Over 60 delegates from 21 unions representing glass, ceramics and cement workers in 16 countries from all continents came to Bremen, Germany on 2 and 3 November 2017 for the World Conference of the Materials Industries.
The industries in the sector change rapidly, the whole industry is in constant consolidation and change. Mergers, acquisitions and consolidations in the industries have changed the profile, industrial footprint and strategies of the major multinationals. As in many other manufacturing industries the problem of massive overcapacity due to China maintaining the highest level of production remains a sword of Damocles over jobs in all continents. Industry 4.0 is also about to increasingly affect workers’ jobs and lives in a very serious manner.
Opening the conference, Newton B. Jones, USA, International President of International Brotherhood of Boilermakers), co-chair of the materials’ sector said,
“We see the hand of global capital at work around the world – across economies at all stages of development. And yet, the threats are the same: precarious work, a race to the bottom in worker wages and benefits, unsustainable business models, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and automation with little regard to its impact on workers’ lives.”
Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary also addressed the delegates,
“Materials industry became a sector with a huge concentration, due to the acquisitions and mergers over the last years. Through these tactics multinational companies became extremely powerful, and we as the unions are the only ones who can challenge their power.”
Since the last conference in 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand, the unions of the materials sector have led a number of fights and struggles that resulted in victories for workers. Whether in India, Indonesia or Canada, materials industries workers and their unions were standing firm for their rights and have always expressed and received exemplary solidarity.
Another strong achievement over the four years is the Memorandum of Understanding signed between LafargeHolcim, IndustriALL and sister organization the Building and Wood Workers’ International which foresees further negotiation and the conclusion of a Global Framework Agreement better protecting company’s direct and indirect employees’ rights.
The senator of Labour, Work, Economy and Harbours of Bremen Government Mr. Günthner addressed the conference delegates and reiterated the importance of strong national and international trade unions.
The participants adopted an ambitious Action plan focused on all five main goals of IndustriALL.
Closing the conference, Lena Yuliana, Federation of Indonesian Cement Workers’ Union FSP ISI, who was elected as co-chair (together with Newton B. Jones) of the sector stated,
“We need to build union power and strengthen solidarity, exchange and share information with our members. Only through this work we will be able to achieve tangible results for our members.”
The conference was preceded by the first union meeting where unions representing workers of HeidelbergCement set up their new union network. The network already started its work and adopted a special declaration defining its activities for the nearest future.
Commenting on the outcomes of the conference Matthias Hartwich, materials’ industries director at IndustriALL said,
“Workers in this vast sector face numerous challenges, including bad health and safety, precarious work. We jointly decided what our priorities are and where we want to take action during the next four years. This is a very ambitious plan and we will have to mobilize all our strength in order to implement it. But we want our unions to be strong and ready to challenge the power of multinational corporations, we stand strong and demand, Respect workers’ rights!”
Photos from the conference are available on IndustriALL Flickr channel.