THE WORLD OF LABOR — September 17, 2011

By Harry Kelber

Actions Are Taken to Form a New Global Union Federation

Three global unions, each with jurisdiction over several sector industries, have taken steps to set up a new Global Union Federation at a meeting of representatives of affiliated unions from five continents, who met in Geneva on August 30-31. The new organization, will be governed by an executive committee of 60 members under a series of “Statutes” already agreed upon. After 2016, the committee will be reduced to 40 members. At least 30 percent of the members shall be women.

The Statutes foresee regional structures and offices that will implement the organization’s general policies, and address matters specific to the region. There will also be 14 industrial sectors, as well as sections for women and non-manual workers. The Action Plan group has agreed to produce a document that will summarize the main priorities for the new global union.

The three participating unions in launching the new global union are: International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers ’ Unions (ICEM) and International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF). The founding Congress of the Global Union Federation will be held in June 2012 in Copenhagen.

IMF Signs First Contract in Germany’s Solar Energy Sector

The first collective agreement in Germany’s energy manufacturing industry was reached on Sept. 1 between IG Metall and three subsidiaries of Bosch, a global appliance and energy corporation.

The three-year agreement covers 2,500 workers at the Bosch solar energy factories. IMF officials hope the agreement will become the standard throughout the industry and lead to a national collective agreement. The solar manufacturing industry now encompasses a sector that employs 130,000 workers.

Although the contract contains no set wage increases, workers will see their pay increase with regular bonuses, performance-based bonuses, and additional compensation for holiday and night-shift work. The workweek will be reduced with full pay from 40 to 38 hours in increments over three years. Under the agreement, overtime will be paid in full or the employees have the option to convert that overtime to be paid as time off. Apprentices completing training are assured of at least a one-year fixed-term period of employment.

Swaziland Union Keeps Demanding End to Monarchy

Labor groups in Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, had its fifth day of protest after the government failed in a court bid to stop the demonstration, said Barnes Diamini, president of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions. About 5,000 protesters marched in the capital, Mbabane, Sept. 16 to demand political change. The week of demonstrations was to mark the anniversary of independence from British rule.

Some leaders from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) joined the demonstration in Swaziland to force the king to relinquish powers and end a ban on political parties. The unions also want an investment company, controlled by King Mswati III, that isn’t taxed, to be nationalized.

Mswati, 43, appoints the country’s prime minister, while his lawmakers aren’t allowed to belong to political parties. He has ruled the nation for 25 years, has more than 10 wives and a personal fortune of 200 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Dockworkers and Panama Pilots Form an Alliance

The union representing West Coast dockworkers has formed an alliance with pilots who guide ships through the Panama Canal, a link up that could boost the bargaining power of both unions. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has worried about the potential loss of cargo, jobs and collective bargaining power that could occur when the Panama Canal expansion opens in 2014.

ILWU President Bob McEllrath said the affiliation will provide a new level of strength and unity for workers in both organizations. “Our goal is to hold global companies more accountable to workers and their communities,” he said. Londor Rankin, secretary-general of the Panama Canal Pilots Union, says his members voted "overwhelmingly” for a formal relationship with the dockworkers.

The ILWU has 50,000 members, mostly dockworkers, located on the West Coast, and members in Canada. The union is known as one of the more militant labor organizations within the AFL-CIO. The pilot union has 250 members, whose jobs are to oversee the 12-hour, 48-mile Panama Canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Unions Use Rugby World Cup Game to Fight Fiji Government

New Zealand unions are exploiting a Fijan Rugby World Cup game to protest the Pacific nation’s failure to return to democracy. The Council of Trade Unions has urged fans going to the Fiji-South African game in Wellington on Sept. 17 to wear a white armband ”to support a democratic Fiji.”

Fiji’s military regime has been ousted from the Pacific Islands Forum and has been sanctioned by New Zealand and Australia for failing to hold elections since staging a 2006 coup. Human rights groups worldwide have protested emergency regulations in the country that strip away civil and trade union rights, restrict media, ban many church activities and undermine individual freedom.

Several organizations, including the International Labor Organization and Amnesty International have criticized the Fiji leaders for alleged violence and intimidation of union and church officials. Self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has thumbed his nose at the criticism.

Colombian Oil Workers Fight Back Against Oppressive Conditions

Oil multinationals employ more than 12,500 workers in the Meta Region of Colombia, mostly by outsourcing work to contractors. These precariously employed workers are subject to poverty wages, exhausting working hours, including working 49 days consecutively, and other sub-standard working conditions. All of this is in clear violation of Colombian law and international minimum standards.

The fight back against this untenable situation began on July 19, with mass demonstrations and work stoppages in the Puerto Gaitan and Campo Rubiales installations. Protesters were met with violent police brutality. The explosion of mass protests moved the Colombian government, notoriously compliant in the repression of trade unions, to hold a tri-partite forum on Aug. 3. But not one of the recommendations of the union was adopted.

The Ministry of Social Protection claims to have made 162 visits to the region, but has never met with union representatives. In a clear indication of the government’s allegiance, the administration of President Santos will deploy a military battalion to be stationed in the community, which will have its military vehicles fueled by the local multinationals.

To keep informed about workers and their unions in foreign countries, read our weekly column, “The World of Labor,”which we post here every weekend and on our two web sites: and