Globalized union solidarity under way

The story of capitalist globalization is a harsh one for workers. The big business press usually spotlights stories of giant mergers and acquisitions. You know, like:

Behemoth, Inc., has just acquired three new production facilities in Eastern Europe and opened billion-dollar state-of-the-art plants in India and China. To finance the deal Behemoth floated a gazillion dollars worth of petro stock in a swap deal that netted CEO Rob R. Barron III and his family an immediate 150 percent increase in personal share value. Meanwhile, on Wall Street stocks soared as Behemoth announced layoffs of up to 30,000 manufacturing workers in its North American Division. In reaction, a Commerce Department spokesman announced that the U.S. would file unfair trade charges against China for dumping on the U.S. market. Commerce Department spokesperson Moe T. Bills said, “Those Red Chinese sure are greedy. We have to defend our workers from cheap labor in China and India.”

Stuff like that.

Fortunately there is a growing trend in the labor movement to ignore the corporate slant to these stories and to respond in ways that don’t let the corporations tell us who our friends can be. In the last few weeks, some significant stories have begun to emerge on the working-class side of the globalization ledger.

The International Association of Machinists announced the formation of a Global Union Alliance of Boeing workers to “better represent and organize workers at Boeing’s many locations around the world.” Boeing unions from Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden joined the IAM in Portland, Ore., to form the new alliance. IAM President Tom Buffenbarger told the assembled delegates, “Just as Boeing is a global company, the unions representing its workers must act like a global union. No longer can Boeing workers in one nation afford to bargain or organize in isolation. Our goal is fair treatment for Boeing’s global workforce, without regard to language, borders or nationality.”

And as the People’s Weekly World reported last week, the United Steelworkers, based in the U.S. and Canada, will begin talks soon with Britain’s Amicus union. Amicus itself plans to merge next month with the General Transport Union, creating the largest industrial union in the UK. It is not yet clear what form of organization will come out of these talks: an actual merger of the unions or some new kind of strategic alliance. But it is clear that the drive for functional “Workers of the World Unite”-type labor unity is taking new and concrete forms.

Of course there have been organized international forms of union solidarity since the days of Karl Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association in the 1800s. And currently there are several international labor federations and various trade secretariats that bring together unions based on economic sectors like the International Metalworkers Federation.

But today’s emerging new forms take unity to a higher level. They go beyond just sharing information and mutual support for national struggles. They focus on the possibility of joint international struggles for wages and working conditions. They begin a discussion in the world labor movement of how to put a floor under living standards and conditions for all workers, how to stop the whipsawing of workers across borders where corporate greed forces all workers into a race to the bottom.

There will be many twists and turns on the road to 21st century international working class solidarity, but one day, sooner than many think, we may be reading stories like:

Today Behemoth, Inc., announced that it has agreed to a new, three-year union contract with its global unions. While the details will not be disclosed until the union memberships have a ratification vote, union leaders made known that significant improvements for workers were won. Rob R. Barron IV told the press, “We just had to accept their terms. People need our products and if we can’t make them, we can’t make profits.”

Meanwhile, Wall Street showed mixed results as investors struggled to digest the possibility that higher wages at Behemoth might result in upward pressure on global wages in general.

Scott Marshall (scott @ rednet.org) is chair of the Communist Party USA Labor Commission.