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Workers Uniting driving paper sector solidarity

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22 May, 2017Two central affiliates in the IndustriALL pulp and paper sector, USW and Unite, continued building coordinated action with common employers last week together with IndustriALL.

The two unions’ alliance called Workers Uniting was formed in 2011 to jointly challenge anti-worker governments and employers. Workers Uniting has a strong voice inside IndustriALL, and both Unite and the USW are represented on the IndustriALL Pulp and Paper Work Group that acts as a steering committee for global activities in the sector.

Meeting in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, on 17-18 May, the Workers Uniting paper sector and IndustriALL analysed current trends across the industry and held company councils for SCA, Graphic Packaging and Kimberly Clark.

These three companies employ paper workers organized by IndustriALL affiliates around the world.

The SCA group discussed the announced split to form two separate companies, and the issue of maintaining the Global Framework Agreement with Essity. As well as Workers Uniting, the key unions at SCA are Pappers in Sweden and Paperiliitto in Finland. Other IndustriALL affiliates at SCA include CFMEU in Australia, as the company is the largest shareholder in Asaleo Care.

The vast majority of Graphic Packaging manufacturing sites are located in the US and UK. The IndustriALL affiliated AMWU organizes workers at Graphic Packaging owned sites in Australia.

Kimberly Clark has a wide global footprint, and IndustriALL has raised cases with the company on behalf of affiliates in Australia, Israel, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Australia case is especially serious as the company is destroying positive industrial relations with the CFMEU that were built up over 30 years.

Kimberly Clark Workers Uniting Council send a solidarity message to struggling CFMEU.

Each of the three company councils conducted a plant visit in Neenah and Wausau, near to Appleton. The region around the Fox River in Wisconsin is a hub for the pulp and paper industry, with around 100,000 people employed. While salaries are high compared to other manufacturing jobs in the US, rampant overtime is the norm

IndustriALL Pulp and Paper Sector Co-Chair Leeann Foster said:

“There have been five fatalities this year in the USW paper sector, and a staggering number of life altering injuries. Our sector is again the most dangerous USW sector this year. That is why we are working to enact the Making and Converting Paper Safely policy that our sector conference adopted last year.”

Unite’s Tim Elliott said:

“The industry is stabilizing in the UK, and there is quite a lot of work in the mills. Digital printing is growing though and digital printers are receiving up to 30% lower salaries. Our strategy is to bargain for job transfers to digital printing when jobs are cut, with the higher salary red circled.”

Priority issues for the local unions include confronting a growing outsourcing trend, and dealing with the “Grey Tsunami” that refers to a crisis of an aging workforce due to years of poor training and hiring practices in the sector.

IndustriALL research and industry officer Tom Grinter presented around the issues of digitalization and China:

“Only through international solidarity can we take on these challenges and build union power in the sector. In the same spirit that Workers Uniting was established, we are working to join forces throughout the sector and its supply chain.”