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Labor Research Review, Volume 1, Number 13 (1989)

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Labor Research Review, Volume 1, Number 13 (1989)

Solidarity Across Borders: U.S. Labor in a Global Economy


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    Beyond Mythology: A Reply to Paul Garver
    Kahn, Tom (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Unlike many critics of the AFL-CIO's foreign policies, and especially of its International Affairs Department, Paul Garver speaks with a reasonable, almost academic voice. Only the stonehearted can fail to be moved by his call for "serious dialogue and open discussion" to replace the "sporadic swapping of charges and counter-charges" as well as "denunciations, red-baiting and innuendo." "The differences between us, at home and abroad," he says, "are not as deep as our need to stand united in the global workplace." Amen. The foreign policy debate initiated at the AFL-CIO convention four years ago was entirely healthy. It needs to be broadened and better informed if the Federation is to act abroad with the understanding and support of its membership. Assuming Brother Garver means what he said, I decided his article deserved a response and that the resulting debate might indeed promote rational dialogue, diminish demagoguery, and dispel misinformation. Regrettably, Brother Garver's article falls short of the standards he proclaims. He hurls charges that must provoke counter-charges, indulges in the denunciations he denounces, dispenses misinformation unconducive to serious dialogue, and stoops to innuendos that are not helpful to open discussion.
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    World Trade & U.S. Jobs
    Bensman, David (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] It has become obvious to everyone in and around the U.S. labor movement that our problems involve the global arena. Hundreds of thousands of trade unionists have seen their employers shut down plants and shift production overseas. Countless union negotiators have seen the boss play the foreign card at contract time: "You have to give concessions to meet the foreign competition." U.S. trade unionists are a diverse lot, and they have come up with numerous interpretations of the international challenge. But, in practice, the primary way the U.S. labor movement has responded to the internationalization of labor relations has been to push for protective legislation against the unfair trading practices of foreign nations. This article takes a different tack. While it is true that unfair trading practices have deepened America's economic problems, our trade deficit is itself a symptom of a deeper problem — global economic stagnation — that afflicts not only American workers but workers all around the world. The world economic situation now resembles that of the 1930s, when farmers dumped surplus food on the highways and factories lay idle because ordinary working Americans could not afford to buy what they produced. Today this crisis of underconsumption has returned — but on a global scale. As long as the world's workers can't afford to buy what they produce, competition for markets will remain feverish, trade wars will spur demands for protectionism, and workers will continue to find themselves under severe pressure to restrain their wage demands. The restoration of "fair trade" is desirable, but in itself it is no solution to the fundamental crisis of underconsumption caused by workers' lagging spending power.
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    The Real Trade Wars: Solidarity & Worker Rights
    Witt, Matt (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] One tactic some Americans are exploring, I tell her, is to demand that access for imports into the rich U.S. market be dependent on respect for basic worker rights abroad. By tying trade rights to worker rights, we hope to put economic pressure on governments and multinational companies. "Yes," this auto worker's wife says. "This is good. We should be helping each other. Everybody needs a job and a good place to live."
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    Women, Solidarity & the Global Factory
    Kamel, Rachael (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] For many of us who are concerned with international labor issues, a new image has come to represent our collective understanding of the global economy. It is an image of women in Third World nations toiling under sweatshop conditions in huge assembly plants owned by U.S.-based transnational corporations (TNCs). Yet what does international solidarity really mean in practice? Who does it include, and how? From a U.S. standpoint, if so many women workers are not organized into unions, how can they be included in international networks? If their voices are not heard, what can these networks hope to accomplish? This article explores these questions by looking at the experience of several groups in promoting international communication among women workers in the nonunion sector. It is excerpted from The Global Factory: An Organizing Guide for a New Economic Era. The complete publication, developed by the American Friends Service Committee, surveys the efforts of many different kinds of groups, inside and outside the trade union movement, to build international labor networks.
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    Beyond the Cold War: New Directions for Labor Internationalism
    Garver, Paul (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Achieving real solidarity across national borders and around the globe is a difficult undertaking, one which little in our experience has prepared us for. Language barriers, differences in cultures and political traditions, very different styles of unionism — all these make simple communication, let alone real understanding of foreign workers' interests and concerns, difficult. Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO's official agency for helping us sort through these difficulties — the Department of International Affairs (DIA) — is not much help in doing so. In fact, as I argue here, the DIA is often an obstacle to building real solidarity. After making this case, I will make some suggestions for how U.S. unions can move toward solidarity by avoiding the DIA structure — through direct participation in the International Trade Secretariats (ITSs), like the Metalworkers Federation mentioned above, and through forming "sister union" relationships with relevant unionists in other countries. But, eventually, the DIA must be opened up to reflect the broad and diverse interests of labor's rank-and-file rather than the narrow sectarian face it has shown the world for the past several decades.
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    Working Women & the Food Secretariat
    Grune, Joy Anne (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Today, huge companies spanning the face of the earth are mounting a global challenge to the living standards and dignity of working people. While it may be expensive and difficult to build a genuine international labor movement, particularly one that is democratic and accords women full participation, this era requires exactly that. The international trade secretariats (ITSs) are excellent vehicles for the labor movement to do this work. It is important that more unionists and activists know about the ITSs, and that international action be better integrated strategically into domestic organizing and bargaining. This will help ITSs realize even more of their potential for linking unions around the world in common struggles, and this also helps national unions achieve their immediate goals. This article describes one of the most active ITSs in North America — the International Union of Food and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) — paying particular attention to the IUF's emphasis on the problems of women workers.
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    Using Labor's Trade Secretariats
    Uehlein, Joe (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] An international trade secretariat (ITS) is a world-wide federation of unions in a particular industry or industries. Since their inception, ITSs have operated with their primary focus in Europe. Only one, the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), maintains a full-time North American office and staff. But in recent years U.S. unions are placing a much greater emphasis on the activities of the ITSs and on international solidarity activities in general. The ITSs are experienced in organizing international solidarity actions, and some, such as the ICEF, are establishing special programs to more effectively monitor the activities of multinational corporations.
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    L.A. Labor & the New Immigrants
    Stansbury, Jeff (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Did the Ideal strikers win their union? No. Like many companies, Ideal Dyeing used the owner-skewed provisions of the National Labor Relations Act to delay a settlement, hire replacements and maintain production. But the Ideal strike stands as a victory nonetheless. Launched only five months after the signing of IRCA, it proved that undocumented workers were ready to defend themselves. They had not been cowed. Their boldness challenged unions throughout greater Los Angeles to reach out to immigrant workers despite the harsh new employer sanctions that unions had helped create.
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    One More Hole in the Wall: The Lunafil Strikers in Guatemala
    Hogness, Peter (1989-04-01)
    [Excerpt] The Coke workers' victory was all the more remarkable given the killings that had decimated the Guatemalan labor movement. Between 1978 and 1984, tens of thousands of Guatemalan civilians were murdered by the Army and its death squads, including hundreds of trade unionists. The Coca-Cola workers' bold action helped break through the curtain of fear left by the massacres, and helped inspire a cautious renewal of union activity. Now the Lunafil workers were following the example of the Coke workers, and no one was quite sure what would happen. "Only" five unionists had been murdered since the Army allowed a civilian to take office as President in 1986. But the Army was still the real power in the country, and the danger to trade unionists was still very real. A sit-in strike was pushing the boundaries of what would be allowed. So like the Coca-Cola workers, the union at Lunafil was appealing for international support. The events that followed illustrate how crucial support actions by U.S. unionists can be for the heroic struggles of Third World workers. That phone call from Guatemala to New York City ended up helping keep open a hole in the wall that Lunafil's owners built to isolate the strikers. And the Lunafil workers' fight shows the importance of penetrating the walls of distance, language and culture that separate workers and unionists around the world.