Global Organizing and a New Approach to Trade and Globalization

09/10/2013 Kenneth Quinnell

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In a time when the globalized economy means that steelworkers in Bahia, Brazil, work for the same multinational as their counterpart

Bahia, Brazil, work for the same multinational as their counterparts in Beaumont, Texas, AFL-CIO is ramping up efforts to help workers organize around the world and fight against bad international trade deals that strip workers of their rights and give corporations unchecked power. Delegates to the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles passed two resolutions directly dealing with these important issues.

Given the changing strategies used by multinational corporations to weaken workers’ rights, the AFL-CIO is committing to building strategic alliances with unions and other advocates for working families across the globe. With a foundation built upon ILO core labor standards, the AFL-CIO will seek to ensure that countries across the world have strong national labor laws that are effectively enforced. More research is needed to fully understand the new ways that work is being organized globally, how work moves from location to location and what strategies are most effective for strengthening worker power.

“We must expand our vision and press forward, creating solidarity without borders,” Edwin Cisco, president of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), said at the convention. “Building union power must be rooted in a renewed commitment to global bargaining where every worker from Guatemala to Liberia to Alabama to Indonesia has a seat at the table.  By pursuing innovative and creative new strategies for cross-border organizing we can ensure that workers’ rights are respected up and down the supply chain of multinational employers.”

Sharran Burrow, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, said workers all over the world are connected, no matter where they work. She said the resolution calls for collaboration and unity across borders.

We commit to building strategic alliances with unions and partners worldwide, and to ensuring the ILO core labor standards, including the right to freedom of association, are the foundation for strong and enforced national labor laws. We will fight for decent work and against the growing use of informal work arrangements that undermine workers’ rights and good working conditions.

Specific action steps include:

1. Collecting and sharing information on multinationals that operate in the United States.

2. Collecting and sharing information about companies and other organizations that promote the privatization of public services and the restriction of labor rights.

3. Promoting worker-to-worker exchanges to increase understanding and strengthen strategies.

4. Developing training on the structures of the global labor movement and encouraging the use of innovative tools to improve the enforcement of international labor standards.

5. Developing new strategies to build worker and community power to defend public education and other vital public services.

6. Convening working groups and develop training about the dishonest tactics used by privatization “reformers” and sharing of policy research and best practices.

7. Developing a network of supportive researchers and academics nationally and internationally.

8. Training of campaigners, lead organizers and strategic researchers working on campaigns in support of workers’ rights.

Read the rest of Resolution 8: Global Organizing.

In recent decades, the United States has negotiated trade agreements that largely benefited corporate power at the expense of working people. AFL-CIO stands strongly against deals that are not people-centered and that poison the environment, take rights away from workers and cut government regulation and public services. Currently up for discussion are three deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), that could have a significant negative effect in all of these areas.

“Today, the multinationals are hell-bent on manipulating the TPP—a free trade agreement bigger than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—so as to secure their hold over the global economy,” Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told the convention. “If they get their way, everything from your rights at work to the price of your prescriptions and the safety of your child’s toys will be severely influenced. It will be easier to relocate our jobs overseas, disregard clean air and water regulations and carve out special corporate privileges that ignore health and safety policies.”

Send an email to trade representatives for all the countries involved to tell them to create a trade agreement that works for working families.

The AFL-CIO supports international trade deals that stay true to a specific set of people-centered principles:

  • Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
  • Strengthen protections for the environment.
  • Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
  • Set rules for fair competition.
  • Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
  • Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
  • Effectively address currency manipulation.
  • Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
  • Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
  • Provide strong protections for intellectual property (IP) without raising prices on medicines.
  • Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
  • Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
  • Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
  • Be flexible and responsive.

In pursuing such a trade policy, the AFL-CIO is committed to taking the following action steps:

  • Educating our members about the causes and effects of the current model of globalization.
  • Reporting and publicizing the results of existing trade agreements and trade policy on the quality of life for U.S. workers.
  • Ensuring strong enforcement of trade agreements and trade remedy law.
  • Ensuring that U.S. trade agreements reflect a people-centered policy by recommitting our opposition to 20th century-style “fast track” trade promotion authority that allows trade and globalization agreements to become law with limited debate, no amendments and no opportunity to send the administration back to the table to achieve the principles laid out above.
  • Continuing our work to use the labor provisions of various trade agreements to hold countries to their obligations to protect labor rights.
  • Demanding greater transparency and inclusiveness in creating U.S. international economic policies.
  • Organizing our members, community allies and all workers to demand trade that creates shared prosperity.
  • Developing strategies with partners in the international labor movement to shape a pro-worker agenda for trade policies.
  • Utilizing all available strategies, including social media, to go beyond education and accomplish organization and mobilization.
  • Ensuring that the U.S. policies reflect reforms needed to make U.S. producers and their employees more competitive in the global marketplace.
  • Fighting to defeat any trade agreement that fails to prioritize the needs of working families and advance shared prosperity in the global economy.
  • Holding our elected representatives accountable for their trade policies.

Read the rest of Resolution 12: America and the World Need a New Approach to Trade and Globalization.

Author: AFGE Local 704

Representing over 900 bargaining unit employees working at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, MI and Westlake, OH.

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