19 December 2007

Labor's Global Push

WaPo Harold Meyerson
"We haven't been reacting quickly enough," says Guy Ryder, who heads a newly merged global union federation, the International Trade Union Confederation. "That's a fair criticism."

What labor hasn't reacted to quickly enough is simply, and hugely, the globalization of the economy. Over the past three decades, virtually every major business has become transnational, and the world labor force has doubled in size, chiefly because of the entry of the Chinese and Indian workforces. The share of the world's workers represented by unions, accordingly, has dramatically declined. So has the bargaining power of national unions with global employers.

Which is why a series of meetings this week at the AFL-CIO's conference center in Silver Spring is, one way or another, historic. In a kind of counter-Davos (the annual WEF gathering of world business elites in Switzerland), union leaders from 64 nations gathered under the umbrella of yet another new group, the Council of Global Unions, to begin what they hope will be the upgrading of distinct national union movements into one, considerably more powerful, global movement. At stake, ultimately, is whether our brave new world affords employees the right to share in global prosperity or whether, as is already the case in the United States, globalization is a tool that businesses use to imperil workers' wages and security.

The goal of the unionists at Silver Spring, says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, is to move beyond their episodic international campaigns, to make labor as global as capital has become.

The vision of Karl Marx, shorn of its millennial socialism, is being actualized by the heirs of Samuel Gompers, who aspire to nothing more -- and nothing less -- than decent living standards under global capitalism. "

'Workers of the world, unite!' isn't ideological anymore," says SEIU President Andy Stern. "It's practical."


A Trade Union Guide to Globalization

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