When I was working with the AFL/CIO and IBT, we had strategic think tanks that were charged with planning organizing tactics for the future (up to 20 years in advance). The unions had solid long and short term plans, many of which we are seeing take shape today. It was a struggle for the AFL/CIO to get all the affiliates on the same page as far as working together as a cohesive force. As a union official, it was my job to beat the target organization by any means necessary, but it was very frustrating for many of us on the long term strategic planning committees because every union was fighting for the same workers. The 80’s and 90’s ushered in a different kind of union. There was a time when a union was defined by its core industries and they could depend on this union density to support their outlandish spending habits. BY the mid 90’s we finely got most of the unions on the AFL/CIO executive board to support and fund the Organizers Institute where Richard Bensinger and myself set the curriculum for organizing tactics into the new millennium.
Another paradigm shift we were watching was an escalation of the multi-nationals that were leaving the United States. At the time, I had worked in the UK, Mexico, Central America and South America on “Union Outreach” to help build organizing coalitions. Our plan was to make the unions multi-nationals as well. We would take companies like Lafarge that is headquartered in Paris, France and build relationships with the unions that represent French employees to help add pressure on them to perhaps give us a neutrality organizing clause in the U.S. or give into demands during contract negotiations or strikes. This is an example of pre-planning organizing efforts far into the future.
The USW (Steelworkers, USWA), with the support of the AFL/CIO, has been a union that has really started to make that goal a reality. In July, 2008, The United Steelworkers signed a merger agreement with the largest labor organization in Britain and Ireland to create what union leaders are calling the world’s first Trans-Atlantic union. Since then, the USW has started reaching out to other unions in Europe, Asia, Central America and South America. A source close to Leo Gerard (President of the USW) reported that he stated that these are just the first baby steps to truly being a world political force. Gerard went on to say, “we will be able to disrupt the movement of goods and pressure companies anywhere in the world by holding back our labor” Richard Trumka, President of the AFL/CIO, said in September 2009 at the AFL/CIO convention that ”Multi-nationals are going to find it harder to do business across the globe unless the bring us to the table”.
Trumka stressed the importance of bigger and more powerful unions just days after he was appointed AFL/CIO President when he said, “For twenty years we have been trying to show a united front and now we will bring start to bring all the players into the same room to attack the real enemy which is Corporate America”
While working across the globe with the unions in the mid 90’s we put mapped out what direction we thought the multi-nationals we going to be most vulnerable as far as trade partners were concerned. We then started to build relations with the unions in those countries that would best serve our long term goals. The problem was that in many impoverished third-world countries the unions had a lot of grass roots support but very little political power or expertise in taking control or extracting political pressure on their government. In November, 1995, I went to Paris to test our tactics for causing social and political chaos by shutting down in mass the countries work force while at the same time keeping public support high. We worked hand in hand with French union leadership, we wanted to test our theory to follow public sentiment towards the political powerbrokers and create through the media a bigger distrust from the public while testing the effectiveness of our campaign. We helped create an atmosphere of anger and frustration. We helped put the strikes in the context of a larger social movement against the new Juppe government's agenda, which was arguably the largest social movement in France since 1968. We were able to convince the public to become much more involved in the strikes then ever in the past.
According to the DARES Statistical Institute of the Ministry of Employment, they counted 6 million strike days (summing up each individual's decision to go on strike, per day) in 1995. Among these 6 million strike-days, 4 million were in the public sector (including France Télécom) and 2 million in the private and semi-public sector (including SNCF, RATP, Air France and Air Inter). In this last sector, the average number of strike-days from 1982 to 1994 had been just 1 million a year (while it was 3.3 million from 1971 to 1981). Starting in November, the SNCF and the RATP were paralyzed for two months. Despite the inconveniences, public support remained firmly with the strikers. People started hitch-hiking and sharing cars to go to work, using bikes, etc. It was a great success.
Taking our successful tactics back to the impoverished countries of the world where the multi-nationals were opening new plants, we devised long term plans to continue to build grass root support in the targeted countries and to pressure these governments into making radical social changes to existing labor laws, giving the expertise and monetary backing to start mini revolutions in the labor sectors.
Since that time, unions have been very successful in pushing change across these countries. In Colombia, the unions have been at war with the government and have caused a stop to many free trade agreements being approved. The unions in Colombia recently have rejected trade agreement with EU and delayed the passing of legislation to implement the Canada-Colombia free trade deal for two years before being passed.
In the Dominican Republic, worker marches are at an all time high while strikes have been turning more violent and unions on the Island Nation have increased their political influence tremendously.
Unions in Ecuador staged nationwide strikes and roadblocks to reject free trade agreements. In El Salvador the unions have pressured the Labor Ministry to stop US based companies from opposing organizing drives. In a coordinated action with the Global Union Federations (GUF) in Latin America, unions and other social movements are organizing protests around the borders of Honduras. The first joint protest took place on the 3rd of July with many more to come, more specifically in El Amatillo (El Salvador), Los Tres Pasos de Frontera (Nicaragua) and Izabal (Guatemala).
More than 200,000 people marched in a mass rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico last year as part of a one-day work stoppage to protest Gov. Luis Fortuño’s plan to trim the budget deficit on the backs of workers. As workers protested in San Juan, workers in New York City, Chicago and other cities rallied in solidarity. The rallies were organized by the AFL/CIO and members of AFSCME, UAW, SEIU and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). High-profile strikes at Honda and other factories have put workers in southern China on the verge of gaining new rights. All these activates have one common factor, they are all being promoted by the AFL/CIO and member unions as part of the long term merging process.
A perfect example of the desired results is the proposed merger of the USW and the Mineros, a Mexican union, which will create an international union with over one million metal workers and miners not including other core units within the USW. This new step in the creation of a global union (as opposed to a global federation of unions) represents a significant new development for labor in the Americas with implications for workers and companies around the world. The USW and the Mineros are working to build a worldwide labor union with the power to confront the concentrated capital of the mining and metal working industries.
The AFL/CIO clearly wants its affiliates to use this frame work in all industrial groups to consolidate power and relive the days when Jimmy Hoffa said during freight contract negotiations he would “shut the country down if his demands were not met!”