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UE-GE National Contract Negotiations


Worldwide 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.

COUNTERING GE'S ACTIVITIES

GE has "ruthlessly 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 enforced."

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 employee.

SOLIDARITY AND 
COMMUNICATION ESSENTIAL

"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 unions.

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 line."

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 this."


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