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IndustriALL Bridgestone trade union network builds on long tradition

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19 June, 2018Leading trade unions at Bridgestone, together constituting the steering committee for one of IndustriALL’s longest-standing trade union networks at a multinational company, held the 17th annual meeting on 14-15 June in the company’s home city of Kurume, Japan.

Bridgestone is the world’s leading tyre company and is organized by IndustriALL affiliates in all continents. The ground rules of the network steering committee were established in 2005 through a protocol agreed by leading Bridgestone unions.

The protocol establishes the steering committee constituting representatives from key unions in each continent. The Japanese Rubber Workers’ Union Gomu Rengo is the administrator of the network and meetings are chaired by the Gomu Rengo president, who for the last two years has been brother Kasukabe-san.

The network’s secretary comes from the Japanese Bridgestone Workers’ Union (JBU), which is the largest union inside Gomu Rengo, representing around half of all Gomu Rengo members. The current secretary is sister Sakagami-san, executive board member of JBU.

JBU president Watanabe-san facilitated that this year’s network meeting be held at the first ever Bridgestone plant, established in 1931 in the western Japanese city of Kurume.

Also represented were Numsa of South Africa, the Bridgestone European Works Council Secretary, and the IndustriAll Europe Coordinator for Bridgestone Europe, as well as IndustriALL-JAF. Accident levels and long term industrial diseases were studied for each region.

Kurume is heavily influenced by the industrial heritage of Bridgestone. The network participants, in conjunction to the meeting toured the factory and facilities related to Bridgestone’s founder, Shojiro Ishibashi. Bridgestone was named after its founder - Ishibashi means “Stone Bridge” in Japanese. The Kurume plant is still Bridgestone’s key production facility, manufacturing a wide variety of tires for different vehicles and aircraft. The plant also produces the nylon and polyester tyre cord which forms the support structure of its tyres.

Bridgestone’s tyre production process begins at its two rubber plantations, in Liberia and Indonesia. The 48,000-hectare plantation in Liberia is twice as large as the Indonesia plantation, and workers there are organized in the IndustriALL trade union affiliate AAIWUL. AAIWUL is preparing to begin collective bargaining with management at the plantation in Liberia and the network sent AAIWUL a message of support for those negotiations.

Gomu Rengo president KASUKABE Yoshinori, chair of the Bridgestone network steering committee said:

“This very stable network prioritizes not only worker safety but trust worldwide. Even though we are facing hard times in our industry, it is very important that all the colleagues help each other and we need to set a high standard at Bridgestone to be followed at other companies in the rubber sector. Let’s work together to build the strong connection among Bridgestone workers.”

Tom Grinter, responsible for the rubber sector at IndustriALL Global Union said:

“Building on the long history of this network, our 2018 meeting analyzed the current business and employment conditions at Bridgestone in the different regions. We also studied the history of the network itself as the respective organizations are now represented by new people. We learnt more about the history of the company in its home city. Bridgestone’s founding commitments and principles to worker safety and trade union rights are strong in Japan. It is the task of this network to put those principles to the test throughout the company’s global operations.”