Meeting of GE Unions
GE Unions Pledge Unity —
Across Frontiers and Sectors
The following was released by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and
General Workers' Unions (ICEM) on March 22, 2000.
Unions organising General Electric workers
in 20 countries met in Washington March 22 to coordinate
their monitoring of GE's worldwide employment practices
and to make the company respect trade union rights.
Organised by the International
Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), the conference has been
emphasising worker unity both across frontiers and across
sectors. At the IMF's request, the 20-million-strong
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and
General Workers' Unions (ICEM) has also mobilised its
affiliated unions to take part in the Washington event.
GE, like many multinationals, now has operations that
cross the sectoral boundaries between the different global
industrial trade union federations. It has expanded beyond
its traditional metals base into chemicals and plastics.
The GE world council, which is part of the
IMF, will monitor GE and share information, the conference
decided. The unions are seeking GE's compliance with the
IMF Code of Principles. In this, they will be greatly
assisted by rapid information exchanges via the IMF's
comprehensive GE database.
turned its back on thousands of workers ... by
laying them off and by exploiting them in countries
where internationally recognised labour standards
are nether recognised nor enforced"
The unions said they would develop trade
union strategies to counter GE activities that are
detrimental to many workers' economic and social
interests. Over the past few years, they emphasised, GE
has "ruthlessly turned its back on thousands of
workers throughout the world by laying them off and by
exploiting them in countries where internationally
recognised labour standards are neither recognised nor
They also noted that GE's "yearly
revenue exceeds the gross national product of 130
nations" and that the number of GE workers outside
the US has doubled in four years, from 62,000 to 143,000.
Altogether, GE has about 340,000 employees. So, as the
Washington delegates pointed out, the company's net
profits of 10.7 billion US dollars last year represent
30,000 dollars of profit from the work of each and every
"Solidarity and close communication
are essential if GE unions are to meet the challenge of
GE's globalisation strategy," said IMF General
Secretary Marcello Malentacchi. He noted that the origins
of the IMF-GE World Council date from 1966 and said the
present conference is being held in the United States
"with a view to supporting our US colleagues in their
negotiations" with GE. US unions' next bargaining
round with GE starts at the end of May.
Malentacchi and John Sweeney, President of
the US national labour federation AFL-CIO, opened the
two-day conference. Delegates also heard an overview of US
bargaining from Edward Fire, chairman of the Coordinated
Bargaining Committee of GE Unions (CBC) and IUE president.
The CBC bargains on behalf of 40,000 workers in 14 US
ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs paid
tribute to the leadership of the IMF and Marcello
Malentacchi in building international trade union
solidarity at GE. Higgs is taking part in the Washington
conference, together with ICEM President John Maitland and
ICEM North American Regional Secretary Ken Zinn.
"For the ten-year period 1990 to
1999," Higgs told delegates, "global operating
profits in GE's plastics and chemicals division increased
by about 75 percent ... The division's operating profits
of 1.65 billion dollars last year came to 14.8 percent of
total company operating profits, and the division's
revenues of 6.9 billion dollars came to 6.2 percent of
total company revenues. So, while this is a minority part
of GE's overall business, plastics and chemicals seem to
be a growing and significant part of the company's bottom
The implications for the IMF, the ICEM and
their affiliated unions worldwide were obvious, Higgs
said: "Our federations and our individual affiliates
should cooperate as closely as possible, support each
other and use our unique strengths to build the kind of
trade union power necessary to take on a company such as