Global union target of disinformation campaign

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is not an organization that many of you will have heard of. Which is odd, considering that it is one of the largest membership organizations in the world.

The ITUC is a federation of 333 national affiliates, mostly trade union centers like the TUC in Britain and the AFL-CIO in the US, and it represents about 180 million workers in 162 countries and territories.

The ITUC suffers from being somewhat remote from ordinary workers, as those workers join unions which in turn affiliate to national trade union centres, and it is those centres — not the workers — who are the ITUC’s “members”. It also gets very little mass media attention, though in recent years its campaign against the exploitation of migrant labour in the Gulf states has begun to change that.

This week, a strange news story appeared on top of the ITUC’s website with the title “Disinformation campaign against the ITUC.”

It claimed that the ITUC “has for some time been facing a disinformation campaign by unidentified persons, in connection with our campaign to defend the rights of migrant workers in Qatar including those preparing infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. This campaign has included the dissemination of fake videos and other materials, setting up of fake social media accounts and various other techniques aimed at the ITUC and at individual people. This week the ITUC received confirmation that ITUC email accounts have been hacked, and falsified material inserted into emails.”

Searching the web for what the ITUC may be referring to, one comes across some very odd content. For example, someone using the name “Big Jack Jones” has posted an article claiming that the ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow personally profits from the organization’s use of an Australian-based media consultancy. The links in that story point nowhere, and inaccuracies in it — such as referring to the International Labor Organization, a UN body — as the ITUC’s “parent” show a lack of basic understanding of how the trade union movement works.

In addition to articles like that one, there have been a number of other recent articles, some coming from India, alleging growing discontent with Burrow’s leadership from within the ranks of affiliated unions. At the last ITUC congress, held in Berlin in 2014, Burrow nearly ran for re-election unopposed until there was a last-minute challenge from Jim Baker, a former US union official. Burrow won a convincing victory at that congress.

If you’ve never heard of the ITUC before, it’s a pity that you’re hearing about it for the first time now.

The good news is that maybe this is evidence that the ITUC’s campaigning on Qatar has touched a nerve.