Last week IndustriALL, a new global union, was formed in Copenhagen, Denmark. It represents 50 million workers in 350 unions from all over the world. It was formed from the merger of three international labor federations: the International Metalworkers’ Federation, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers, and the International Textiles, Garment, and Leather Workers Federation.
Their founding slogan speaks volumes about the importance of this development, “Representing workers across supply chains in mining, energy, and manufacturing sectors at the global level.”
This may well be a critical turning point in the history of the world trade union movement. It may be the point where “Workers of the World Unite” transforms from an important slogan into a whole new level of trade unionism with serious teeth to take on transnational corporations and capital.
In addition, IndustriALL self-identifies as a global union and not as a federation. This is telling. The deliberations of the founding convention bear out that this is a conscious move and not semantics. Think about the concept of “representing workers across [international] supply chains.”
Just as unions developed first locally and then moved to the national level in single countries in order to deal with developing national industries, so too organizing across global supply chains is a practical and necessary step in dealing with global industrial corporations and monopolies. Supply chains stretch from some of the most exploited and oppressed workers (including children) in underdeveloped countries all the way though developing countries to developed industrial countries. Delegates repeatedly stressed the need to bring the bottom up.
For sure it will not be an easy transition. There are so many legal, cultural, and structural problems to be solved in truly functioning as a global union. But the determination to move that way is a critical first step. Think back to all the steps it took in the United States to move from craft unions to industrial unions.
As Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, put it in Denmark, “It sends a message to greedy multinational corporations that we are not going to simply stand by and watch them trample the rights of workers, no matter where in the world it is happening. Our solidarity is not limited by borders, language barriers, or cultural differences. We are determined to break down any barriers that divide us so we can do a better job of standing up for the rights of all workers.”
“It is important that we build the global infrastructure to be able to fight back in cases of aggression.”
We should note the role in the founding of IndustriALL of the United Steelworkers, Workers Uniting, and Britain’s Unite. Workers Uniting is the merger of the USW and Unite! – the largest industrial union in Britain. Workers Uniting is also a pioneering effort to form a global union structure.
There were 1,000 delegates for the founding in Copenhagen. While no credentials report has been made public yet, the convention’s daily bulletin featured unionists from many countries, attesting to the international diversity of the delegates. Delegates are quoted from Colombia, India, Belarus, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Bangladesh, Niger, Finland, and Cambodia. Others quoted included a delegate from the Namibian Union of Metal workers and Spanish union delegates representing striking miners.
The founding convention passed an ambitions plan of work, including a goal of doubling its membership from 50 million to 100 million.
Workers of the world will greet this important founding of IndustriALL with loud applause and fists held high. This is a clear signal for the left and all progressives to join in determination to help build global working class solidarity.