Tired of global corporations using the old divide-and-conquer tactic, one of labor's largest unions, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), recently joined forces with the largest labor union in the United Kingdom and Ireland to form Workers Uniting. The new union will utilize the combined power of more than 3.2 million members to confront and challenge capital's quest to lower labor standards and increase competition between workers in plants located across oceans.
We aren't the only ones facing job loss, outsourcing and lower standards of living. It's happening across the world thanks to corporate greed and the race to the bottom. Workers everywhere are struggling to hang onto decent wages, pensions and affordable health care. Corporations have a global labor pool these days and want us to fight each other for the scraps offered by global employers. We can't continue to let this happen.
The USWA and the UK's Unite the Union delegates approved the merger to become the first global labor organization to directly represent workers. Workers Uniting is not just an umbrella organization representing the interests of various national and international unions but a top-down and bottom-up member organization with members from different countries. Leadership and representatives are accountable to their memberships and expected to justify their actions to local unions.
"Minor modifications, small adjustments and compromise won't work when dealing with corporations, especially on a global scale."
Leo Gerard, international president of the USWA, said that the new union has pledged to "challenge exploitation anywhere in the global economy, since it is fundamentally unjust and is destructive of decent living standards everywhere."
Going one step further, the new union will work with the National Labor Committee to establish the Global Labor Rights Network. The new group will establish ties with constituency groups and call attention to and fight sweatshop labor, child labor and violations of International Labor Organization standards.
The new global union is refreshing to see. We need leaders like Gerard to initiate, move forward and make the necessary changes to improve workers' rights in the global economy. We haven't seen any corrective legislative work, we haven't seen any serious political discussion that addresses the flaws in global trade, and we sure haven't seen an inkling of interest in improving trade standards from trade groups like the World Trade Organization.
The only groups out there trying to right the wrongs for labor are the labor unions. Minor modifications, small adjustments and compromise won't work when dealing with corporations, especially on a global scale.
In the successful Teamster strike against UPS in 1997, union members fought against part-time jobs and the "temping" of the American worker. They were fighting for all workers and not just unionized ones. Teamster president at that time, Ron Carey, took years to plan, educate and organize his members in preparation for the big day, if and when it happened. And they won.
"The USWA and the UK's Unite the Union delegates approved the merger to become the first global labor organization to directly represent workers."
The USWA has taken the next logical step as a representative of working people in the growing global economy. If they are to prevail, and if all else fails, Workers Uniting will one day need to prepare for a global strike that may take more than a few years to prepare. Some say that it's impossible now to unite at a local level, let alone a global one, but it really depends on the leadership and the membership.
It is appropriate in this context to quote the old saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way." True commitment must come from each and every one of us. Without it, it is doomed to fail. As workers, we will face a time when we have no recourse but to take direct action because all else failed. However, we must first try to succeed instead of just talking about succeeding. It's always better to try and fail than to never have tried at all.
With Labor Day just passed and internationally recognized Labor Day coming on May 1, world worker solidarity is more important than ever. Workers Uniting is definitely on the right track to opening new doors and new opportunities.
Let's hope other unions follow the path started by the USWA, because if we want a voice, what other options do we have left?
Tom Szymanski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.