Global Worker Solidarity Gets Real


by Paul Garver

Fast Food for 15 Labor activists have long called for international solidarity to confront global corporations, but sentimental and rhetorical appeals to the workers of the world to unite failed to produce lasting results throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, recent global organizing campaigns in fast food, which employs millions worldwide, and telecommunications show promise.

Fast Food

The international coordinated actions of fast-food workers on May 15, 2014, took place in 158 U.S. cities and 93 other cities across 36 countries. More than 10,000 workers and their supporters participated. This represented an unprecedented level of global labor solidarity.

Organizing fast-food workers on a global scale poses enormous challenges. There are relatively few workers in any outlet, and they are mostly precariously employed by third parties other than the global corporations. Labor law in the United States and most other countries is ill-adapted to facilitate worker representation and collective bargaining for such an atomized work force. Fast-food unions have gained small toeholds in only a few European countries that have collective bargaining by sector. Only in New Zealand has a determined union membership been able to conduct repeated, if brief, strikes to raise wages.

After the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began putting significant resources into community-based organizations and worker centers, fast-food worker organizing has taken off into a powerful movement for raising the minimum wage for all workers.

Global coordination to raise the minimum wage by raising public consciousness rather than through sector or workplace organizing is done through the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF). The IUF, using funding from its own member unions, including the SEIU, held a global meeting of 80 fast-food workers and union representatives from 26 countries in New York in the week prior to the May 15 actions. Many of the foreign delegates remained in the United States to help organize the protest actions in U.S. cities. IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald notes that “The Fight for 15” is “just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast-food worker movement.”

Telecommunications Organizing

Another major global organizing campaign is talking place within Deutsche Telecom (DT), parent of T-Mobile U.S., which the Communication Workers of America (CWA) has been trying to organize. The large union ver.di, which represents DT workers in Germany, has been supporting the CWA organizing drive, trying to compel DT to apply higher worker rights’ standards to its operations in the United States. In May 2014, ver.di sponsored a thousand-strong rally at DT’s Berlin headquarters that included hundreds of international trade unionists in Berlin for an International Trade Union Confederation World Congress, CWA President Larry Cohen. and fired T-Mobile U.S. union activist Josh Coleman. Because of ver.di’s tireless media campaign, Coleman has become well known in Germany as a symbol of DT’s anti-union conduct in the United States.

This was not a one-off event. Ver.di members on the DT works council have visited several Southern U.S. cities where CWA is trying to organize at T-Mobile, and the two unions have formed a joint organization called T-Mobile Workers United (TU) to encourage contacts between German and U.S. workers, including an online discussion forum.

To be effective, global labor solidarity must be mutual and long-term, built around the common interests of workers in particular sectors and transnational companies. Global campaigns like these are moving in the direction of deeper practical organization and strategic planning.

Paul Garver is a retired organizer for the IUF and for SEIU and has been active in DSA for more than three decades. This article also appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Democratic Left.

Days of Action for Worker Rights in Mexico, February 18-24!


North American unions and worker rights supporters are joining together to support worker rights in Mexico during the week-long international Days of Action from February 18-24.

Actions in the U.S. will vary from protests to delivering letters to Mexican government consulate offices. Activities are currently being organized in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, New Orleans, New York, Ottawa, Portland, Raleigh, Seattle, Toronto, Tucson, Vancouver, and Washington, DC.

In Mexico City, representatives from labor organizations from the United States, Canada, Quebec, and several Global Unions will join the independent Mexican unions at a press conference, several mass actions and in delegations to embassies.

The actions in the U.S. and Canada are being organized by the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance with labor groups including the AFL-CIO, United Electrical Workers, United Steelworkers, the United Auto Workers, CSN, CEP, CAW and other unions as well as NGOs, including Austin Tan Cerca, the Cross-Border Network, National Guestworker Alliance, and the National Lawyers Guild.

See the schedule of events (which will be periodically updated) and contact information and join in an action if there is one in your city. If your city has a Mexican consulate and no action is listed on the schedule, consider organizing a delegation to the consulate the week of February 18 to deliver a letter (sample available upon request from supporting worker rights in Mexico.

Days of Action are focusing on the need to rollback regressive labor law changes that were approved in the fall of 2012 and supporting workers at key conflicts, including the Mineworkers (Los Mineros), Bata and Corona workers, and the Electrical Workers union (SME), which just received a defeat at the hands of a Supreme Court ruling, condemned as unfair by the global union movement. On February 11, Labour Start initiatied a global campaign in support of PKC workers in Ciudad Acuña.

Another key demand is action by the International Labor Organization to address the pervasive protection contract system that is used by employers, company-friendly “unions,” and the government to keep out democratic unions and deny workers their basic rights.

See the 2013 Days of Action Backgrounder for more information on these and other worker rights issues in Mexico. For 2012 labor developments in Mexico, see the 2012 Year in Review by Mexican Labor News & Analysis.

All the Global Unions and the International Trade Union Confederation are also supporting the Days of Action. The global union IndustriALL is taking a major lead in coordinating actions throughout the world and in providing posters, video, a model letter to send to embassies and consulates, and background materials for the Mexico Days of Action, with a dedicated webpage.

Mexico’s lower wages and the obstacles to union organizing continue to draw U.S. companies south of the border. In late January, the largest private employer in Waukegan, Illinois (Cardinal Health) announced it was cutting 650 production jobs and moving work to Mexico and South Carolina, bringing further economic devastation to one more community that has already suffered from globalization’s race to the bottom.

Through the Days of Action, the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA) and organizations and activists around the world are working to promote a decent standard of living and work with dignity for working people in all of our countries.


G20 Labour Ministers Must Not Fail Workers


International Trade Union Confederation

The international trade union movement called on the G20 Employment and Labour Ministers meeting in Paris on 26-27 September to step up to the plate and ensure that the G20 leaders tackle the jobs crisis as the central priority.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation said time is running out, the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Washington failed workers, now it up to the Labour Ministers to stand up for working people.

“With unemployment comes worsening social problems that will cause tension and strikes.

“By addressing unemployment and putting people back to work politicians can boost the economy.

“If boosting the economy is the problem G20 leaders are most worried about, jobs and social protection is the solution,” said Sharan Burrow.
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Global Unions call on World Bank and IMF to reject austerity programmes and focus on job creation

Concerned by the faltering pace of global economic recovery, which has yet to produce a real recovery for millions of workers and unemployed men and women, the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) and its Global Unions partners have called upon the 2010 Annual Meetings of the World Bank and the IMF to reject austerity programmes and to support job-focused stimulus measures and investments in quality public services to assist in the global economic recovery.

“The World Bank and the IMF must pay greater attention to the underlying problems that explain stagnant and declining real wages, including widespread violation of workers’ rights,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “Redressing the declining income of working people and closing the gender pay gap should be major objectives of both institutions. The IFIs must work to build a more balanced and robust global economic recovery, which means that they should encourage and support countries that adopt labour and social protection policies aimed at reducing inequality.”

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Global Unions May Day Message

Jobs, Justice and Public Service – Getting the Economy to Work

Global Unions, the voice of the global labour movement,  issued the following statement to mark May 1st 2010:

On today of all days trade unionists around the world demand fresh steps to reform the global economy in favour of social justice, investment in jobs and fairness in society. This is no time for business as usual.

Neo-liberal economists and reckless financial dealings have created a crisis that has put millions of people out of work and forced many more into precarious employment to survive. Social safety nets are being torn apart. Public spending that provides for cohesive communities is being savagely cut.

With all of this in mind, Global Unions call on policymakers and democrats everywhere to support a new paradigm of recovery and social justice that will:

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Global Unions, Global Business

by Richard Croucher and Elizabeth Cotton

Richard Croucher and Elizabeth Cotton: Global Unions, Global Business. Middlesex University Press, London, Great Britain.

Available from Middlesex University Press website;  quote TU3M to get a reduction for union members.

global unions cover 2Amazingly, this new book is the first for a generation to look at the global union federations in depth. It builds on the authors’ practical experience of working with them for many years.

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