’REBUILDING WORKER POWER’ – Global union UNI 2nd World Congress 22-25 August

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Union Network International (UNI), a federation of unions from across the globe, will convene more than 1,500 delegates from six continents, 140 countries and 900 unions for its 2nd World Congress on August 22-25 in Chicago, Ill.

It will be one of the largest gatherings of trade unions in history, says UNI.

The delegates will develop strategies to combine strength and resources to help workers across the globe increase worker power through strong unions capable of negotiating with multi-national corporations.

Joe Hansen, president of UNI and president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union will open the Congress on August 22.

Hansen’s strongly held belief in worker solidarity, in organising to build worker power, and his practical and inspired vision for global trade unionism was a driving force behind the founding of UNI.

World Congress sessions include:

• Waking up the World to Decent Work

This session will address the social dimension of globalisation.

• You’ll Never Work Alone: Global Union Growth

This session will highlight how global labour markets demand a global organising approach.

• Blowing the Whistle on Corporate Greed

This session will address corporate ethics and greed, corporate social responsibility and UNI’s work to ensure that companies respect core labour standards.

Conference delegates from six continents will discuss and develop strategies to combine strength and resources to help workers across the globe increase worker power through strong unions capable of negotiating with multi-national corporations.

UNI, a global union founded on January 1, 2000, is the worldwide trade union response to the ‘new realities of the global economy’.

It says: ‘Globalisation has led to the increased ability of corporations to wield power over workers.

‘UNI’s mission is to help affiliated unions and their members increase worker power in the 21st century environment. UNI encourages solidarity across borders, and raises issues of common concern with employers, governments and international bodies.

‘Today, UNI represents 15.5 million members, in 900 affiliated unions, from more than 140 countries around the world. It is the world’s largest assembly of individual trade unions.

‘In its first four years, UNI has successfully developed several global “framework agreements” that commit companies to adhere to higher standards for working conditions and environmental protection in all countries in which they operate.

‘These standards include respecting workers’ freedom to form a union and refraining from the use of child labour.

‘These framework agreements transcend national boundaries, and lay the foundation for fair collective bargaining agreements with multi-national corporations whose operations also cross borders.’

UNI warns that ‘in their constant quest to cut costs and drive up profits, companies today are abandoning the workers who made them successful.

‘They jump from nation to nation in search of the cheapest labour even if it means exploiting child workers, paying poverty wages, or maintaining sweatshop conditions.’

It says: ‘Some multi-national corporations are so powerful, and so rich they act more like countries than businesses.’

It adds: ‘The global capital market means that corporations will continue to shift jobs from country to country, chasing cheap wages and weak labour laws.’

On ‘Wal-Martisation’ it says: ‘Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world.

‘Despite over $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart pays poverty wages, ships jobs to countries where sweatshops are prevalent, and, in the US, shifts enormous health care costs onto taxpayers. . .

‘Wal-Mart is so successful at generating profits, its destructive behaviour has become the new global economic model.’

Calling for the ‘rebuilding of worker power’ UNI adds: ‘Globalisation, consolidation, and the Wal-Martisation of the economy have changed the relationship between employers and employees. . .

‘For five months in 2003-2004, UFCW workers staged the longest major strike in the history of the supermarket industry.

‘Three employers Vons/Safeway, Kroger, and Albertsons pooled their resources, shared strategies and combined their power in an attempt to lower living standards, gut collective bargaining agreements and silence workers. . . they considered the billions in lost revenue caused by the strike as an investment in future profits.

‘For the UFCW, it became clear that in order to pose a threat to a company’s bottom line, strikes or other economic actions could no longer be confined to one locale, or one region.

‘In the future, strategic coordination – in organising and collective bargaining – among locals, regions, and within industries would be the only way to build worker power.’

UNI stresses: ‘Now, in the global economy, global agreements are needed. . .

‘These framework agreements transcend national boundaries and lay the foundation for fair collective bargaining agreements with multi national corporations whose operations also cross boarders.

• UNI members in the USA, Canada, France, UK, Sweden and Brazil took coordinated action in the same week against Quebecor, the second largest printing company in the world.

‘The company met with UNI and Quebecor and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached an agreement in May 2005 on a new protocol concerning union organising at the company’s non-union facilities in the United States.

• UNI and Carrefour, a French multi-national, have agreed to work together to monitor and enforce the International Labour Organisation conventions regarding the right of employees to join a union, the right to collective bargaining and protection from discrimination.

‘Working together with UNI, Carrefour has also condemned child and forced labour and intends to take active steps to ensure that ILO principles are respected by its suppliers as well.’