The globalization of capital that has undermined workers
everywhere finally has brought about moves for the globalization of labor.
Finally, unions worldwide are seriously heeding Karl Marx' plea for workers to
unite across national boundaries.
Although first voiced 160 years ago, "Workers of the
World Unite!" is one of the most important messages that the unions of
today are likely to hear. As President Andy Stern of the Service Employees
Union says, Marx' message "isn't ideological anymore. It's
The need for international labor unity is great and daily
growing greater. Government policies in the United States and elsewhere have
allowed corporate employers to shift operations to poor countries, where
workers are poorly paid and have few rights because they lack effective unions
and other protections.
At the same time, there's been a flood of cheap labor
into the United States from poorer countries. That has helped hold down the pay
of U.S. workers and keep them from gaining broader rights and better working
conditions. Much of the problem has been caused by U.S. trade policies that are
designed to help the corporate interests favored by most U.S, lawmakers and
thus allow the exploitation of workers both here and abroad.
What it amounts to, simply, is that powerful
multi-national corporations -- that is to say, most major corporations -- are able
to keep pay and working conditions at low levels by playing one country's
workforce off against another's workforce while maximizing the corporation's
In the meantime, the size of the worldwide labor force
has doubled, while the size of unions worldwide has not come even close to
keeping pace. That has severely weakened the bargaining power of unions in
dealing with global employers.
So what's to be done? How should workers of the world go
about uniting? For one thing, they should develop international standards for
the treatment of workers everywhere and jointly demand that they be followed
and that trade agreements carry provisions to protect and further workers'
Workers employed by the same corporate employers in
different parts of the world should act jointly -- pool their resources,
coordinate their efforts, help each other develop strong, effective unions and
global strategies , They need to organize workers jointly and make the same
demands for decent working conditions wherever the workers are employed, here
or abroad - and enforce those demands jointly, if necessary, by strikes and
Steps toward the globalization of labor by those and
other means have already begun. Unions, for instance, have put together an organization,
the International Trade Union Confederation, that represents more than 150
million workers in more than 150 countries. The confederation's charter spells
out its purpose and needs quite clearly: "Confronted by unbridled
capitalist globalization, effective internationalism is essential to the future
strength of trade unionism."
The confederation promises to struggle "for the
emancipation of working people and a world in which the dignity and rights of
all human beings is assured."
Just recently, the world's first global union was formed
through an alliance between America's United Steelworkers union and Unite,
Britain's largest union, which is made up mainly of factory and transportation
workers. The alliance goes by the awkward, but apt name of "Workers
Uniting: The Global Union."
The two unions, which represent workers at some companies
that operate in both the United States and Britain, will remain largely
autonomous. But they will have a joint leadership to coordinate common policy
and collective bargaining for some three million members in the United States,
Canada, Great Britain and the Irish Republic who work in virtually every sector
of the global economy -- in manufacturing, service, mining and transportation.
Other recent steps toward globalization have been taken
by the Communication Workers union. It has formed a T-Workers Union for
employees of T-Mobile who work for the German-owned company in this country and
in Germany. Members will belong to both the Communication Workers and its German
Andy Stern's Service Employees Union has established a
worldwide network of security-guard unions as the first of what the union hopes
will be a series of organizing campaigns for workers in a variety of
occupations here and abroad.
Former labor leader and U.S. Under Secretary of Labor
Jack Henning eloquently explained why such steps are urgent and essential:
"We were never meant to be beggars at the table of
wealth. We were never meant to be the lieutenants of capitalism. We were never meant
to be the pall bearers of the workers of the world. Global unionism is the
answer to global capitalism. There is no other answer."
Copyright 2008 Dick Meister