Why International Solidarity Matters

A panel of international labor expert discussed the tactics of multinational corporations against unions and the importance of defending organizing rights for workers around the world.
A panel of international labor expert discussed the tactics of multinational corporations against unions and the importance of defending organizing rights for workers around the world.

On Monday, delegates of the 39th IAM Grand Lodge Convention welcomed a panel of international experts to discuss the challenges unions face in organizing around the world.

Trade and Globalization Director and Chief of Staff to the International President Owen Herrnstadt moderated the discussion. He was joined by AFL-CIO Director of International Affairs Cathy Feingold, UNITE the Union National Officer of Aerospace and Shipbuilding Ian Waddell and IG Metall International Department Director Horst Mund.

“All over the world, multinational corporations continue to spend billions of dollars to keep our potential members out of a union,” said Herrnstadt. “They’ll take advantage of weak laws, whether it’s in the United States or Canada or South Africa or Europe or Asia or South America.”

The panelists explained how multinational corporations exploit the current rules of trade and investment around the world and are able to undermine the power of unions at the bargaining table in other countries as well.

“We face exactly the same problems as you,” said Waddell. “We see work leaving our shores to go, first of all, to Eastern Europe and then, when that became more expensive, to China, the Far East, to Mexico, Morocco, and all the other states around the world where you’re facing the same problem.”

“I’m asked when times are so hard in the United States, when we are seeing jobs leaving, salaries going down, benefits being cut, can we really be thinking outside? Can we really be thinking globally? And my answer is, ‘Can we afford not to be thinking globally?’” said Feingold.

Mund explained how Germany is being affected by attacks from outside sources.

“Our system has come under a severe and constant threat and onslaught,” said Mund. “Law firms, particularly from the U.S., come over and try to change the system and then put pressure also on our politicians and on the legal system to change it for the worse.”

“We need to be thinking about innovative approaches to global unionism. We need to support policies that are about a new global architecture,” said Feingold. “We need to be at the forefront of those discussions. And we need to be thinking about how do we do this not just as U.S. workers, how do we build new standards, new laws, new policies that bring workers together across countries, across regions and borders.”