July 3, 2008: The heads of the United Steelworkers and the United Kingdom-based Unite the Union July 2 signed an agreement clearing the way for the creation of Workers Uniting, the world's first global union.
Prior to the signing, USW President Leo Gerard said Workers Uniting will be a "fully functional and registered labor organization" in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada, with the ability to fully represent all of the members of its founding unions immediately. The new union unites USW's 1.2 million active and retired members with the more than 2 million active and retired members of Unite, which was created last year with the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers.
Gerard said the two unions represent workers in every sector of the global economy, with 46 percent of the members in manufacturing and mining and 44 percent in transportation and services.
Both USW and Unite will continue to operate independently, but through the new structure, they will be able to work collectively on such issues such as strategic campaigns, collective bargaining, and organizing, according to the USW. In addition, the structure will allow other unions to become part of Workers Uniting in the future.
Structure of Workers Uniting
The new union will be governed by a steering committee with equal membership from each participating union. The new union's staff will be headed by an executive director, who will oversee an initial budget of several million dollars, and a staff that includes research, international affairs, and communications specialists.
Because of different laws in the various countries, the new union probably will not be registered until sometime in the fall, a USW spokesman told BNA. Neither the steering committee nor the executive director has been appointed yet, nor has a decision been made on where the union will be headquartered, he said. All of that will occur after the union is registered, he said. "It's a work in progress," he said.
According to Gerard, creating the multinational union is "crucial for challenging the growing power of global capital. Globalization has given financiers license to exploit workers in developing countries at the expense of our members in the developed world. Only global solidarity among workers can overcome this sort of global exploitation wherever it occurs."
Gerard said in order to "challenge exploitation anywhere in the global economy, the new union, in conjunction with the National Labor Committee, a human rights advocacy group in the United States, is creating a Global Labor Rights Network that will have allied staff on the ground in Central America, the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and other regions. He added that the union cannot fight exploitation by limiting itself to North America and the U.K.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Unite's Amicus section, who was on hand to sign the agreement, told the convention that USW and Unite members have much in common--workers in both countries are under attack and their job security and pensions are being threatened.
Tony Woodley, general secretary of Unite's Transport and General Workers sector, addressed the convention by video. "The creation of our new union is only the beginning. We're laying the foundations of an even larger and stronger global union yet to come," he told the delegates.
The two unions first announced plans to work toward a merger in April 2007 (75 DLR A-6, 4/19/07 ). According to the new agreement, the two unions in the last year have engaged in joint collective bargaining efforts in the paper, chemical, and titanium industries; international solidarity projects to protect the rights and safety of trade unionists in Colombia and Mexico; participated in each other's education, rapid response, health and safety, civil rights, and women's conferences; and engaged in extensive discussions about strategies that the unions have taken in order to save manufacturing jobs in their respective countries.
A large delegation of union leaders from around the world attended the convention and witnessed the signing of the agreement. According to Gerard, there are more than 70 guests from more than 20 countries at the convention.
First Woman Elected to Board
In other action, USW's 27-member International Executive Board unanimously voted to appoint Carol Landry, the president of a Canadian local, to a newly created position of vice president, making her the first woman to serve on the board. Gerard swore in Landry during the opening session of the convention July 2.
Delegates earlier voted July 1 to create the new at-large position and provided for the appointment for a term to expire Feb. 28, 2010. After that, the international vice president at large will be elected for the same terms as the other executive board members.