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"Mexican and American worker with arms around each other in tractor factory
Union leader from FAT local in Guerrero, Chihauhua visits his counterpart at a public works garage in Connecticut during visit hosted by UE Local 222

Sister Shops:

Building Solidarity in the Global Economy

 
'
Globalization', 'Transnational corporations, International solidarity...
 

What does it all mean? And why should UE members care?

The impact of the global economy is inescapable, from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat C and in many cases, to the work we do and the companies that employ us. Many UE members manufacture products sold in other countries. Many UE members use component parts manufactured overseas. And a growing number of UE members, in both the manufacturing and service sectors, are employed by transnational corporations, both U.S. and foreign-owned.

Transnational corporations

As the name implies, companies that operate across national boundaries, are the major players in the global economy. These corporations make investment decisions that directly impact the lives of millions of workers and consumers the world over.

UE members have more
than 1,000 sister shops,
located on every continent...

Transnational corporations operate in various economic sectors. General Electric sells insurance in Mexico and mortgages in Ireland, as well as manufacturing an array of products in plants located around the world. Basic services C like water C that we might consider locally controlled public utilities are falling under the ownership of transnational corporations due to privatization.

Foreign-owned companies have invested in the United States for reasons that can include access to markets, resources and the skills of U.S. workers C and lower labor costs. Although U.S. wages remain high compared to those in Mexico or Korea, they lag behind those in Japan, Sweden and Germany.

Due to employment by foreign or U.S.-owned corporations, UE members have more than 1,000 sister shops, located on every continent, and in countries from Austria to Taiwan, Australia to Tunisia.

 

Group of Mexican workers and U.S. supporters parking lot around man speaking
UE worker-to-worker delegation met in Chihuahua with truck drivers who planned to block the highway to protest cuts in work

Are you on the front lines of 'globalization'?

How many plants can you name that have closed over the past twenty years? How many people do you know who are working harder and faster, often for less money? When you buy a new shirt or a new television, chances are good that they were produced outside the U.S. Meanwhile, management tells us we must become "more flexible" and "more competitive," or they will be forced to move or close. So what are our options? As long as transnational corporations can pit workers from different countries against each other, we will be stuck on that globally downward treadmill. The solution is to begin to establish relationships with workers in other countries.


What can be accomplished?

Many things. By communicating with workers in other countries, we can learn about actual conditions — not just about what the bosses want us to hear. Once we build our relationships, we can support each other — with information or by exerting pressure on our common employers. We all know what a difference unity in the shop can make.

Japanese and American women with signs & flags clapping
Leaders from Japanese ZENROREN federation join UE in support of workers in West Virginia

Just imagine if workers in Canada pressured their employer to settle a contract with their U.S. employees who were represented by UE. Or if workers in Japan leafleted a shareholders' meeting in Tokyo with UE flags. Or if a transnational were forced by the members of its works council to sign a neutrality agreement pledging not to interfere with organizing efforts in non-union factories in the U.S. All of these things have happened because of the relationships the UE has built with unions in other countries. Information provided by our allies has been invaluable to UE locals during negotiations, arbitrations, and upon occasion during struggles over plant closings. Pressure by unions overseas has resulted in better contracts for our members and was responsible for reversing the discharge of a key leader during an organizing campaign. 

Similarly, many UE locals have worked with the International and Research departments to provide much needed support for their sister unions in other countries — from information to action. And in the process we have built relationships — for UE, solidarity is a two way street! 

Your local can participate in our ongoing work to globalize solidarity! All it takes is a little research and the willingness to take the first step toward communication — to write a letter or send an e-mail. UE's International and Research departments are prepared to assist UE locals in developing international relationships.

Stepping Stones  to International Solidarity
 

1. Where in the world to begin?

Start by finding out some basic information about your company: Is it a small operation or does it operate internationally? Even if your company operates just within the US, is it owned by another company that is a transnational? Where does it operate? You can often find this out by looking it up on the internet: just type the company name into a search engine such as Google and see what you find.

2. Are there sister shops?

If you come up with just a few locations, it may be easy to answer this question. But some transnationals are huge conglomerates, including many companies and different types of businesses.

A good place to start is to look at whether, within your own company, there are other plants which produce the same product. If not, are there similar products? Then look at whether there are other companies, within the transnational, that are within the same industry or do similar work. Make a list of those plants, along with their locations, that are potentially of the greatest interest to you.

This information is generally available through the Internet, but if you can't figure it out, the UE's Research Department can help you answer some of these questions.

3. Who to connect with?

At this point you may have a few locations of interest or dozens. This is where the UE's International Department comes in. Based on your list we can see if the facilities are located in places where we already have relationships. If they are, it is relatively easy to find out if the facility is unionized and if so, by what union. If not, the task is much harder, but we can still often find out the necessary information.

One thing to remember is that unions operate differently in different countries, and although some unions actively represent their members and are eager to establish relationships, others are lethargic, corrupt, or dominated by the company or by government.

4. How to connect?

Once we have identified a union in a sister plant, the next step is to write them a letter or email. Introduce yourself and your local. Explain what kind of work you do. Ask them about their work. Express your interest in establishing contact with them and developing a relationship.

5. How to build a relationship?

The most important thing is to establish and maintain contact. Send them your contract. Send them copies of the UE News and refer them to our website. Let them know what is going on in your shop.

Are you gaining or losing production? Is the company hassling you on particular issues? If you are preparing for contract negotiations, keep them informed. And ask them questions about their work: Are they experiencing the same thing? What problems are they facing?
Stay in touch on a periodic basis - perhaps write them every few months.

6. Where can this lead?

At the very least, you will get a clearer view of how the company operates and you will likely get information that will be useful in bargaining.

If the relationship you develop is strong, your new union brothers and sisters may be willing to provide other types of support — such as pressuring the management in their plant, or if the company headquarters is in their country, by exerting pressure at stockholders' meetings or in other ways. Or it may be the case that we will discover that we have a common interest in organizing.

We might be able to join or to help develop a network of unions representing workers employed by the same company. And we can certainly work towards the day when we sit with each other in bargaining, or better yet, take on the company together and bargain a contract that protects the rights of workers all around the world!

 

 

Marie Lausch

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

""The similarities were so strong that we could immediately strike up a conversation. We had many experiences, troubles and victories in common.

"We could immediately connect because it was like growing up in the same house: you know what they are talking about because it has happened to you."

Marie Lausch
President of UE Local 222 & member of UE Executive Board

2 men holding signs: Labor rights at home & abroad

Download brochure

on UE's international work

including quotes of members involved. It's called:

Rank and File International Solidarity in Action

 

 

On this page:

 
Are you on the front lines of 'globalization'?

What can be accomplished?

Stepping Stones to International Solidarity:

1. Where in the world to begin?

2. Are there sister shops?

4. How to connect?

5. How to build a relationship?

6. Where can this lead?

 

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Why we're committed to global solidarity