At the bottom of this article, you will find the translation into the other working languages of the ILO.
Anna Biondi, you have been working for the ILO for 14 years, but with the ILO and for what the ILO stands for, for even longer. You brought to the ILO your invaluable experience with International Trade Unions. In fact, in many capacities, you supported and still support workers who seek access to social justice. In addition to your rich experience and all your skills, many colleagues at the ILO cherish you for your values: empathy, humanity, and the way you continuously embodied them. You became a close friend of the ILO Staff Union. It is a pleasure and an honor to interview you today, just before you go on retirement.
- If you had to summarize your career in four major events, what would they be?
After a stint at the European Parliament, I am glad to say that my career has been shaped by and through the Labour Movement. The first event was when I started working for the International Department of the CGIL union in Rome in 1987, where — under the leadership of Bruno Trentin – I was asked to open a bridge to the ICFTU (at that time CGIL was not in any international affiliations). In 1990, this led to the second major event of my career: being sent to New York and working with Italian migrants (practical work is always necessary!), while developing contacts with the AFL-CIO. I was so pleased when CGIL became a part of the ICFTU in 1992. Out of the blue for me came the request to start the third step in my career: I joined the ICFTU office in Geneva (taking the working space of Guy Ryder, who left to become ACTRAV Director… even if not for long!) in August 1998 as Deputy Director, remaining there until 2009 as Secretary of the Workers’ Group. The fourth step – but again, clearly within a coherent strategy of the labour movement – was to ask me to join ACTRAV in February 2009. I have spent the last 14 years supporting the Group and interacting with trade union centers worldwide, as well as building friendly interaction with colleagues in my unit and beyond.
- What is your major satisfaction in your years at the ILO?
First of all, my major satisfaction has been to be a part of the ILO experience. Either through the work done in the policy organs or as ILO employee, coming from the labour movement has been an enormous gratification, as well as having a sense of responsibility to be up to the task. I can quote the negotiations of major documents such as the Social Justice Declaration or being a part of the work towards the Centenary celebration or the smooth sailing of the Governing Bodies or International Labour Conferences (which has been my main responsibility in ACTRAV), but in the end what made me most proud is when – through collective efforts – we helped trade unionists to get out of jail or to obtain recognition by governments or through Collective Bargaining Agreements by employers. My simple message is that the ILO succeeds when workers get their rights.
- What is your largest regret at the ILO?
I would not speak about “regrets”, but probably of worries. Even though I think that every phase of life for an individual or an organization has to be recognized for what it is and not to dwell in the past, it is true that in 25 years (my time in Geneva as a whole), I feel that the “collective dimension” has been eroded. I hope there will be a new urgency for the constituents as well as the Office to seek solutions based on mutual listening and understanding, without sweeping under the carpet the differences, but thriving in robust discussions, including different viewpoints, to forge tools that can promote rights at work, in primis standards and social dialogue. We do not need a generic endorsement of “Social Justice” through speeches. Getting to social justice still requires hard choices and taking stands that are often very uncomfortable for international officials, but in the end, this is why we have our mandate and also our jobs.
- Some ILO colleagues do not dare to defend their own rights or to become a member of the staff union, fearing reprisals (for example, their contract is not renewed or to be considered and treated as a troublemakers). What advice would you give to the ILO personnel in this situation?
This question allows for a continuation of the previous concept. First, I must say that I am still very proud of the unionization rate in the ILO, possibly one of the highest ones in a democratic setting. I am also quite supportive of the choice to unionize all the personnel, since the ILO is an international public service. As D1, hence in a managerial position, I got my union card the day before signing my contract! I do not want to underplay the fears of colleagues with a temporary contract or under Development Cooperation to be singled out as troublemakers if joining the union. It is a reality and we need to make sure that – even in the ILO – there are no retaliations. One more reason for colleagues under regular budget contract to give an example! How can I be true to fight for workers’ rights if I am not willing to be part myself of a collective effort? I really believe that if we become part of the movement everywhere, our voices can be heard. I would also encourage colleagues to think of running for elected positions: either you are elected or not, this is not for individual gratification, but for being part of the decision-making process. In my career, I have been lucky to see how the personnel (and the ILO management) reacted to the threat of severely reducing our salaries – we didn’t fight only the possible pay cut, but the way it would have been done. I was proud of the joint will by both Staff Union and Administration to find a way out that did not curtail the CBA. So, my message to all my fellow colleagues: Think about those workers who are risking their lives daily in order to demand rights at work. Your rights were built by those who came before you. Do not take them for granted!
Finally, I am happy to have served and happy to move on with my life, grateful for what I received from the ILO and hope to have left at least a token of good work.
I will now join the section of the Ancien(ne)s and will be happy to have coffee once in a while with younger colleagues to see them and the organization thriving in the effort to make the world a better place.
Version française: ici
Versión en español: aquí