NEW YORK -- At high noon and in brutal heat, New York City union members converged outside United Parcel Service's midtown Manhattan office Sept. 1. Union members set up an informational picket line to raise public awareness of important labor rights issues in Turkey. UPS is a giant, global delivery company that makes profits all over the world, employing workers of many different nationalities, in many different countries.
The TWU, Transport Workers Union, and the International Transportation Federation, ITF, organized the picket line. Although TWU members made up most of the picket, at one point, it was spontaneously joined by a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or IBT, the union which represents domestic UPS workers. The IBT member just happened to be passing by on his lunch hour, saw the picket line, and joined in.
The picketing New York workers wanted to inform the general public about the plight of UPS workers in Turkey, who are trying desperately to form a union. Leaflets explained that, although UPS workers in US are organized with the IBT, Turkish workers face huge obstacles when they try to organize. Workers in Turkey must confront both anti-labor employers and hostile government policies.
To complicate matters many Turks, like other workers employed by transnationals operating outside the United States, work for operators who define themselves as sub-contractors. This scheme allows the actual employer to disguise its involvement and to deny responsibility until the relationship is unmasked. The Turkish workers trying to organize are employed by sub-contractors of UPS in Turkey.
The informational picket proved that although UPS can run to Turkey it can't get away with hiding behind sub-contractors. The picketing workers explained that workers in Turkey are being physically intimidated and prevented from unionizing by the UPS sub contractors, and UPS must take responsibility for this.
The flyers described a case in which a gun wielding sub contractor forced workers to resign from their union under the threat of death.
Turkish UPS workers, and Turkish workers in general, are confronted by employers who deny them the most basic labor rights, consistently violating the labor rights conventions of the United Nations. In fact almost 200 Turkish UPS workers have been fired for trying to join the Turkish transport union, TUMTIS. Because of these and other outrages, the fired Turkish workers have been joined on their picket lines by members of several European unions. UPS in Turkey responded to this by firing another 30 workers!
Fortunately U.S.-based labor leaders realize that a global labor movement is necessary to confront global giants like UPS. The picket today was an implicit recognition of the necessity for global labor solidarity. In working towards this, and other mass goals, a unified domestic labor movement is also important. It's significant that TWU, a member of the AFL-CIO labor federation, came out in solidarity with the IBT, a member of the Change to Win federation.
If there was one overriding theme of today's picket it was solidarity. Solidarity between the two national federations and solidarity between U.S. and foreign worker employed by the same company.
Photo: Gary Bono/PW