Rubber workers and trade union leaders from around the world met in Nashville to discuss the impact of the global recession on the rubber industry and its labor relations and to develop a plan of action.
The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) World Rubber Conference drew nearly 90 trade unionists from throughout the world. The swine flu epidemic and visa problems limited this year’s attendance.
The USW was the conference host. Proceedings were opened by International Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson, who leads the USW’s Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference (R/PIC).
Johnson was unanimously elected as the ICEM’s permanent chairman for the rubber industry at the conference, which was held on May 12 and 13.
A 22-year veteran of the tire industry, Johnson described the impact of the global crisis on the industry – a halt in the auto industry, collapse of the tire market and factories operating at low capacity.
“Our opportunity lies in making sure that work and the value of workers is once again important,” Johnson said. “It is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to step forward and change our future.”
ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda blamed corporate greed for what he called “casino capitalism.” National solutions alone will not work to end the crisis, he said. A global response is needed with unions playing an integral role.
“Recovery cannot mean the status quo,” Warda said. “A sustainable economy must be created. There is a great need to build trade union unity to combat the excesses of unregulated globalization.”
The conference centered primarily on the global economic crisis. Presenters mapped out problems confronting rubber workers and the opportunities for positive change.
The problems cited because of the economic crisis were similar no matter which country the panelists came from. They all spoke of layoffs, reductions in pay and hours worked, outsourcing to low-cost countries, leave without pay, wages freezes, use of contract and agency labor, shutdowns, production declines and lack of investment -- all factors leading to increased family and community stress.
Some employers are using the economic crisis to avoid their commitments to workers, presenters said.
“Trade unions need to be at the vanguard of developing a new model that guarantees globalization of rights, an agenda to decrease poverty, and to better regulate the financial sector,” said Fabio Lins from the CNQ/CUT union in Brazil.
The conference was a first for Edwin Cisco, who represents rubber plantation workers as secretary-general of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia.
“This conference broadened our knowledge to the point where we understand we are interconnected in our operation,’’ Cisco said. “It will help us strengthen our effort at home.”
Peter Bakvis, director of the International Trade Union Confederation/Global Unions office in Washington, D.C., presented a multi-point strategy for the ICEM and other global unions to tackle the economic crisis and build a fairer and more sustainable world economy.
The strategy focuses on job creation through public investment, including active labor market policies and protection of the most vulnerable; nationalization of insolvent banks and new roles and mechanisms to control global finance; extension of collective bargaining coverage and strengthening of wage-setting institutions; negotiation of an ambitious international agreement on climate change; and governance reform of the global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.
At the conclusion of the conference on May 13, Chemicals and Rubber Industry Officer Kemal Özkan presented an ICEM action plan that included campaigning for basic trade union rights and union organizing; providing immediate solidarity during conflicts; providing effective and active solidarity for collective bargaining; striving for decent work in the rubber sector, meaning campaigning for sector-wide standards on use of contract and agency labor, equal pay initiatives, and use of global framework agreements to address such issues.
The work includes improving, strengthening, and creating new workers’ networks; creating a global level of industrial relations through existing instruments; establishing industry and company-wide standards for health, safety, and sustainable jobs; seeking to improve cooperation between Global Union Federations in the auto-parts and auto supply industries along the global production chain; and providing special solidarity to U.S. unions for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to tire workers at Hankook and Bridgestone in Hungary, to French and German workers of Continental AG, and to Mexican miners.
To view the entire action plan and see the speakers’ presentations, visit www.icem.org.