Thursday, July 3, 2008

The First Global Union

Globe BNA's Daily Labor Report (subscription required) is reporting on the creation of the "world's first global union."  Apparently, the union--which is an offshoot of two existing unions--intends to act as a formal trade union in each country, while coordinating its activities world-wide:

The heads of the United Steelworkers and the United Kingdom-based Unite the Union July 2 signed an agreement clearing the way for the creation of Workers Uniting, the world's first global union. 

Prior to the signing, USW President Leo Gerard said Workers Uniting will be a "fully functional and registered labor organization" in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada, with the ability to fully represent all of the members of its founding unions immediately. The new union unites USW's 1.2 million active and retired members with the more than 2 million active and retired members of Unite, which was created last year with the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers. 

Gerard said the two unions represent workers in every sector of the global economy, with 46 percent of the members in manufacturing and mining and 44 percent in transportation and services. Both USW and Unite will continue to operate independently, but through the new structure, they will be able to work collectively on such issues such as strategic campaigns, collective bargaining, and organizing, according to the USW. In addition, the structure will allow other unions to become part of Workers Uniting in the future. . . .

Gerard said in order to "challenge exploitation anywhere in the global economy, the new union, in conjunction with the National Labor Committee, a human rights advocacy group in the United States, is creating a Global Labor Rights Network that will have allied staff on the ground in Central America, the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and other regions. He added that the union cannot fight exploitation by limiting itself to North America and the U.K. . . .

According to the new agreement, the two unions in the last year have engaged in joint collective bargaining efforts in the paper, chemical, and titanium industries; international solidarity projects to protect the rights and safety of trade unionists in Colombia and Mexico; participated in each other's education, rapid response, health and safety, civil rights, and women's conferences; and engaged in extensive discussions about strategies that the unions have taken in order to save manufacturing jobs in their respective countries.

As I've written about recently, coordination is one of the main ways in which unions are trying to engage in collective activity in the global economy.  Coordination has many limitations, but unions have had successes in the past, such as the pressure brought against the French company, Sodexho, in its dealings with its American workers.  Workers Uniting is the most formal coordinating effort to date, but I feel certain that it won't be the last.  What we're witnessing right now is exciting for the labor geeks among us.  I expect to see many different attempts by unions to maintain relevance and achieve gains for workers in a global labor market.  Some attempts will fail; others will succeed.  I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing how it all develops.


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While I'm surprised it didn't happen far sooner, I'm no less delighted to learn of this development: let's hope it portends more efforts along these lines.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 3, 2008 5:29:03 PM

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