Unite Assistant General Secretary Tony Burke reports on the historic IndustriALL GFA Conference where Unite and USW sat as a Workers Uniting delegation

I have just returned from a two day special meeting of the new global trade union federation IndustriALL, discussing strategies for building global trade union networks and negotiating Global Framework Agreements which can help protect workers employed by multi-national companies.

Unite and the United Steelworkers from the USA and Canada formally sat as one delegation from our own global trade union Workers Uniting.

The meeting attracted manufacturing unions from 30 countries who took part in plenary and panel sessions – each describing their experiences – good and bad of dealing with global corporation and where Global Framework Agreements have been reached how they had operated. A video with speeches and interviews from the meeting is available here.

In opening the meeting Berthold Huber, President of IndustriALL and President of the IG Metall in Germany said: “Everywhere in the world people still work under appalling conditions and are persecuted and oppressed because they organise a union. Our central task is to enforce minimum social standards in order to make globalisation more humane. We are negotiating with companies on Global Framework Agreements so as to implement minimum conditions in all locations of the company and in their supply chains,” said Huber. Berthold made reference to the situation which occurred in Siemens in Maryland and a number of speakers, including myself and Joe Drexler of the USW addressed the activities of Siemens in union busting as well as anti-union activities by other companies such as Rio Tinto.

In the discussion of trade union networks, Workers Uniting advocated building strong and sustainable global coordination to help unions in global companies coordinate their collective bargaining and campaign objectives to build industrial power.  Networks can only achieve these goals if there is direct participation by shop floor union representatives.  We proposed the establishment of a new network at Siemens and the strengthening of the Rio Tinto and Xstrata networks.

In the debate on Global Framework Agreements, Workers Uniting stressed the importance of consultation with all affected unions prior to signing. The  recent experience of the USW in the case of Siemens in Maryland – where only a few days after signing a global framework agreement between IndustriALL and the giant German multinational, the company in the USA hired union busters to break open the USWs organizing campaign – means that there needs to be a clear protocol for negotiating GFAs and the content of any agreement, including prior approval by the Executive Committee of IndustriALL.

The conference gave us the opportunity to meet with other unions worldwide who are trying to organise in multinational companies and discuss proposals for forming union networks and developing GFAs – along with developing strategies to organise around networks.

“IndustriALL’s role as a global union must be to rebalance the distribution of power in the global economy, away from multinational corporations and towards nations, communities and people,” said IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina.  “Global agreements can also help us to establish new trade unions and build the strength of working people throughout the world,” said Jryki.

Workers Uniting played an important role in the meeting and I was proud to represent and speak on the behalf Workers Uniting – a global union in action, working together to help manufacturing workers in the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada.

Background information: Global Framework Agreements are negotiated on a global level between trade unions (usually a global federation such as IndustriAL, Union Network International of the International Transport Workers and a multinational company. They put in place the standards of trade union rights, health, safety and environmental practices, and quality of work principles across a company's global operations, regardless of whether those standards exist in an individual country.

IndustriALL already has in place Global Agreements with the multinational companies such  Aker, AngloGold, BMW, Bosch, Brunel, Daimler, EADS, EDF, Electrolux, Endesa, Eni, Evonik, Ford, Freudenberg, GDF Suez, GEA, Indesit, Inditex, Lafarge, Leoni, Lukoil, MAN, Mizuno, Norsk Hydro, Norske Skog, Petrobras, Prym, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Renault, Rheinmetall, Rhodia, Röchling, Saab, SCA, Siemens, SKF, Statoil, Umicore, Vallourec, and Volkswagen.

IndustriALL Global Union represents workers in a wide range of sectors from extraction of oil and gas, mining, generation and distribution of electric power, to manufacturing of metals and metal products, shipbuilding, automotive, aerospace, mechanical engineering, electronics, chemicals, rubber, pulp and paper, building materials, textiles, garments, leather and footwear and environmental services.

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