Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The World Is Counting On Us

[Contribution by Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO] - I am just returning to the United States from two days of meetings in London. The meetings were part of our work to globalize our organizing and our struggle for justice. For a couple of years now, we have increased our efforts to link up unions around the world to develop a global consensus or an analysis of the global economic race to the bottom and to better cooperate on ongoing and bargaining campaigns against multinational employers. These meetings, held in London on 13 and 14 October, were a key part of that work.
On Oct. 13, 30 organizers from Britain, Spain, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Ireland and the United States met to talk about our respective organizing programs and to further our dialogue about how we can collectively deal with multinational corporations, Neoliberalism and the global economic race to the bottom.
On Oct. 14, we joined 300 British organizers to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Britain’s Trades Union Congress’ (TUC’s) Organizing Academy, which had been modelled after the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute.
For the lone American there, two things were very striking—how hungry the world is for change in America and the election of Barack Obama and how eager international trade unionists and organizers are for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Philips Jennings, president of the powerful global union federation, UNI, said we must make certain the U.S. labour market is not available for export. He spoke of the global union federation’s commitment to the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, manifested when global labour leaders testified for the act at the Congress during the Global Organizing Summit on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2007. He spoke of the necessity for the world’s workers to restore the freedom to form union and bargain collectively in the United States and how detrimental it has been for workers all over the world to have workers’ rights crushed in the world’s biggest economy and the only super power.
Ron Oswald of IUF, a global union federation, said, “A union-free U.S. economy is a disaster for the whole world. The Employee Free Choice Act is key for everyone. We need an international plan to press for its passage,” including labour-friendly governments calling for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act as part of the global economic recovery plan.
The points are clear. How can workers in developing countries organize unions at companies owned in the United States or sell goods and services to U.S. companies when workers in the United States cannot organize and bargain collectively? And what does it do to workers in both the developed world and the developing world when U.S.-style union-busting is exported around the world as the Burke Group has done? That is why the AFL-CIO signed an important organizing protocol with the British TUC to cooperate to stop U.S.-style union-busting in Britain. Phil Jennings called for that protocol to be globalised.
On Oct. 14, 30 organizers from around the world joined 300 British organizers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Organizing Academy. In Britain they have organized aggressively under the Labour government and labour-inspired new union organizing and recognition policies and stopped their decline in union density. The day was both a celebration and a recommitment to organizing and to more organizing of vulnerable workers—immigrants, temporary agency workers, workers in the informal economy.
I was privileged to speak on a panel with Philip Jennings of UNI and the BBC economics editor Paul Mason, whose brand-new book, 'Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global', is a history of working-class struggle. He speaks of worker struggle against corporate-fuelled globalization all over the world, from the United States to China to India to Nigeria to Bolivia and in every corner of the world.
And so we see our challenge to link up across borders and national boundaries, connecting with worker struggles around the world lending one another power and leverage, demanding a global economy that works for all of us, especially those of us who produce the wealth that powers the global economy.
My mates and colleagues from all over the world made it clear to me over and over again what our immediate role is—elect Barack Obama and pass the Employee Free Choice Act. People across the world wake up and check the polls online. They go to bed after going online to check the polls every night. Billions of average people and workers in every corner of this world are counting on us to make sure Barack Obama is elected. It is not exaggeration to say the world is counting on us.
Stewart Acuff is special assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post and on the AFL-CIO Now blog. More on this topic at the TUC Stronger Unions blog. Photo Rogue Valley IMC

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