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Rubber workers celebrate global unity

20 September, 2017Kick-starting a new four-year period, leading trade unions in the rubber sector held a world conference this week and resolved to take joint and coordinated actions to tackle common challenges in the sector.

The IndustriALL Global Union World Conference for Rubber Industries took place at the impressive United Steelworkers’ headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA (USA) on 18-19 September with more than 80 participants from 18 countries.

“We are facing hard times in our industry. We will stand with you, we will fight with you, despite the challenges facing workers. USW is always committed to global solidarity, in that spirit we warmly welcome all of you here today,” said Stan Johnson, USW International Secretary-Treasurer and Co-chair of the Rubber Industries section of IndustriALL.

“Since the last world rubber conference in Hungary four years ago, changes have continued across our sector. Global inequality is growing; workers are losing their jobs, their rights, and social protections. We need to be able to fight for an economic and social model based on rights, fairness and dignity,” said Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL  Assistant General Secretary.

Panelists from the USA, UK, Japan, Brazil and South Africa spoke on industry developments and their impacts on trade unions in the rubber sector.

It was clear after the presentations that there was a lot of commonality of concern in this sector, unions globally are all facing the same challenges which means unions must come together to find common solutions.

The issues that came up in almost all reports were: Chinese dumping; the import of cheap and dangerous tyres online; and economic and political crises.

Some positive developments also emerged from the reports, Dawid Baardman from IndustriALL affiliate NUMSA reported that there were no precarious workers in the rubber industry in South Africa, as they have managed to negotiate an industry agreement that ensures no precarious workers in the sector.

Marcio Ferreira from Caucho-FS in Brazil reported on how they have benefitted from rubber unions coming together for industry-level bargaining in the sector. Marcio explained that they are trying to create one unified rubber union in the federation: “We have a unique opportunity if we come together into one organization to overcome conflicts,” he said.

Multinationals in the rubber industry employ members of IndustriALL affiliates all around the world. In depth panel discussions looked at the trends, challenges and labour relations at each multinational and discussed strategies for future joint union work. Along with organizing across the supply chain, trade union networks are an important part of the strategy in the sector.

“Let’s continue to build power through networks, connect with auto industry unions, and work together to build the strong global voice of rubber workers,” said Tom Grinter, IndustriALL industry and research officer, who now takes over responsibility for the rubber sector.

“In our networks we have action plans to ensure that we stabilize and extend our networks and organize in non-organized plants,” said Helmut Lense, IndustriALL Automotive and Rubber Director, who the conference honoured as he now retires.

Concluding the two-day conference, participants re-elected Stan Johnson as co-chair, set up a new Work Group of leading affiliates to steer the work, and adopted a full Action Plan that you can download here.

Kemal Özkan looked forward to an active four years:

“We will make further development and progress in our trade union networks in the rubber industry. This will be our core strategy in multinational enterprises and newly-emerging rubber-producing countries. Our special projects in Thailand and India will continue, and we will focus on organizing, fighting precarious work and focus on women and youth representation. The energy and appetite of the Conference participants clearly demonstrated that the next four years will be vibrant in the rubber sector for IndustriALL and its affiliates. The struggle continues!”