THE Teamsters General President James Hoffa gave the fraternal address from the AFL-CIO US trade union federation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Bi-Annual Convention.
This was held in Belfast and Hoffa addressed it on June 21.
He told delegates in his speech: ‘In the United States, we face the most anti-union government and the most powerful capitalists in modern history.
‘At the turn of the century, the United States was run by so-called robber-barons. Well guess what: They’re back.
‘Today, our government is run by the Exxons, Enrons and Halliburtons of the world. They control our Congress and Courts.
‘The government is implementing an extremist agenda in domestic and foreign policy that the American people never voted for and do not support.
‘This agenda is undermining workers’ living standards, and democratic rights in the US.
‘It is undermining the social gains that the American people won in the 20th century.
‘The 40-hour work week is under attack. The right to organise is under attack. We are fighting for our lives to preserve retirement security. Fifty million Americans are without health care. And real wages are falling.
‘The average wage and benefit package in the US is now below that of Europe, including Ireland.
‘But these are not just American problems. Globalisation makes them problems for workers across the globe. These policies are bringing standards down around the world.
‘We are bound together by a seamless global economy. So when we fight for worker rights in the United States we are also fighting for workers rights in Ireland. And when you fight here in Ireland you are fighting for us.
‘Our fight in the US against unfair trade agreements is a fight to stop the corporate race to the bottom.
‘It is a fight against the rule of global capital.
‘It is a fight for the democratic rights of working people.
‘While our movement’s are different, our problems and goals are the same. We share the vision of international trade union unity. We share the goal of keeping good, middle-class manufacturing jobs in each of our nations.
‘We confront the challenges of building labour unity in the face of a new wave of immigration. We are tackling the divisive and ugly consequences of racial discrimination.
‘At the root, we are fighting the same battle: Big corporations do what they want, when they want, where they want, with no oversight or government controls – governments that should be accountable to working people.
‘Talk to any trade unionist in any part of the world. It is the US corporations that are the most arrogant, the most ruthless and the most indifferent to the countries in which they locate.
‘These companies learn to do it the old fashioned way. . . They practice on us! . . .
‘But American companies are not alone. We have found that European-based companies can be just as bad when they operate in the United States.
‘There are many examples of European-based companies that have good relations with their trade unions at home, but adopt the most extreme anti-labour positions when they operate in America. And we know that it doesn’t take long for them to bring these bad practices back to Europe.
‘There is only one way to deal with these companies: By strengthening international labour unity and action. We must work together.
‘In the Teamsters Union, we know that strong international labour connections are needed to succeed in organising.
‘Many of our employers are now based in Europe or other continents. We are finding that we must work closely with our counterparts around the world to deal with companies like DHL, National Express and the global shipping giants.
‘And our counterparts need our help when dealing with US companies like United Parcel Service and others. Our links with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are growing and must grow deeper.
‘Until recently, our links have been modest, informal, and occasional. We must build that connection and make it more real, more practical, and more formal.
‘It’s happening already.
‘Not long ago, we assisted one of your unions, SIPTU, in a case involving Archer Daniels Midland – ADM. SIPTU was in a dispute with ADM in Cork.
‘Local talks were at a standstill and the union needed to speak to management in the US. Most of ADM is under contract with the Teamsters.
‘So we reached out to our contacts in management at ADM to set up a meeting that would have been hard to do otherwise. And, we have worked together in other ways.
‘The Teamsters Union, under the leadership of Dan Kane Sr., was a leader of the campaign in the US to raise funds to help the striking British miners in the 1980s.
‘Dan and his Teamster colleagues raised more money to support the miners than any other American trade union.
‘Another great example of cooperation was during our 1997 strike at United Parcel Service when over 200,000 Teamster members went on strike.
‘The Irish trade union movement was important in our strategy back then when UPS was setting up service and account centres in Ireland.
‘At the time, UPS in Ireland was mostly non-union – a threat to the standards of postal workers represented by the CWU. The CWU understood the importance of UPS and began to organise. The CWU and the Teamsters agreed to support each other.
‘The CWU joined with unions from across Europe to support the Teamsters strike and to form the UPS World Council of Unions.
The CWU came to Washington and sat in our negotiations with UPS – sending a powerful message and helping us settle the strike.
‘And all of this helped the CWU win recognition at UPS and expand its membership to new hubs.
‘Today, the vast majority of UPS drivers, warehouse, and administrative employees are represented by the CWU. And we support the CWU’s ongoing efforts to organise the customer service and account centres.
‘The ITF has now formed a council designed to bring together unions who are committed to organising and representing workers at UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, and TNT.
‘These giant corporations operate globally and we must operate globally too.
‘DHL launched a $1.4 billion US expansion last year. The Teamsters are now working with CWU, SIPTU and the German union ver.di to organise DHL in the US. To date we have organised more than 13,000 DHL members in the Teamsters Union.
‘The ITF Council will meet later this year to lay out an action plan around DHL and the other strategic targets in this important industry.
‘But the Teamsters Union is not just a package delivery union.
‘I like to say we represent workers from A to Z – Airline pilots to zookeepers, all 1.4 million members of the Teamsters. . .
‘In closing, let me quote from a great American, an author of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin put it simply – ‘If we do not hang together – we will most assuredly hang separately.’
‘These are the words the Teamsters Union lives by. It is what has allowed us to survive and thrive for more than 100 years. And they are the words that I bring to you today.
‘Together, we can build better lives for working families from Belfast to New York, from Dublin to Los Angeles.’