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
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.
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
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.