IBM Global Union Alliance Formed: Upsurge in Activity in IBM Chile and Argentina

by Lee Conrad

IBM Day of Global Action June 2011

A network of IBM unions worldwide met in Nyon Switzerland at the headquarters of the Union Network International (UNI) in May to form the IBM Global Union Alliance. 40 trade unionists from 15 countries assembled.

For many years IBM unions, including the Alliance@IBM CWA Local 1701 in the US, have worked together as a network of information and cooperation.

The new Global Union Alliance, under the umbrella of the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and Union Network International (UNI) takes that network to another level and will include many more IBM unions. This past year new IBM unions have formed in Bulgaria, Chile and Argentina.

In a statement from the IMF and UNI about the new Global Union to IBM unions:

“As IBM has set itself up as a truly global company, trade unions also need to set up a truly global alliance cooperating to the maximum extent for the benefit of their members and IBM employees. This meeting creates an IMF/UNI Global Union Alliance at IBM of trade unions with members working for companies owned by IBM or companies in which IBM has a significant interest;

The purpose is to express the determination/commitment of trade unions at IBM to work together at global level based on shared values and objectives to strengthen communication and cooperation and to implement action coordinated by IMF/UNI global union.”

The objectives are:

  • To engage IBM in dialog at global level
  • To pursue agreements with IBM at global level to improve working conditions of IBM employees worldwide.
  • To raise levels of trade union membership at IBM.

The partners of the IBM Global Union Alliance will work together with the aim of protecting and furthering the interests of IBM employees throughout the world.

The global alliance will also take concrete action to enlarge the network by improving contacts with unions in countries where employees are unionized and make every effort to organize unorganized plants/locations.

While some IBM unions have had cordial relations with the company, others have faced strong resistance to organizing and collective bargaining.

The assembled IBM unionists agreed on a day of action around the 100th anniversary of the founding of IBM on June 14th. The aim of the day of action was to call attention to the decline in working conditions, wages and benefits at the company.

The global union alliance released a “birthday message to IBM” on youtube. Workers and unionists around the world held meetings, handed out flyers, held demonstrations and donned “black and blue” to signify the pain of declining working conditions.

At the new IBM delivery center in Sofia, Bulgaria the situation was tense. IBM management deployed security guards at the doors and inside the center to discourage union activities.

In early July came word that the new IBM unions in South America, in Chile and Argentina, were poised to take their fight to a new level.

The IBM Chile Union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Empresa IBM Chile – SNTI, was formed at the IBM Delivery Center in Santiago on September 2nd, 2010. There are about 300 members. The union in May 2011 presented IBM 23 points for negotiation in a collective bargaining agreement. IBM rejected all 23 points.

Even though the IBM Chile Union and IBM were still negotiating, and the union was hoping it did not have to strike, the US based Alliance@IBM CWA Local 1701 was hearing from members and employees that IBM US was seeking “volunteers” to go to Chile to help out the company with “customer issues”. Some IBM managers did mention the possibility of a strike and others did not mention anything about it.

The Alliance@IBM quickly started alerting members and IBM employees of IBM’s attempt to use US workers as strikebreakers in Chile through email blasts and notices on its website.

The Alliance web site comment sections were filled with posts from employees and members saying no to strikebreaking and refusing to go to Chile to help the company bust the union. The message was loud and clear to IBM that Alliance members were fighting the same fight as their Chilean co-workers.

The newly formed IBM Global Union Alliance also was alerted and its members put IBM on notice that it was watching the developments.

On July 12th the union and the company successfully negotiated the first union contract in IBM Chile. While the union did not get everything it wanted, it is a very important first step.

In IBM Argentina the situation is still developing at the time of this article. The IBM Argentina union, Union Informatica, part of the CGT, is holding a 1 day strike July 28th. The union has been steadily increase pressure on the company to enter into a meaningful dialogue. They started with sending a letter outlining their concerns on wages that have not kept up with inflation as well as the need to improve working conditions.

Unfortunately a new general manager came in and gave very little in wage increases and terminated 200 workers.

The union has kept up the pressure on the company and slowly IBM has restored workers rights, gave the correct payments for overtime and seniority.

But the fight is not over. Salary issues and the lack of a collective bargaining agreement are the driving issues right now.

The strike on July 28 is just one step of many to gain full union rights, salary increases and a collective bargaining agreement.

The struggles in IBM Chile, Argentina and Bulgaria are a new chapter in the worldwide organizing of IBM workers.

The unions in IBM are clearly telling IBM corporate management that it will not be business as usual. The fight for workers rights and collective bargaining will escalate.

Lee Conrad is national coordinator of Alliance@IBM CWA Local 1701 and international coordinator of the new IBM Global Union Alliance.

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