Workers Uniting – The Global Union

I was a delegate to the United Steelworkers’ triennial Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas last week. Video of Obama’s speech and other highlights is available through the union’s revamped website.

The 2008 convention will likely be remembered for three historic decisions. First, a new position was added to the union’s International Executive Board. (Semi-regular news stories about western Canada’s rising economic and political power might note that this region now accounts for more than 10% of the top leadership of North America’s largest industrial union.)

Second, delegates overwhelmingly voted to raise the union’s dues from 1.3% to 1.45% of earnings and to direct this increase to the Strike and Defense Fund. If enhanced strike pay emboldens members to bargain harder and risk more labour disputes, the additional revenues should be sufficient to sustain the Fund’s current balance of about US$130 million. If labour disputes continue at the current frequency, these revenues will more than double the Fund within the next few years.

Last but certainly not least, the United Steelworkers joined with Britain’s Unite to form a new organization: Workers Uniting – The Global Union. For years, capital has operated on a multinational basis, often using investment decisions to push workers in particular countries to accept the lower wages, business taxes and workplace conditions available in other countries. International unions can allow workers to confront capital on a multinational basis and maintain a common front for higher standards everywhere.  The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The New Statesman, and other publications covered the trans-Atlantic agreement signed in Las Vegas.

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