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Auto unions develop value chain organizing strategies

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9 November, 2018Seventy-six trade unionists from 24 countries attended an annual meeting for unions in the auto sector held in Prague, Czech Republic from 16-18 October.

The meeting focused on building union strength across value chains. The auto industry is characterized by long and complex value chains, with a huge number of suppliers – up to 40,000 for a company.

Value chains are a deliberately opaque business secret, and companies are not transparent. The deeper one moves down value chains, the lower the unionization rates, and the worse the terms and conditions. Participants wondered if it would take a tragedy on the scale of Rana Plaza for the industry to be forced to open up about its suppliers.

Instead of getting lost in the complexity of value chains, participants resolved to focus on a few key components, particularly the value chain of batteries. This is an issue that is receiving scrutiny due to concerns about how cobalt is sourced, and there is scope to work with auto companies and develop insights into organizing strategies.

This targeted approach would be extended by identifying other key components, and setting up value chain meetings with key stakeholders to develop relationships and test the usefulness of this approach. Cross sectoral work would be strengthened, for example with leather and textiles for car seats, rubber for tyres and glass for windows.

Two new sector co-chairs were elected at the meeting: UAW president Gary Jones replaces former UAW president Dennis Williams, who has retired, and NUMSA international secretary Christine Olivier replaces Sirijunyaporn Jangthonglang from TEAM who stepped down.

Next year, the expert group will meet on transformation in the automotive industry and focus in particular on best-practice examples on how to manage change. Mexico will be a major focus, due to the anticipated creation of a new independent trade union federation by the end of November 2018, and India where similar preparations are under way.

Czech affiliate OS Kovo helped to set up the meeting and a plant visit on the third day to seat manufacturer Grammer.

IndustriALL auto director Georg Leutert said:

“The IndustriALL auto sector stands united and will redouble efforts to improve working conditions along global value chains. Batteries, the most important future product, will be the top priority.”