unions which will be the key to making this happen. Where trade unions are able to engage with employers in sincere processes of social dialogue, it is not only workers but also enterprises, and society as a whole, who get the benefits. And that is why real social partnership, based on full respect of the rights to organize and to bargain collectively, need to be considered universal public goods and actively promoted by governments around the world.

As you know, each country has its own story to tell in this regard, but unfortunately, these are not always the positive stories we would want to hear.


Indeed, today the reality of our politics and public life is of concern in many respects. Because many people – particularly working people – feel disoriented by the speed and nature of change, because they have often lived the experience of stagnating or falling wages and growing precarity of work, and because they feel the injustice of ever greater inequalities, they often face the future more frequently with anxiety than with hope. For these reasons, their confidence in the capacity or interest of the familiar policy-settings and political actors to give credible responses to their pressing concerns is diminished. And so the temptation to look elsewhere – to the simplistic solutions that are on offer from populists of different colours – is growing.

Confidence is undermined too by the purveyors of fake news who routinely dismiss evident truth as lies, and peddle obvious falsehoods as realities. They urge people to take back control of their lives by appealing to their national identities and by rejecting all those who look, think, speak or love differently than they do.

I conclude that there is a new brutalism has taken hold in our politics. It is to be found in the xenophobia on our streets, in the infiltration of authoritarian discourse in our politics, and in the violation with apparent impunity of human rights and the international rule of law.


We know where this can take us. And we know too what the responsibilities of trade unions are. Not only because – sooner or later, and regardless of the social wrapping in which the authoritarian populist package is presented – they will inevitably fall victim to this same agenda. But more fundamentally, because you are confronted with a challenge to the basic values of social justice, tolerance, solidarity and humanity that have always united the trade union movement and the ILO.

And that is why you are right to insist that the social and ecological transformation ahead must also be a democratic transformation as well.

And just as IG Metall stands as a bulwark against this new brutalism in the workplaces and communities in which you are present, so does the ILO on the international stage. We have found a strong ally in Germany in defending the practice of multilateralism and using it to promote the cause of decent work for all.

We share with Germany a determination to bring together the different organizations of the international system, those that are responsible for trade – the World Trade Organization – and those that deal with finance – the World Bank and the IMF – to work more systematically together with the ILO to ensure the type of policy coherence we really need for a fair globalization, a globalization that works for working people and that delivers too on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


It remains only for me to congratulate you and all those elected to lead IG Metall in the years ahead. I want also to congratulate everyone in this hall on your staunch, unchanging attachment to long-standing trade union values and objectives, and your readiness to be creative and innovative to make them a reality. I hope that you will use all your strength not only to promote the rights of the German workers that you represent but also those of workers in all other parts of the world as well.

All of this makes IG Metall and the ILO natural partners. I look forward to working with you to make sure that Arbeit 4.0 is truly work with justice, solidarity and humanity.

Thank you.

Source of original article: International Labour Organization (
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