Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza- Same Struggle

 by Brian Finnegan

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Protesters gathered today in front of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to call on Ralph Lauren to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to improve workplace safety for garment workers. The protest preceded Ralph Lauren’s annual shareholders meeting where the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund (its investments) had a proposal on the ballot related to human rights reporting.

At today’s shareholder meeting, Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, representing 70,000 workers, spoke to the protesters and called on Ralph Lauren join with more than 180 brands that have agreed to participate in the Accord.  The Accord is a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management. Other programs to audit and monitor for workers’ safety follow the same model that has failed the hundreds of workers who have died in preventable garment factory fires and building collapses over the past 20 years.

Akter spoke in the name of “women like me, who produce goods for Ralph Lauren in Bangladesh.”  Young women are 80% of the garment workforce in Bangladesh. Most of the more than 3,600 workers killed and seriously injured in the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse were young women. Hundreds of children were orphaned when their parents were killed in the collapse.  But Rana is only the most notorious of recent deadly workplace disasters in factories along the global supply chains of major U.S. and European brands and retailers.

Rana Plaza reminded many of the Triangle factory fire in New York more than 100 years ago that killed more than 100 workers yet eventually led to improved workplace safety laws and enforcement and innovative collective bargaining agreements. The changes after the Triangle factory fire helped make what was once sweatshop labor into good jobs and a way into the middle class.

Following the protest, Akter participated in the Ralph Lauren shareholders meeting where she presented the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund’s shareholder proposal, urging the company to report to stockholders about how it assesses human rights risks. The AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted the proposal after the company failed to acknowledge or respond to written requests to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Ralph Lauren has bought thousands of tons of goods from at least 15 locations in Bangladesh since 2007.

At the shareholders meeting, Akter asked: “So why has a company that has always stood for the highest quality not joined the accord?” She also pointed out that workers in factories that have signed the accord are in a better position to exercise other workers’ rights. “There are over 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. So far, 1,600 are covered by the accord and workers in these are better protected. Workers have a union at only 160 of those thousands of factories. Workers at factories covered by the Accord and those who have a union could have refused to enter Rana Plaza when they saw cracks. Workers must have Freedom of Association to protect themselves and claim their full human rights.” Unfortunately, workers who organize unions in Bangladesh are often fired, harassed or violently attacked.

Rana Plaza should help major corporations realize that the current model of cheap goods at any price through vast and unaccountable global supply chains is often inhumane and unsustainable.  Brands that want to act responsibly must take concrete measures to improve respect for human rights in the workplace.

This has been reposted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog, an indispensable source of information for worker activists.

International Support Enables Victory of Egyptian Union

by Paul Garver

Mondelez

In July 2012, more than two years ago, the Egyptian division of Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods International) suspended five members of the executive committee of a union in Alexandria that dared to declare itself independent. The same American-owned and managed global food company also disciplined union activists at Mondelez plants in Tunisia and Pakistan for similar reasons.

In response the IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide) organized a global “Screamdelez” campaign joined by its member unions on every continent. From Pakistan and Tunisia, through North America and Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Mondelez workers and their unions demonstrated to support their Egyptian counterparts. Hundreds of supporters around the world sent protest messages through the LabourStart international website to Irene Rosenthal, Mondelez CEO.

As a result of this campaign, Mondelez agreed to negotiate with the IUF, and following a meeting in Alexandria on July 9th the five executive board members were reinstated to their jobs with full retroactive back pay and benefits. Elections for the new term of the union executive committee at the plant will take place shortly. All five former union executive committee members will be entitled to stand.

In a last effort to avoid reinstating the union officers, local management argued:”But we don’t know how to reinstate them since no company has ever had to do that in Egypt before!” But the Egyptian result may become a precedent for Mondelez workers in other countries. The IUF and Mondelez International jointly stated that:

“This brings the long-running labour conflict in Alexandria to an end. Both local parties have committed to seek to resolve future challenges in a good-faith and constructive manner and, beyond Egypt, Mondelez International and the IUF have agreed “to discuss the lessons learnt from this conflict.”

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One lesson for all trade unionists is the power of global worker solidarity, in winning campaigns that can even transcend sharp national conflicts.  During the Screamdelez campaign delegates at the IUF EECA regional meeting, held in Kyiv {Kiev} on November 4-5, 2013 concluded their discussion on trade union development by a symbolic action in support of the struggling Mondelez workers in Egypt, Pakistan and world-wide. The participants included union leaders and activists from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

 

Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: A Review

 by Paul Garver

Insuregency Trap cover image

Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China is indispensable for anyone trying to understand what is happening with hundreds of millions of internal migrant workers in China today. Postsocialist China has become the world’s largest manufacturing center and exporter to the rest of the world, and the future of Chinese society and of the global economy hinges on whether the new Chinese working class remains excluded from its social and political system.

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UAW Local Union 42 Created at VW Chattanooga

by Paul Garver

The campaign to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is taking a new and interesting direction.

The UAW has chartered Local 42 as a new local organization representing workers at the VW plant.  According to the UAW press release, Local 42 will offer the workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace similar to the VW works council system for employee representation in Germany.  Calling itself “Volkswagen’s works council partner,” the union pledged to continue its advocacy for state incentives to encourage VW to expand production and create jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Unlike the usual American labor relations system the union will not have the right to exclusive representation, nor will it represent workers other than its own members.  However the UAW expects that the company will “recognize” the union once it has signed up a “meaningful” portion of its workforce as an organization that represents its own members.  Since the union had dropped its NLRB challenge to the February representation election it had narrowly lost, it could no longer at this time seek formal collective bargaining rights nor the right to exclusive representation of the work force.
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Dan Gallin’s Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

gallinbookcover225Dan Gallin’s career as a socialist and union activist now spans more than six decades.   Child of an exiled Romanian diplomat, he was recruited to “Third Camp” Socialism (Socialist Youth League/International Socialist League) as a college student at the University of Kansas in the early 1950’s.  Forced to leave the USA for his political activities, he rejoined his family in Switzerland where he became a Swiss citizen and a member of the Swiss Socialist Party.  Opting to labor in the international workers’ movement rather than the socialist political movement, he joined the staff of the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which he served as General Secretary from 1968 to 1997.

Solidarity is a collection of 19 of Dan Gallin’s essays, including  two autobiographical articles, three pieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s, one from his tenure as IUF General Secretary, and the  remainder from the last twelve years.  Dan Gallin’s interview by Eric Lee of LabourStart can serve as an introduction to the book.

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Dan Gallin on the international labor movement

by Stuart Elliott

Dan Gallin’s book Solidarity was officially and fittingly launched at the recent LabourStart “Global Crisis, Global Solidarity” conference. Gallin, now in his eighties, is a legendary figure in the international labor movement, having served for many years as General Secretary of the IUF, the international trade union secretariat of food workers union. Gallin transformed, modernized, and democratized the IUF. Unafraid to break new ground, guided by the values of “third camp socialism” he learned in the American Independent Socialist League, he embraced the organization of domestic and informal workers decades ago. Currently, he is  Chair of the Global Labour Institute (GLI), a labor service organization established in 1997 with a secretariat in Geneva, with affiliates in Moscow and New York . In this video, he is introduced by Eric Lee, founding editor of LabourStart.

 

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New ITUC Global Rights Index – The world’s worst countries for workers

ITUCglobalrightindexA global leader-board in the race to protect workers’ rights was released on May 19 at the ITUC World Congress in Berlin. The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.”

The International Trade Union Confederation has been collecting data on the abuse of trade union rights around the world for the past 30 years. Now for the first time the ITUC Global Rights Index presents carefully verified information from the last 12 months in an easy-to-use format so that every government and business can see how their laws and supply chains stack up. Continue reading

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