Sunday, 14 June 2015

US: ‘Trade deal defeat shows strength of unions’

Last Friday, the US House of Representatives voted against a ‘fast track’ procedure that would have given the president more power to negotiate a trade deal with pacific countries. According to an analysis in the New York Times, a coalition of trade unions and liberal activists played a key role in this outcome. Union members have held 650 events, made 160,000 phone calls and sent over 20,000 letters. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka:
We are very grateful for all the activists, families, community leaders and elected officials who worked so tirelessly for transparency and worker rights in international trade deals. This was truly democracy in action.
According to the NYT analysis, the campaign was successful because they started as early as 2013 and because of the broad support in the labour movement. A spokesperson of the Chamber of Commerce said was ‘mystified’ that even the SEIU supports the campaign, even though it represents many public sector workers: “None of these workers are in any way negatively affected by competition with imports. Yet SEIU will be there, showing solidarity.”

Yet the support of SEIU makes perfect sense, the NYT explains: when the labour conditions of private sector workers are under attack, this will weaken the entire labour movement.

In the Netherlands, union federation FNV has taken a stance against TTIP, the transatlantic counterpart of the pacific trade deal.

Friday, 5 June 2015

US: Youth have favourable views of unions

‘Young people think unions are a thing of the past’, it is often argued. But is this true? The American Pew Research Center recently checked and the results are clear. In all age groups, more people have positive than negative views of unions, but support for unions is strongest among youth.

The data are quoted in an interesting article in Business Insider (via Kurt Vandaele). Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the youth movement Young & United has collected tens of thousands of signatures against the fact that young adults get only half the normal minimum wage.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

IG Metall launches online platform for the self-employed

German trade union IG Metall has launched an online platform where self-employed IT workers can rate the companies they work for. The union wants to change the current situation in which clients get cheap labour from ‘crowdwork’ without bearing any responsibilty.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dutch union reclaims 1 May

On 1 May, thousands of people participated in an action for decent jobs organised by trade union FNV. It was the first time for the FNV to organise a large event on 1 May since the celebration of Queen’s Day was moved to 30 April in 1948 (as of this year, King’s Day is celebrated on 27 April). Chairman Ton Heerts said 1 May will from now on be a day of action.

The Netherlands is exceptional in that 1 May is not a holiday and there’s not much of a tradition to celebrate 1 May. Over the past years there have been local initiatives to revive the 1 May tradition, including support actions for the cleaners’ campaign in Amsterdam.

Some examples of actions last Friday:
  • A petition was launched (sign here) against austerity and for quality and decent jobs in the health care sector. Within a day, over 10,000 people have already signed the petition.
  • Hundreds of police cars sounded their sirens in support for a better collective agreement.
  • The youth campaign Young & United was present at the 1 May action. Young & United is protesting against the youth wages in the Netherlands, which are among the lowest in Europe and allow multinationals like Ahold and McDonalds to add dozens of millions of euros to their profits.
  • There was an action of students and staff at the University of Amsterdam. An occupation of the main university building has already resulted in more student participation and the chairwoman of the university stepping down. One of the issues that have not yet been result is the large share of precarious work among university staff.
  • The committee No to Forced Labour held an action at an Amsterdam store of Ahold-owned supermarket chain Albert Heijn. Ahold is among the employers exploiting unemployed workers who are forced to work without wages (Albert Heijn can be contacted here).
  • The Anarchist Group Amsterdam and the Vrije Bond launched a campaign and website to inform migrant workers of their labour rights.
  • Various institutions used 1 May to publish labour-related news. Minister Lodewijk Asscher announced that the national government will insource its cleaners by early 2016. The city of The Hague announced it will stop using unpaid unemployed workers and that it will offer labour contracts to 260 people who are currently cleaning the streets without pay. Statistics Netherlands published new data on strikes, showing that half the strike days in 2014 can be attributed to actions of the cleaners. They also quoted ETUI data confirming that the Netherlands has one of the lowest strike rates in Europe.
    Photo via Ron Meyer

    Paper on community unionism

    The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has published a 5-page paper by Jane Holgate (University of Leeds Business School) on collaboration of trade unions with local communities. Holgate argues:
    Over time, unions have become more institutionally than community embedded, with employed professionals operating on behalf of workers rather than organising workers to organise themselves. Further, the attacks on unions, particularly during the growth of neoliberal ideology from the 1980s onward, meant that many unions became inward-looking and more focused on servicing the surviving membership; as a result, trade unions became less visible in the wider community. Community unionism thus provides a way for unions to (re)build activity from the grassroots in the communities in which workers are most active in their daily lives.
    Download the paper here (via Kurt Vandaele)

    Saturday, 11 April 2015

    Organisations call on Ahold to improve labour standards

    Since 2005, farm workers in the US have been calling on major purchasers of tomatoes, such as fast food and retail chains, to use their buyer power to fight the exploitation of farm workers. Burger King, McDonald’s and Walmart have already joined the Fair Food Programme. However, Ahold has so far failed to make a serious commitment to decent labour conditions.

    Last week, national trade union FNV, FairWork, the Rural Sociology Group (WUR) and other organisations called on Ahold to join the Fair Food Programme. At Ahold’s Annual General Meeting on 15 April, the issue will be raised for the fifth time in a row.

    Meanwhile, Ahold is being criticised for its use of extremely low-paid young workers in the Netherlands: “Do you work at Albert Heijn at 6.95? CEO Dick Boer makes that much in 14 seconds”. A youth movement supported by FNV and various community organisations has launched a campaign against the Dutch system of youth wages which is the worst in Europe. It has calculated that Ahold and McDonald’s pocket 79 million euro per year by paying youth wages to workers who are 18 years and older.

    Sunday, 29 March 2015

    Moroccan trade unions and the Arab Spring

    In an article in the Washington Post, political scientist Matt Buehler analyses the role of trade unions during the Arab Spring. Attention tends to focus on countries that have experienced regime change or major violence, but in countries like Morocco, Jordan and the Persian Gulf important developments took place as well, Buehler argues.

    In Morocco, economic liberalisations started being implemented in the 1990s. Entrepreneurs benefited, but employees paid the price in the form of rising costs of living.

    By the late 2000s, trade unions with different backgrounds (from left-wing to Islamic) joined forces to demand higher wages and pensions as compensation for the risen prices. The regime took a tough stance, but meanwhile the number of protests – strikes, marches and sit-ins – rose.

    The protest movements that erupted in Tunesia and Egypt reached Morocco in 2011. The Moroccan regime was concerned about youth protests but perhaps even more about the role of trade unions. In order to contain the protests, a ‘social dialogue’ was started. Organisations including the unions participated in the dialogue but at the same time kept up the pressure by frequently threatening to rejoin the street protests.

    Eventually, the protests and negotiations were succesful in that they led to substantial wage and pension increases.

    Article, chart