Global solidarity among trade unions in practice

Over 300 activists, trade union leaders and social organisations gathered in Berlin at the end of May to coordinate action plans and to discuss how to face the capitalist crisis that is threatening workers worldwide.

Over 300 activists, trade union leaders and social organisations gathered in Berlin at the end of May to coordinate action plans and to discuss how to face the capitalist crisis that is threatening workers worldwide. The conference was organised by LabourStart, a global internet network for trade union activists. It took place at the federal headquarters of VER.DI, Germany’s largest union for workers in services.

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The theme of the conference can be summarised thus: ‘How to promote global workers solidarity?’ LabourStart has been a leading player in this area in recent years. Some examples of the global campaigns led by LabourStart :

A campaign started as a response to the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building near Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April 2013, that claimed the lives of 1129 textile workers. Following this disaster, LabourStart was a leading party to a global trade union campaign, demanding that those in the fashion industry, who used the factory for their products, take responsibility.

LabourStart led and took part in a number of further effective campaigns that helped persuade regimes to reverse dismissals of trade union activists and strengthen industrial actions in Turkey, Canada, Australia, Fiji, Korea, Morocco and many more countries.

Given the timing, it was no surprise that the conference’s opening session gave a leading role to Kivanch Eliacik of DISK (Turkey), who spoke about the Soma mining disaster in which 300 coal miners were killed last month. He placed the responsibility on the Turkish government because of its privatisation programme. Another speaker who received a standing ovation was Mustafa Burshid from Morocco, who belongs to the union representing workers of the communication centre of Total, the French multinational. He was one of five workers who had lost their jobs after the establishment of the union and who benefitted from a powerful international support campaign by LabourStart .

The second day’s debate was no less stirring. The stage was taken by Myrtel Witbooi of South Africa, representing the recently established International Domestic Workers Network. In her brief speech Witbooi set out the massive challenges that faced her and others in founding a union for domestic workers and their success in securing the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No.189). Another speaker was Naznah Actar, a leader of the Textile Workers’ Union in Bangladesh, who campaigned for the support of victims of the Rana Plaza accident and prevention of further disasters. Representing the International Union of Food Workers (I.U.F.), Burcu Ayan of Turkey discussed the plight of employees of the giant multinational Pepsi Cola, which refuses to recognise and negotiate with trade unions worldwide.

Another high point of the conference was a surprise appearance of twenty drivers and Berlin branch workers of the international shipping company U.P.S., who were part of the effective 2010 campaign against the sacking of 157 union activists in the company’s Turkish branch.

Global solidarity was emphasised when the conference participants conducted a colourful demonstration in support of the employees of Edeka, Germany’s biggest supermarket chain. The theme was the exploitation of Edeka workers who are employed by subcontractors, as well as the exploitation of Brazilian agricultural workers who pick the oranges for orange juice sold by Edeka. The coordination between Brazilian and German unionists benefits from LabourStart ’s ability to communicate quickly across continents.

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About Assaf Adiv