PITTSBURGH (Feb. 2, 2000)—Union workers across the globe must continue to band together if they are to deal effectively with multinational corporations, the president of the United Steelworkers of America said.
The global coalition of Goodyear workers formed last year was a logical first in the rubber industry, because of the global extent of both the firm´s operations and labor unions representing these workers, USWA President George Becker said.
He made the comments Jan. 26 during the USWA´s Rubber/Plastics Industry Council´s Policy Committee meeting in Pittsburgh. The committee met to establish bargaining goals for use in upcoming contract talks; its report was to be released Jan. 28.
The thought behind the global coalition was to bring all Goodyear workers together and set up a steering committee of rubber workers who then can compare the contracts, Mr. Becker said. That information can be used to help unions—especially those isolated elsewhere in the world—if the company tries to squeeze an individual union, he said.
After forming the group, another initial step was to pick an issue the coalition could win to show it was moving in the right direction. In this case, the family of Goodyear unions chose health and safety.
"We think it´s one of the easiest things to defend, and it´s one of the hardest things for the company to (oppose)," Mr. Becker said. "The simple question that we ask the company: `Is the life of a rubber worker in Tunisia or Thailand worth less than the life of a rubber worker in the United States or Mexico?´|´´
The next coalition of rubber workers the USWA is looking to pull together is at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. There´s an effort to get that moving now, but that group would be led by the union representing Bridgestone Corp. workers in Japan.
"That´s good because that´s the dominant force, and that´s where the (company) headquarters is," Mr. Becker said.
Mr. Becker acknowledged he´s not a patient man and wishes the process of grouping unions on a global scale would move more quickly. But he said he knows that such changes in thinking don´t happen overnight. "I want to remind you that what the leadership is doing is we´re really changing the course of history."
The USWA president also explained why trade continues to be a huge issue for U.S. workers.
"We, as a nation, are permitting our country to be de-industrialized," Mr. Becker said. "We´re losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every year that are leaving our shores and going to Mexico and going to Indonesia and places throughout the world—all for the wrong reasons."
He emphasized that the union movement isn´t opposed to trade, knowing that trade is essential to workers in all nations. But labor is opposed to allowing imports that are dumped and don´t allow U.S. firms to be competitive, he said.
"We can´t compete against slave labor. We can´t compete against child labor. We can´t compete against repressed workers who are working under the point of a gun and have no ability to share in the wealth they helped create," Mr. Becker said.
And while the U.S. economy has been strong and creating jobs, they aren´t the kind of positions that can support a family, he said. The U.S. lost 336,000 manufacturing jobs in 1998 and likely lost another 500,000 last year, according to the USWA leader.
Mass protests at the December World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle are an experience Mr. Becker said he will cherish the rest of his life. The WTO must not be allowed to write rules that would overshadow the laws in this country, he said.
"Some of these people that make those decisions from within the WTO—they aren´t from democracies," he said. "They have no constitutional right to be making those decisions that would tell us, for example, that we can´t stop products from coming into the country that are made from forced child labor."