Striking Goodyear workers seek global support

CLEVELAND (AP) — Birgit Birgersson-Brorsson, a union officer for IF Metall in Sweden, spent an afternoon recently with strikers on a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. picket line. Wood scraps burning in a barrel helped keep them warm.

She came a long way to do that.

“I think it’s very important,” she said. “Companies seem to move plants to Baltic countries and China. Companies are working together worldwide and we need to work together, too.”

Strikers against Goodyear are trying to use their union’s international ties to raise awareness of their two-month strike. The Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers on Dec. 5 brought a friendly seven-member labor delegation from Sweden to visit strikers in Akron, where Goodyear is based and where it has a small manufacturing plant.

In all, about 12,000 Goodyear workers are on strike in North America, including at a plant in Fayetteville, N.C.

Birgersson-Brorsson, 46, used the visit to show support.

“We don’t have many strikes in Sweden. I would like to tell them don’t give up. It’s about human rights, really,” she said.

Since the strike began, Goodyear has been making tires at some of its North American plants with nonunion and temporary workers as well as some managers. The company is counting on production at its international plants to help supply North American customers.

Goodyear has said it intends to close its Tyler, Texas, tire plant by next year. The union wants all plants protected from closing. The USW also strongly objected to a company proposal for creating a retirees’ health care trust, which the union argues shortchanges retirees.

Goodyear executives have said they are seeking a contract that will help the company be globally competitive.

In 2005, about $9.1 billion of Goodyear’s $19.7 billion of net sales, or about 46 percent, came from its North American Tire segment. Goodyear has operations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

“It’s a global customer base,” Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said. The company has about 80,000 employees globally.

That’s not lost on the Steelworkers.

“To win this fight, one of the things we have to do is engage other unions internationally. It’s an opportunity to alert other unions about the struggle here,” said Gerald Fernandez, assistant to the USW president for international solidarity.

The USW has recently signed strategic alliances with unions in Australia, Brazil, Germany and Mexico to coordinate bargaining and organizing with common employers, to support each other during strikes and disputes with common employers and to develop activities and policies.

“It’s a way of expanding a fight for our members and retirees outside the borders of the United States. It’s kind of difficult to fight a corporation exclusively here when it’s certainly got the ability to generate money in other countries,” Fernandez said.

He said the union will have other international delegations come to the United States and will send groups of Goodyear strikers to Europe and South America, where Goodyear has operations. A delegation recently was in Brazil.