24 November, 2015Developing collective action to fight common challenges and build power, the leading trade unions from this diverse industry met at the IndustriALL Global Union World Conference for the Mechanical Engineering Sector.
Hosted by Swiss affiliate Unia in Bern, Switzerland on 23-24 November, trade union representatives from 21 countries shared experiences and strategy. The conference looked at changes in the industry since the last world conference, four years ago in Cincinnati, USA.
The world conference adopted an ambitious Action Plan for work in the sector over the next four years. The Action Plan, in line with IndustriALL’s five strategic goals, commits the sector to fight precarious work, create and build company trade union networks including down the supply chain, and foster new industrial policies that react to digitalization of production.
IndustriALL launched a comprehensive industry report at the conference. IndustriALL affiliates interested in receiving a copy can write to the secretariat.
All participating unions highlighted the problem of precarious work, with the sector’s large employers undermining unions by outsourcing their workforce.
Outsourced workers are treated as second-class workers by employers in the sector, receiving lower wages and worse conditions than regular workers. Often exposed to higher safety risks, the contract workers often do not speak up for fear of management retaliating.
Union representatives also stated that the increasing outsourcing trend leads directly to poor quality products.
Conference dealt with Industry 4.0 and IndustriALL Global Union’s industrial policy and its call for a Just Transition to a sustainable industry.
Chairing the conference, Rainer Wimmer, President of Austrian affiliate ProGe, and Sector Chair, opened the conference:
“The real action happens at the grassroots level. Nothing happens without solidarity in the workplaces. We must organize along production chains, set up network structures, and build worker power.”
IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:
Growing inequality is one of the biggest problems in the world, posing an increasing threat to sustainability. Let us fight this inequality.
We congratulate IG Metall for the Thyssen Krupp Global Framework Agreement. That agreement will now be a benchmark. At the same time we are very concerned about how Caterpillar cutting US$ 10 billion costs will affect workers.
Another world is possible. IndustriALL’s 700 unions around the world work together to build solidarity. Organizing and joint action across borders will make our voice strong.
Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL Director for the Mechanical Engineering Sector reported on active trade union networks in Caterpillar, John Deere and SKF. The SKF network is struggling under massive job cuts by the Swedish company:
We are a wide sector. Many of our sub sectors are going through rapid change. Digitization is affecting us all. Industry 4.0 is coming on top of the traditional problems, such as offshoring and the need for colleagues to constantly improve their skills and knowledge. We also have the problem of precarious work. Fewer and fewer workers in our sector are directly employed, being replaced by outsourced workers through contractors.
Julius Christian of IG Metall called for unity within company networks:
“ThyssenKrupp wants to divide us. We must stick together, negotiate together and organize through our network. That is my key message here.”
Jody Mauller of the North American union IBB reacted to the tough reports of management attacks on union rights in Europe:
“My message to our European brothers and sisters whose employers are starting to latch on to the American model is to fight back.”
Vania Alleva, President of Unia:
“In the present environment – around the world, and also here in Switzerland – active unionists are particularly important. I am continually impressed by the commitment and hard work of our many colleagues. You confirm my conviction that together we can achieve things. Together we can overcome the tremendous challenges facing us.”
The conference unanimously elected two co-chairs for the sector, IG Metall’s Christiane Benner and ProGe’s President Rainer Wimmer.