Workers Uniting Leaders Chart Next Steps at Print and Paper Meeting

During the week of January 12th USW staff rep Denny Lauer and USW International Vice President Jon Geenen participated in various projects and meetings in the United Kingdom with their colleagues from Unite to continue to press forward the agenda of workers in Pulp, Paper, Print and Packaging Sectors of both unions. This effort coincided with Unite’s National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) for the GPM Sector.

The week began with an evening meeting where Lauer and Geenen met with Assistant General Secretaries Tony Burke and Gail Cartmail, National Officers Paul Finegan, Iain Tonks and Steve Sibbald, and Claire Baker from Unite’s International Affairs department to set strategy for the coming year. This meeting included discussion about the ongoing Kimberly Clark Network Project, organizing projects at Huhtamaki and SCA, pursuing campaign work through IndustriAll, and establishing joint work around Graphics Packaging which is a large USW employer and now the largest packaging company in the UK as a result of two recent acquisitions.

The following day USW particpants accompanied Unite National Officers Steve Sibbald and Paul Finegan on a visit to Polestar, the UK’s largest printer. Polestar has a common owner with several companies including USW paper shops Exopak and Paperworkers, demonstrating again the close connection that workers have to each other in both countries.  The Polestar discussion was an exchange of information and discussion about the challenges faced by the print industry in the UK which of course directly affects the news print and coated paper mills in the US, Canada and Europe.

The Polestar discussion was followed directly by a visit to a Kimberly Clark plant with Regional Officer Tim Elliot in Kent that included a tour and discussion with Unite Chapel (local division) leaders about coordinating efforts on organizing, expanding the KC network and comparing work place issues in the UK and US.

paper mtg

The final two days of the project were centered around Unite’s NISC meeting of the elected delegates of the Graphics, Paper and Media Sector. The NISC meeting discussions covered extensive topics that affect both unions. Of particular interest was the 100% Campaign, a campaign aimed at bolstering membership in all plants in the sector. While there is no mandatory union membership in the UK, British unions have no obligation to represent non-members – unlike in right to work states in the U.S., where there is no mandatory membership but unions are obligated to represent non-members. The issues and strategies discussed could clearly be applied in shops in the US and UK.

There were also extensive discussions and reports about the success of the USW’s political efforts in the elections over the past two years. Unite delegates have an eye on elections that will occur in the UK within the next few years.

The timing of these meetings coincided with the retirement of Steve Sibbald. Steve is a long-time Unite National Officer and leader of a number of Workers Uniting initiatives, and was transitioning into retirement and handing over GPM Sector oversight to Paul Finegan who also came through the sector in Unite. The week concluded with renewed enthusiasm for the joint work of Workers Uniting.

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