International trade union extending global reach

The first international trade union said it was taking steps to expand its global membership by merging with other unions to boost its influence.

International trade union extending global reach

The first international trade union said on Wednesday it was taking steps to expand its global membership by merging with other unions to boost its influence over multinational firms.

Union activity in Britain and much of Europe is set to increase over the coming months as governments impose painful austerity measures aimed at tackling huge budget deficits which have left financial markets jittery.

Workers Uniting, which was formed in 2007 by Britain's biggest trade union Unite and North America's largest private sector union the United Steelworkers Union (USW), has already developed informal links with manufacturing unions in Australia and expects them to formally join it soon.

It is also in merger talks with several Scandinavian unions.

"Increasingly our members work for multinational companies and they need to know what is going on elsewhere in the world," Richard O'Brien, UK director of Workers Uniting, told Reuters. "The aim is to get back on to a level footing where you can actually affect production and affect decisions and force fairness upon employers."

Workers Uniting, which represents more than 3 million workers in Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States, has already coordinated on collective bargaining across the Atlantic, including during negotiations with paper and packaging firm Georgia-Pacific LLC.

 

Achilles heel 

At Unite's conference in Manchester, where a collection was held to raise money to support striking Vale workers in Canada, delegates backed a motion calling for Workers Uniting to extend its global links so it could challenge the strength of international companies more effectively.

O'Brien's U.S. counterpart told the conference that working as a global union would help prevent companies using the threat of relocation during negotiations over pay and conditions.

"We will be a presence around the world and transnationals will not be able to play one country off against another or one union against another. That has always been our Achilles heel, nationalism," said USW international director Jerry Fernandez.

But while Workers Uniting is keen to expand its reach within Europe, the formal inclusion of European trade unions is likely a long way off due to a history of greater cooperation between industry and workers in countries such as Germany, O'Brien said.

"For example German companies have supervisory boards which always have union representation on them," he said. "They haven't needed to look for outside assistance."

"Whenever there is a situation where a multinational company is looking to downsize they always go for where it is easier and cheaper to do and mainly that is in Britain. In Germany it is a lot more complicated, a lot more expensive, a lot more time consuming, same in France and Italy."

Despite this, Workers Uniting has had positive discussions with German public sector union Verdi, he added. "The Germans will come to it in the end but it may take a generation."

Reuters

Last Mod: 02 Haziran 2010, 20:43
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