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Building Solidarity in the Global Economy

In the Global Economy   


Globalization. Transnational corporations. International solidarity.

What does it all mean? And why should UE members care?

The impact of the global economy is inescapable, from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat — and in many cases, to the work we do and the companies that employ us.

Many UE members manufacture products sold in other countries. Many UE members use component parts manufactured overseas.

And a growing number of UE members, in both the manufacturing and service sectors, are employed by transnational corporations, both U.S. and foreign-owned.

Transnational corporations — as the name implies, companies that operate across national boundaries — are the major players in the global economy. These corporations make investment decisions that directly impact the lives of millions of workers and consumers the world over.

Transnational corporations operate in various economic sectors. General Electric sells insurance in Mexico and mortgages in Ireland, as well as manufacturing an array of products in plants located around the world. Basic services — like water — that we might consider locally controlled public utilities are falling under the ownership of transnational corporations due to privatization.

Foreign-owned companies have invested in the United States for reasons that can include access to markets, resources and the skills of U.S. workers — and lower labor costs. Although U.S. wages remain high compared to those in Mexico or Korea, they lag behind those in Japan, Sweden and Germany.

UE members have more than 1,000 sister shops, located on every continent ...

Due to employment by foreign or U.S.-owned corporations, UE members have more than 1,000 sister shops, located on every continent, and in countries from Austria to Taiwan, Australia to Tunisia.

Through a workshop prepared by the union’s Education, Research and International departments, UE members attending district council meetings in February and March gained a better idea of both the power and reach of transnational corporations and the specific connections their locals have to transnationals. (The workshop "Transnational Corporations: International Connections and Building Union Power" will come to some council meetings in June.) Council delegates viewed maps displaying both the range of individual transnational corporations employing UE members and the position of UE districts’ sister shops overall.

For many UE locals this information came as a revelation.

"We were not aware of the extent of our parent company’s overseas operations," Local 279 Pres. Patrick Cox and Recording Sec. James Harris told the UE NEWS. They knew that the Weir Company, based in Scotland, had owned their shop, Atwood & Morrill in Salem, Mass., for more than a decade. Beyond that, they confessed to not knowing much.

There is a sense in the shop of an international connection, they said, "due to Atwood & Morrill’s purchase of overseas valve parts to satisfy their production requirements."

Does it make a difference to Local 279 members that the ownership is headquartered outside the U.S.? "We think it makes a difference that the parent company is located other than in the U.S. because we can sense that a lot of production material is purchased offshore (England, Italy and China are good examples). Local U.S. workers are not benefiting by this practice," said Cox and Harris.

"‘Globalization’ to us means less work in our shop and less money for Atwood & Morrill to spend on modernization as we are now under a ‘lean manufacturing’ company policy," they said.


Public-sector workers, too, have reason to be concerned about the effects of globalization. Global trade deals encourage (or force) governments to sell off public services to transnational corporations. Workers in a number of countries have lost their jobs because of privatization.

The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would extend corporate power to public services, threatening jobs, accountability and the quality of services now provided by various levels of government. "The aim is nothing less than removing control of fundamental services from local or even national control," according to the resolution "Stop FTAA" adopted at the 2001 UE Convention.

Stones to

One Example:
UE District 2 (New England) Transnationals

GE (shaded) and Transnationals related to UE workplaces in New England, eastern New York

If the "Transnational Corporations" workshop makes clear that corporate might is considerable, it also shows that unions have power, too, and that companies have vulnerabilities that workers can exploit.

The workshop examines several examples of transnational corporations "forced to do something they didn’t want to because of international solidarity."


The best-known case involves the Ravenswood Aluminum Co.; the 20-month lockout of 1,700 Steelworkers ended in victory in June 1992 due in large part to international solidarity. The Steelworkers learned that behind layers of holding companies and dummy corporations, the Ravenswood mill was ultimately owned by Marc Rich. The billionaire metals trader, wanted by U.S. authorities for massive tax fraud and other crimes, had taken refuge in Zug, Switzerland.

The Steelworkers sought allies in Switzerland and everywhere else Rich did business. Swiss union members helped the USWA hound Rich, scuttling some of his business deals and launching a serious drive to expel him from the country. Unions in the Netherlands, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Venezuela and the United Kingdom conducted major solidarity actions.

Using the concept of a "picket line around the world," this global union alliance eventually forced Rich to settle, fire his unionbusting management team and discharge the scabs.

International solidarity figured prominently as factor in the successful Teamsters’ strike against UPS in 1997. A "UPS World Action Day" saw 150 job actions or demonstrations — and brought union leaders from several countries to the bargaining table in the final stages of negotiations. When the Almond Co., a New York-based jewelry producer, fired the leadership of a newly organized union at a plant in Thailand, unions representing more than 20 million workers worldwide took part in a campaign resulting in a reinstatement of the 40 fired workers with full compensation, union recognition and bargaining.

Karen Hardin of Local 758 at Glastic in Jefferson, Ohio explains how for much of the 26 months it took Local 758 to reach a first contract, Glastic was owned by Kobe Steel, a Japanese transnational. Zenroren came to the Glastic workers’ aid, generating letters of protest and demonstrating outside corporate headquarters.


The workshop encourages locals to explore their employers’ international connections, and make contact with workers abroad to begin to develop a relationship with workers and unions within the same transnational corporations.

Local 1107 members were forced to consider the ramifications of working for a transnational corporation when a German-Japanese partnership bought their employer, Farnam Sealing in Necedah, Wis. The Freudenberg Group, based in Weinheim, Germany, owns 24 plants in the U.S., mostly in partnership with the Japanese company NOK. Through UE’s affiliation with the International Confederation of Chemical, energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), Local 1107 gained important allies among Freudenberg’s European employees.

Local 279 leaders Cox and Harris said that at the workshop, "We learned that our parent company has a wide-ranging operation throughout Europe and Asia and that there exists a possibility of making some sort of connection with the workers there. We would like to know about their working conditions, wages and benefits that affect them directly," Cox and Harris said. Further, "we would like to tell them about the benefits that we enjoy and the rights we have as union workers."

That could be the start of a beautiful relationship.




Transnational Corporations can be forced to do things they don't want to do because of international solidarity ...












Explore your employer's international connections ... they could be the start of a great relationship ...


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