The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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Welcoming China’s labor federation back into the global union family?

TU vs. workers

by Eric Lee

[Ed. Note: This image shows strikebreakers sent by the local union federation attacking young striking workers at a Honda parts plant in 2010  The local union  was forced to apologize and a higher level federation officer helped negotiate higher wages at the plant.  A wave of strikes at auto parts plants in China followed.  -Paul Garver]

At the end of March, the International Labour Organisation’s Bureau for Workers Activities (known as ILO-ACTRAV) and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding “to promote Trade unions South-South Cooperation in the Asia- Pacific region”.

The Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, said “we need to find a way which so that the ACFTU can work more closely with other parts of the international trade union movement, sharing common objectives.”

Ryder is a former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has decided to invite the ACFTU to attend its upcoming World Congress in Berlin in May.

These two events illustrate the fact that the trade union leadership in much of the developed world now seems keen on putting the past behind us and welcoming China’s trade unions back into our “global family”.

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How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

chayes_color_medium1

by Sarah Chayes
Democracy and the Rule of Law Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

[Editorial note:  Over the last three years, Talking Union has run several articles on the constructive role that independent labor unions have played in creating  the underpinnings for the emerging democratic society in Tunisia,which continues to be  a positive accomplishment of the Arab Spring - Paul Garver]

Summary
Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.

On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.

The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.

With handcuffs like these lying open before him, the head of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, balked. The Road Map, in his view, was merely a “basis for discussion.” For three hours, as participants and witnesses and journalists grew confused and impatient in the main hall, Abbassi tousled with Ghannouchi offstage, at last extracting an agreement to sign.

And what was a labor union doing in the thick of politics? Everything, it turns out.

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Pro-Worker NGO Criticizes Apple’s Failures of Corporate Social Responsbility in China

by SACOM

Hong Kong, 28 February 2014

On the day of Apple’s annual general meeting, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) is urging Apple again to take immediate and constructive action to fulfil its corporate responsibility by improving the working conditions in its suppliers.

Despite respectable quarterly revenues of US$57.6 billion and a net quarterly profit of US$13.1 billion in the first quarter of its fiscal year of 2014, the company is unwilling to share its success with frontline workers – those who turn its ideas into real products. Apple’s newly published Corporate Supplier Responsibility (CSR) Progress Report projects an ideal workplace at Apple suppliers, yet we doubt workers are enjoying any benefit at all: Continue reading

Searching for the Union: The workers’ movement in China 2011-13

China Labour Bulletin

CLB-searchingfor the union
[Editorial Note: For many years the China Labour Bulletin (CLB) has been a reliable source for information on and analysis of the workers' movement in China. Alhough the CLB remains highly critical of the official trade union structures, its editors have documented and encouraged efforts by certain regional union officials to initiate badly needed reforms essential for meeting the workers' rising demands for a genuine voice in the workplace. However, as this excellent new report shows, the real impetus for positive change is coming from the rising consciousness of Chinese workers themselves.--Paul Garver]

China’s workers have emerged over the last few years as a strong, unified and increasingly active collective force. Workers have time and again demonstrated the will and the ability to stand up to abusive and arrogant managements and to demand better pay and working conditions.

However, workers are still hampered by the lack of an effective trade union that can maintain solidarity, bargain directly with managements and protect labour leaders from reprisals.  As a result, workers are turning to labour rights groups that can advise and support their collective actions while, at the same time, demanding more of the official trade union and putting pressure on it to change.

In China labour Bulletin’s new research report on the workers’ movement, published today, we examine this evolving relationship between the workers, the trade union and civil society and look at how the government is struggling to respond to rapid social and economic change. Continue reading

Tunisia: ITUC welcomes new constitution, a “crucial milestone” on the road to democracy

ITUC OnLine

ugttThe adoption of a new constitution in Tunisia is a “historic moment for the country and the region as a whole, and I would like to congratulate the UGTT for the key role it has played in reaching this crucial milestone on the road to democracy and respect for fundamental rights”, said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The ITUC joined with the people of Tunisia in applauding this achievement, which guarantees fundamental principles such as the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, freedom of association, the right to organise and the right to strike. The ITUC also welcomed the equally historic decision to introduce the principle of gender parity in elected bodies. Continue reading

An attempt to decapitate: Turkey’s trade unions on trial

by Eric Lee

Police in action against KESK demonstrators Thursday

Police in action against KESK demonstrators Thursday

On a chilly Thursday morning in late January I found myself standing at the entrance to an ultra-modern building that looked exactly like a shopping center or hotel.  An immense atrium, mirror-like glass everywhere, it was certainly designed by architects with ambitions.  The building was the main courthouse in downtown Istanbul — the largest courthouse, we were told, in all of Europe.


I was there in order to attend the opening of the trial of 56 members of KESK, the Turkish trade union for public sector workers.  The KESK members are accused of membership in an illegal organization, and making propaganda for that organization.  A handful of them were accused of being leaders of the organization.


The organization they are accused of joining is the Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi (DHKP-C) — the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front — which for more than three decades has conducted an armed struggle against the Turkish state.  The DHKP-C is considered a terrorist organization not only by the Turkish government but also by the European Union and the United States.

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On 1 February 2013, the organization carried out a suicide bombing at the US Embassy in Ankara, killing one person in addition to the attacker and injuring three.

A few days later, Turkish police launched raids across the country targetting the offices of KESK — a fiercely independent union which has challenged the Erdogan government’s policies in a number of areas, most notably in education.


There are no proven links between any of the KESK defendants and the DHKP-C.  According to the union, their members are being framed and their only real crime is the militant defense of KESK members against the ongoing attack by the government.


Following the arrests, at the request of global and European unions, LabourStart launched an online campaign that generated nearly 13,000 protest messages.


Some 167 KESK activists were detained, most were released, and 56 of them are awaiting trial.  Of those, 29 have been held in prison for nearly a year.  Naturally their families, union leaders, journalists and others wanted to attend the opening of the trial.  But the court decided to hold it in one of the smallest chambers they had, cramming in dozens of people, forcing many to stand in a hot, airless room.


The three judges confirmed the identities of those standing trial and then allowed the defendants one by one to state their cases.  The first was a school teacher who spoke at length about the history of the Turkish trade union movement, crushed first by the military dictatorship in the 1980s and now again by the Erdogan government.  The lead judge interrupted her, asking how long she would go on as he was keen to take a break.

“As long as I need,” she replied.  “I have a lot to say.

Her speech ended with rousing applause from the audience, which included a trade union delegation from a number of European countries.  During the break, the trade unionists joined hundreds of KESK members on the plaza opposite the courthouse in a protest.

Though the demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Down with fascism”, Turkey is clearly not a fascist state.  (Fascist states don’t allow demonstrations of this type.)

But Turkey is a state that recognizes few of the internationally-accepted rights for workers, and won’t allow civil servants, for example, to have a collective bargaining agreement.

The trial in Istanbul is part of a broader series of trials that include some 500 KESK members.


There is no question that the Erdogan government is trying to break the union by jailing its leaders.  As one of the European union leaders put it, it’s an attempt to “decapitate” the troublesome KESK.

These trials, like those which preceded them, have been ignored by the mainstream media.  In Turkey, this is to be expected, as the media is in the grip of Erdogan’s AK Party.  But few journalists in Europe and elsewhere have shown any interest in these events.   Apparently, unless blood flows in the streets — as it did last spring in Taksim Square and Gezi Park — Turkey is of no interest to the world.

Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, the international labor news and campaigning site

The Right To Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration

BaconA review by Duane Campbell

The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration by David Bacon  is a well written, well informed book that explains political and economic currents shaping the US immigration experience.

The U.S. public is  engaged  in a sustained and divisive debate over immigration. Unfortunately, at the same  time ,  most U.S. do not recognize that U.S. economic policy,  particularly NAFTA created many of  the conditions that produce the very immigration of some 8 million people  that many on the Right and the Tea Party   so oppose.

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 accelerated a neo-liberal form of economic growth in Mexico that drove poor farmers, particularly in the indigenous south to lose their farms and their livelihood.  In  response  young men, and increasingly the young women,  made the dangerous trek to the U.S. in search of work and an income to feed their families and keep their families from losing their  farms.    Continue reading

Panama: Rainforest Indigenous Fight Ranchers, Loggers Over “Best Use” of Land

by Carl Proper

Blockading the Highway.  No pasarán.

Blockading the Highway. No pasarán.

July 17, 2013 At 4:00 a.m., indigenous dwellers in the Darién rainforest, Republic of Panama, barricaded the Inter-American Highway near the community of Arimae, about 100 miles east of Panama City. Truckers and other travelers were unhappy. Indigenous leaders demanded a meeting with a government Minister and enforcement of the policy against non-indigenous squatters occupying their land. The next day, the Minister appeared. Native control of the land was acknowledged, and the immediate crisis was resolved, but permanent legal recognition and indigenous communal ownership of the land is still pending.

According to Planting Empowerment, a business supporting sustainable forestry in the Darién, “from 1969 to 1981, the community lost 64,000 hectares of its reserve to loggers, migrant subsistence farmers from other provinces, and the Inter-American Highway expansion. Today, Arimae communally manages just over 8,000 hectares of land.i

What century are we in? What have we learned? And has it made a difference?

As a study of descendants of Panama’s pre-Colombian population puts it: “Indigenous peoples throughout the world have been losing their lands to outsiders and newcomers for many generations. It is a trend that continues to this day.”ii

But why should we care? What basis could there be for solidarity between trade unionists in modern society and traditional peoples confronting powerful agricultural interests in the jungles of Central America? Continue reading

Striking is not a crime – defend imprisoned Chinese labor rights defenders

by IUF

HongKong1Wu Guijun, a migrant worker employed for 9 years making furniture at the Diweixin Product Factory in Shenzhen (southern China), has been detained since May 23 and faces criminal prosecution for defending the rights of his co-workers. Since his arrest Wu has been denied contact with his family.  SEND A MESSAGE TO THE GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES DEMANDING HIS RELEASE!

Workers at the Hong Kong-owned factory sought negotiations earlier this year in response to concerns about production cutbacks and apparent preparations for relocation to another site in the Chinese interior. Seven workers were elected to represent them, including Wu, but the employer refused to disclose any information and rejected negotiations. In response, the workers downed tools on May 7 and petitioned the local government to intervene.  On May 23, 300 workers were besieged by the police while marching to the City Government; more than 20 workers were arrested and detained, including Wu Guijun. All were eventually released except for Wu. According to his lawyer, Wu now faces criminal prosecution for “assembling a crowd to disturb social order”.

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