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FEATURE: IndustriALL: Campaigning, organizing, and winning

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2 December, 2014Supply-chain pressure, coalition and network building, media strategy, and corporate research are all vital elements to trade union campaigning. But it is workers’ solidarity across national borders that, time and again, makes the difference and achieves the win.


TEXT: Tom Grinter

This article looks at some of the latest frontline battles waged by IndustriALL and its affiliates. America’s autoworkers’ union, the UAW, is using new tactics to organize in the union-hostile Southern US; Cambodian unions are fighting to win an increase to poverty-level minimum wages; Philippine affiliate MWAP resisted a vicious union-busting attack with international support; and the Rio Tinto campaign organized contract workers in Madagascar.

Global support for UAW’s organizing campaigns

The UAW has historically held strong sway with the ‘Big Three’ US auto companies, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, resulting in good employment conditions for members and strong economic performance for the companies. When the global crisis hit the industry in 2007-2008 a mature agreement with the UAW saved both GM and Chrysler. Now it is vital for the union to organize the non-American auto companies operating in the US.

The three major targets are Volkswagen (VW) in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Daimler in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Nissan in Canton, Mississippi. Labour rights abuses have been rife in all three locations, and outside anti-union pressure is enormous. The Southern culture of exploiting workers and getting away with it is made possible by low union density and anti-worker politicians. This challenge is being tackled head on by the UAW with the full support of IndustriALL and key allies.

UAW Locals 42 and 112 were established on 10 July and 3 October by workers at Volkswagen in Chattanooga and at Daimler in Tuscaloosa. At every single Volkswagen and Daimler plant in the world employees belong to a company-recognized union – apart from in Chattanooga and Tuscaloosa. The demand on these multinationals is simple: afford these workers the same rights as the rest of your employees, recognize their union and bargain collective agreements.

General Secretary Jyrki Raina led an IndustriALL solidarity trip to these three locations in October, including an international support mission to the Nissan organizing campaign in Canton. Organizers and workers shared their stories of shocking intimidation and of their inspiring fight-back. The IndustriALL affiliates representing Nissan workers, as well as employees of corporate partner Renault, set the plan for continued international campaign action and pledged to take the accounts of rights violations back to management in their home countries.

In UAW Local 42’s ‘War Room’ in Chattanooga, Jyrki Raina told members:

You are not alone. You are part of a big global family of 700 unions in 140 countries. The automobile industry is IndustriALL’s strongest sector, most unionized. IndustriALL members in the sector have good salaries and conditions, and functioning labour management relations. Every plant has problems, but the union and works council are there to solve them. Now you have a union and we eagerly await the next steps in getting recognition from VW.

International solidarity has been central to the organizing campaigns at VW and Daimler. German union IG Metall used its strength to ensure neutrality from both companies and a pathway to establishing UAW union locals. The Japanese JAW and JCM are working with UAW to win similar assurances from Nissan.

A work place election at VW in February was narrowly lost by the UAW by 712 votes to 626. The vote made clear to all involved that under current US labour legislation free and fair worker representation elections are impossible in the region. A vehemently aggressive anti-union campaign led by Republican politicians and anti-union lobby groups used threats and intimidation to highjack VW’s neutrality. Particularly shocking was Tennessee’s Republican Senator Bob Corker’s bare-faced lie that if workers voted in the UAW, a new SUV production line would not brought to the plant. The opposite was true.

With IG Metall’s strong support, UAW switched to plan B. Instead of an election, Local 42 has collected the support of a majority of the plant’s workforce and a consensus agreement was reached with global VW management to recognize the Local once a majority is confirmed through card check. Important developments are expected before the end of 2014.

Extending German co-determination to Alabama

Daimler’s global commitment to the German principle of ‘co-determination’ between management and employees will be put to the test in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The UAW already represents nearly 7,000 workers at Daimler plants in the US, with positive industrial relations bringing mutual benefits. An agreement between the UAW, the Daimler World Employee Committee and IG Metall aligns the joint commitment to extend the company’s practice in the rest of the world to Alabama.

World Employee Committees are established to create mutual trust and worker representation across borders in the spirit of solidarity. The meetings ensure equal information for all and discussion on an equal footing with the top management.

Dennis Williams, UAW president states: “It’s time for the committed and hard-working employees at MBUSI (Mercedes-Benz US International) to have the same representation that Daimler employees enjoy around the world. It’s the right thing to do. Plus, it will improve productivity and quality, ensuring success for both the company and the workforce.”

“We are asking Daimler to respect our right to representation and give the same opportunities to Alabama’s working families that have been extended to our counterparts elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world,” said Mercedes worker Rodney Bowens at the announcement of Local 112.

Leaders of the Daimler World Employee Committee and IG Metall also participated in the unveiling of the new local.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, and vice chairman of the Daimler World Employee Committee, called on the company to work with the new local union. “Daimler has a clear global commitment to employee representation.”

Once UAW Local 112 is recognized, first priorities of the union will be to bargain on improved plant safety and regularizing the more than 1,000 temporary workers at the plant.

Sweltering with the heat of injustice

Fifty years on from the height of the civil rights campaign for racial equality in Mississippi and throughout the US, Nissan workers are drawing parallels with their current treatment. The abuse of Nissan workers in Canton is extreme. Sexual harassment, threats, concerted bullying aimed at forcing permanent staff to quit and be replaced by contract workers, poverty wages of US$12 an hour, no say in shift timing, ban on pro-union t-shirts, bad safety standards, sackings, no pensions, and no dialogue with the UAW or IndustriALL – and that is only an introduction. This group of workers needs and deserves a union.

Union supporters are tailed by Nissan security officers as they drive home, or to the union office. One-on-one meetings are conducted where workers are intimidated about supporting the union, and every new hire is shown an anti-UAW video.

Under the banner ‘Union Rights are Civil Rights’ the UAW has been campaigning for four years to establish a company-recognized trade union in the Nissan plant.

The organizing drive has staunch community support from many groups, most notably the NAACP and MAFFAN. The NAACP is an organization that fights for racial equality with a rich and important history through the fight against racial segregation in the US. Daily support from NAACP has included a hard-hitting public report outlining the constant threat from Canton management that the plant will close if workers organize a union. MAFFAN brings together a large group of senior local church leaders who denounce the mistreatment of Nissan’s employees as un-Christian, together with elected officials, activists and students.

The 50th anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer march was marked by 1,000 people rallying at the Nissan plant. Civil rights veterans from the 1964 campaign marched side by side with Nissan workers, and other community activists. The message to Nissan was loud and clear: We fought to end these human rights abuses 50 years ago, workers’ rights are human and civil rights.

IndustriALL led a six-country trade union delegation to Canton in October representing over 150,000 Nissan workers, and workers at corporate partner Renault. These unions have reasonably good relations with the company elsewhere but have come up against harsh opposition when supporting the Canton workers.

Key members in the delegation were assistant general secretaries of the Japanese unions JAW and JCM. These senior trade unionists pledged continued solidarity with the Canton organizing drive, arguing that the Canton site should be organized and pledging to continue to lobby global management to ensure neutrality.

Nissan’s corporate partner Renault holds a 43.4 per cent stake in Nissan and the partnered companies have one CEO, Carlos Ghosn. The IndustriALL Global Framework Agreement (GFA) with Renault is a model agreement with strong language on decent wages, trade union rights, health and safety, and supply chain coverage. General Secretary Jyrki Raina argues that two sets of ethical principles cannot exist within one corporate group, therefore extension of the GFA to Nissan operations will be pushed.

A positive development is expected in the UAW-IndustriALL OECD complaint lodged in the US. Nissan’s blocking of their workers’ right to join a union is in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Jyrki Raina states:

Our basic message to Nissan is that we will not go away until you treat your workers with respect and dignity. We will fight together and implement concrete international solidarity until the UAW has a recognized union at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi.

2014: Year of mass mobilizations for a living wage in Cambodia

Cambodian garment workers kick started this year’s campaign actions around the world with mass wage protests and strikes. The lines were drawn when Royal Police were deployed to arrest trade union leaders and violently attack demonstrators on 2 and 3 January. Four activists were shot dead and 37 seriously injured.

IndustriALL affiliates in Cambodia continued to mobilize throughout the year. An initial raise in the monthly minimum wage from US$80 to US$100 was nowhere near the demand of US$177. The government established a tripartite Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) for wage negotiations to take place, but repeated delays and postponed deadlines brought workers out to the streets of capital Phnom Penh again and again.

IndustriALL linked up with global allies ITUC and UNI Global Union, working together to mobilize international support and to lobby brands. An unprecedented move by major brands was achieved on 18 September when they jointly wrote to the government and the Garment Manufacturers Association (GMAC) to call for an increased minimum wage that they would pay for through increased purchasing prices. The brands also pledged to work with unions to develop workplace skills and efficiency.

The eight brands setting this example in Cambodia are H&M, Inditex (Zara), Primark, Next, New Look, C&A, Tchibo, and N Brown Group.

IndustriALL, UNI and ITUC organized two global days of action in support of the Cambodian workers’ campaign. The first global mobilization on 10 February saw loud actions in 12 countries, besieging Cambodian embassies to call for the immediate release of jailed wage activists. The second global action day, on 17 September, was held in conjunction with mass wage demonstrations in Cambodia. The international actions focused on the Cambodian government, demanding a living wage for the garment workers who create a US$5 billion industry. Both action days generated positive developments but the campaign continues to fight for better wages.

Philippine metalworkers defeat union-busting

From 5 May to 26 September this year IndustriALL unions around the world joined Philippine affiliate MWAP to refuse their employer’s attempt to bust the union. NXP, market leading microchip producer, sacked the entire 24-member executive committee of the union that had been in the plant for 33 years. The global campaign celebrated victory on 26 September with a labour agreement that brought significant gains and maintained the union.

The victory was important because it happened in the hostile Cabuyao special economic zone where companies’ no-union, no-strike policy is supported by a complicit government and judiciary. The result sent a clear message to other employers and workers in the industry and region.

We waged a strong battle resulting in a major victory,” said Reden Alcantara, MWAP National President. “We encountered many difficulties in this long and painstaking struggle but we never stopped searching for solutions. We have come this far because of the unity of our members and the all-out support of our global union IndustriALL and of our other supporters and friends from the local and international community. The NXP management failed to bust our union. That, to us, is our biggest victory.

Top management stood by the decision to sack all 24 elected union officials for taking time off on national holidays. Instead of taking the opportunity to bargain in good faith with the union, aggressive security measures meant to intimidate workers were taken. Police and NXP security guards were deployed in and around the plant and workers’ shuttle buses, and gated checkpoints were built.

Undeterred, hundreds of MWAP supporters repeatedly opened the checkpoints with wire cutters to conduct pickets and marches outside the facility. Negotiating venues were picketed and national mobilizations held. All 15 IndustriALL affiliates in the Philippines issued joint support.

Many pressure points were exploited by IndustriALL and MWAP’s campaign. Corporate customer action singled out Apple once it was discovered that NXP would supply important technology for the new iPhone 6. Apple received over 150,000 petitions and 14,000 official complaints through SumOfUs. A large and targeted social media campaign flagged the labour rights flaw in the new iPhone 6, and collaboration with the business and human rights community spread the news and built support for MWAP. LabourStart petitioning targeted NXP management.

Unions in other countries representing NXP workers and NXP’s top customers were mobilized to demand an end to the attack on MWAP. Sophisticated internal and external communications kept all supporters informed, facilitating public pressure on NXP and its customers.

A number of IndustriALL affiliates including AMWU, IF Metall, IG Metall, Metalliliitto, Unite and USW provided critical support in the campaign. IndustriALL’s sister global union UNI also provided support and had started preparations for the next stage in the campaign, targeting the retail operations of Apple and other corporate customers of NXP. Demonstrations at Apple Stores were conducted by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in Los Angeles and Chicago, with participation from USW activists and leaders, and these were to be repeated in other countries.

Although 12 of the dismissed 24 union officials were forced to accept a large separation payoff, the other 12 returned to work with a re-energized bargaining unit. The 26 September settlement included wage hikes of 12.25 per cent over three years and permanent employment for a number of contract workers. Some of the paid-off 12 will use the money to start their own businesses while others will become fulltime trade union activists focused on organizing neighbouring work places and ensuring full implementation of the new NXP agreement.

IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina concludes:

It is through campaigning and organizing that we build unity, power and respect. Every day is campaign day at IndustriALL Global Union and we will continue to build our capacity to win individual work place struggles, corporate and country campaigns, and wider thematic campaigns. We count on your support for the next call to action.

Rio Tinto campaign organizes 300 workers in Madagascar

A key goal of IndustriALL’s Rio Tinto campaign is to grow union density throughout the company’s operations for a more powerful demand for respect. This mining operation employs 662 workers directly and 1,232 through subcontractors.

Despite fear of repercussions, both directly-employed and outsourced workers are being successfully organized by IndustriALL’s Malagasy affiliate FISEMA at Rio Tinto’s QMM mineral sand mine in Fort Dauphin. This followed an IndustriALL organizing workshop held in Fort Dauphin in August.

Most contractor employees at the facility work full time and exclusively for Rio Tinto but their minimum wage is five times lower than direct employees, and with no social benefits. Other issues around which FISEMA is organizing include bad health and safety, sacked shop stewards, and non-compliance with the labour authorities rulings in favour of workers.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:

“IndustriALL is committed to bringing FISEMA together with the global network of Rio Tinto workers to strengthen the fight for freedom of association and better safety and working conditions at Rio Tinto sites worldwide.”

The union used the 7 October global action day at Rio Tinto to denounce the excessive use of precarious labour, and took their concerns into a meeting with the CEO of Rio Tinto Madagascar.