Indian trade unionists tour U.S.

Workers' Correspondence

SEATTLE — Three union organizers from India toured nine cities in the U.S. in December and spoke about several issues, including the effects of U.S. outsourcing to their country from the standpoint of workers on the ground there.

The organizers are affiliated with the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), a nationwide organization of about 100 labor unions. NTUI unions are independent of political party affiliations, and include people working in both the formal and informal sectors of the Indian economy.

The tour began in New York City. Over the course of two weeks, the speakers visited Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Erie, Pa., Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Washington, ending up in Atlanta. They were hosted in Seattle by Washington State Jobs with Justice at the offices of SPEEA, the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which is the union for engineers at Boeing.

The delegation consisted of Ashim Roy, a union president from Gujarat and a member of the NTUI secretariat; V. Chandra, organizing secretary of a union representing 50,000 coal mine workers from around Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh; and Anannya Bhattacharjee, a liaison between the U.S.-based Jobs with Justice and the NTUI.

As a union organizer of information technology workers, I asked about the status of these workers in India. Roy said that even though the number of IT jobs has increased in his country, the wages have not. There is a 60 percent attrition rate with these jobs, since many of them offer no future except for working 60 hours per week with few or no breaks. This has resulted in 30 percent of the workers having urinary tract disorders from not even having bathroom breaks.

“We will resist the corporations’ efforts to pit us against each other,” said Chandra. “We know that the companies see no borders in their efforts to make money, so we too must look past them,” she added. “Workers are talking across the continents about their mutual interests. Together we can defend jobs with fair labor standards.”

Roy said, “We now have global mobility of capital without global mobility of labor,” indicating that globalization is only benefiting the capitalists.

The solutions put forward by the delegation were linked to working through the International Labor Organization. “Why not build a global framework of contracting?” Roy asked.

My union, WashTech — the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a local of the Communications Workers of America — and the NTUI are planning to work together to increase solidarity amongst U.S. and Indian workers. We plan to exchange news items and other helpful articles to illustrate that neither offshoring to India nor bringing guest workers from India to the U.S. is helping the workers in either country.

The NTUI plans to send WashTech stories about the appalling workplace conditions in India, and WashTech will reciprocate with articles about what guest worker rights are in the U.S. and how they can benefit by joining with WashTech when they come here.

Todd Tollefson (commiett@yahoo.com) is vice president of WashTech.