The United Steelworkers has entered into 18 strategic alliances over the past few years that can be roughly broken down into three categories: international strategic labor alliances, North American strategic labor alliances and other strategic alliances based on critical issues such as promoting good jobs AND a cleaner environment.
Most recently, USW joined with the Sierra Club in 2006 to form the Blue/Green Alliance to promote the development of good jobs, a clean environment and a safer world. Sierra Club is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization with 750,000 members. In this unification, the USW and the Sierra Club are able to address the great challenges of the global economy in today’s age. The alliance’s resources target issues that have the greatest potential to unite the America people in pursuit of a global economy that is more just and equitable.
Dave Foster, who retired from being Director of USW District 11 to head up the Blue/Green Alliance, had this to say about the founding of this important collaboration, “One of the imperatives facing the progressive movement in the U.S. is figuring out how to speak with a strategic voice. A labor movement that sees itself in opposition to or apathetic toward the environmental movement has no place in the 21st Century. Nor does an environmental movement that abandons the goals of organized labor. Acting together, however, we have possibilities that will excite the nation.”
The Blue/Green Alliance was preceded in 2004 by the Apollo Alliance. The USW joined a broad-based coalition of unions, business and environmental organizations as co-founders, uniting nearly 16 million union members and 11 million environmental organization members across the country. The alliance is dedicated to creating new jobs en route to energy independence for America. To achieve energy independence and create millions of new jobs, the Apollo Alliance focuses strategic investments into clean energy and sectors of the economy, including transportation, manufacturing and construction.
This critical work to build good jobs by strengthening our commitment to a clean environment is complimented by USW associations internationally. The international strategic labor alliances with unions based in Germany, Brazil, Mexico, United Kingdom and Australia strengthen all of the unions involved in negotiations with multi-national corporations with operations around the globe.
The first international labor alliance the USW formed was in 2004 with IG Metall (“Industriegewerkschaft Metall” or the German Metalworkers' Union), the world’s largest union based in Germany with about 2.4 million members. This European connection was broadened in 2005 by USW’s alliance with Amicus, Europe’s third largest union and the largest manufacturing union in the United Kingdom with 1.2 million members representing many sectors such as steel, glass, container, etc. With the Amicus and IG Metall alliances combined, the USW now has strategic alliances in Europe that represent more than four million workers and all the major transnational corporations involved in manufacturing.
This was followed up by building important relationships with Latin American trade union groups; the first of which was an alliance with CNM-CUT union (“Confederação Nacional dos Metalúrgicos da CUT,” or the Brazilian National Federation of Metalworkers), a primarily metal manufacturing union in Brazil. This 2005 alliance is important because along with being the world’s eighth largest economy, Brazil has the richest iron ore resources in the world.
Simply sharing a border with the United States would be reason enough for the USW to form an alliance with the National Union of Mining Steel and Allied Workers of the Republic of Mexico (SNTMMSRM), but many other factors contributed to the alliance formed in April 2005. Mexico has one of the largest economies and is also part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ultimately, our members in U.S. and Canada are immensely affected by what goes on in our neighboring Mexico and having connections bridges our borders.
Taking a similar approach “down-under,” the USW also formed alliances with the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) in 2005. They are the dominant unions in Australia’s construction, mining, energy, steel and aluminum industries and most of the corporations they represent are in the same industrial sectors as the USW. The alliances focus on network formation, cross-national bargaining and organizing, workplace safety improvement and communication advancement.
Two important relationships have been forged by the USW in Canada to address a range of common issues: A strategic alliance was announced in 2005 with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), to take on the globalization of the culture industry. In 2006, the United Transportation Union (UTU) agreed to a strategic alliance to address issues in the transportation sector in Canada, including the globalization of the industry.
A third set of strategic labor alliances is aimed at building a union presence in groups of North American workers currently lacking on-the-job representation. The Metropolitan Airport Workers Association (MAWA) was created for any and all airport personnel, to aid in maintaining an amicable, safe and professional working environment and demonstrating that the best Homeland Security program begins with respect at the workplace.
The Texas Association of Public Employees (TAPE) is showing that Texas state laws used to limit the rights of workers to organize for self-improvement are no longer intimidating public workers. With more than 2,000 dues paying members, the Union is working on issues that affect thousands of the state’s public employees.
Officers from the Independent Oil Workers Union of Aruba (IOWUA) and the United Steelworkers (USW) signed a Strategic Alliance in March, 2006, that will encourage and support the two unions as they begin to work together on common goals and interests. Within the framework of the Strategic Alliance, the two unions have agreed to share purposeful information, coordinate and conduct joint activities, and further explore the possibility of a future permanent affiliation.
In recent years, such crucial strategic alliances have developed in different countries, sectors and transnational companies and the USW has built many permanent relationships that have become features of the Union’s ongoing work. The result has been an extremely fruitful system of information exchange, bargaining strategy, and health and safety cooperation.