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Build solidarity with union networks and global agreements

20 November, 2012IndustriALL’s founding congress in June defined as one of our main missions to challenge the power of multinational companies at the global level. Trade union networks and global framework agreements are key tools for building solidarity.

The Action Plan adopted by the congress of IndustriALL Global Union gave us a task to develop a multinational company (MNC) network strategy for exchange of information, joint initiatives, common platforms, coordination of national collective bargaining and mobilization in case of violations of workers’ rights by MNCs and their suppliers. We also agreed that IndustriALL would pursue agreements with MNCs to establish mechanisms of social dialogue at global and regional level to enable constructive industrial relations.

To underline these ambitious but crucial goals, we gathered 150 participants from all five continents to IndustriALL’s first major activity, a global conference on trade union networks and global framework agreements on 17-18 October 2012 in Frankfurt.

Two days of lively debate among true experts highlighted our rich experience in the industrial sectors represented by the three founding organizations of IndustriALL. Much has been done in the past. Now we want to create a common understanding of developing a new culture that builds on achievements in the past, and takes further steps forward.

Participants were unanimous in underlining that union networks are a crucial tool for building genuine union power and global solidarity. Exchange of information is functioning in a number of major companies. Good examples of joint action were cited at companies such as Caterpillar, Gerdau, Tenaris and Rio Tinto, which has been chosen as a major corporate target for IndustriALL because of the viciously anti-union policies of the mining giant.

But now it is the time to move forward. We need to use the emerging collective power of union networks to systematically target unorganized plants and make them union operations. Networks have to become a practical organizing tool.

Networks facilitate mobilization when workers’ rights are violated by MNCs and their suppliers. In serious cases, action will grow into global level corporate campaigns.

The conference emphasized the need to push for recognition from employers for formalized networks or world works councils. Ford Motor Company was the latest one to join Volkswagen, Peugeot Citroën and others in agreeing to finance regular meetings of union representatives from different parts of the world.

IndustriALL inherited 40 global framework agreements with major MNCs from its three founding organizations. These cover companies such as Inditex and Mizuno in the textile and garment industries, oil giants Petrobras and LukOil, and auto manufacturers BMW and Renault.

It was emphasized that new agreements should be pursued in a democratic and transparent process, with timely information and consultation of affiliates with membership in the company concerned. This helps create ownership of the agreements among our unions.

Global framework agreements are based on a commitment to comply with the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). With today’s company structures, it is important to cover also suppliers and sub-contractors, which need to refrain from anti-union activities. Union networks are the best tools for effective implementation and enforcement.

I was happy to see participants demonstrate a common understanding that IndustriALL is not an office in Geneva, but a global union family that is committed to building concrete global solidarity and joint action.

We will now take the recommendations from the conference to IndustriALL’s executive committee. I am confident we will get clear directions from our decision-making body for reinforcing organizing, growing union membership and defending workers’ rights with the help of networks and global agreements.