A global economy coupled with technology that never sleeps. It’s made the world a smaller place. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Trade and Globalization Department has responded to these changes.
A Different World
The IAM now represents members employed by some of the largest and most profitable transnational corporations in the world, including Boeing, United Airlines, General Electric, Crown Cork & Seal, and Lockheed-Martin. German, French, Swedish and Asian companies also employ thousands of IAM members in the U.S.
Decisions made in boardrooms on one side of the world affect IAM members thousands of miles away. With a few key strokes on a computer keyboard, work can be moved, facilities built or abandoned, workers hired or fired. Investment capital now moves as fast as computers can process key strokes and this flow of money is governed by an alphabet-soup of international organizations.
The days when a union member could concentrate on their job and IAM officers on negotiating contracts are gone. Fluctuations in currency exchange rates and stock markets creep into everyday conversation. A Korean company closes a long-time U.S. metal-working plant because of the “Asian economic crisis” and IAM members lose their jobs. A U.S. jet engine manufacturer buys a maintenance facility in Brazil and IAM represented airline workers wonder what will happen. This is the new reality.
International Trade Agreements
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has expanded business transactions between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is being negotiated to include Central and South American countries as well. The IAM Trade and Globalization Department, along with others in the labor and environmental movements, continues to fight for inclusion of meaningful standards to protect workers’ rights and the communities they live in.
For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is proposing the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). (The OECD is an intergovernmental organization comprised of 29 advanced countries including the U.S. and Canada.)
Solidarity With International Organizations
The IAM coordinates its activities with foreign unions and allied organizations abroad to develop strategies that can best serve IAM members’ interests in the United States and Canada while still promoting workers’ rights around the world. To facilitate these efforts, the IAM is affiliated with the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI). We also work with many other progressive organizations and governmental agencies around the world.
International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF)
The IMF, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is the largest of the international trade secretariats with more than 25 million members in more than 200 unions in 100 countries. One of the largest and oldest of the International Trade Secretariats, the IMF tracks developments in the metal industry while monitoring trade union and human rights. It brings together unionists from metalworking sectors in aerospace, electronics, shipbuilding, steel and auto.
No industry is more global than aerospace and none has a greater impact on advanced technology and high-wage jobs for IAM members in North America. IAM President Tom Buffenbarger is a member of the IMF Executive Committee and heads the Aerospace Department.
International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)
The ITF, which is headquartered in London, England, unites more than 600 trade unions in 140 countries, representing over five-million transport workers worldwide. IAM Transportation Vice President Robert Roach, Jr. is a member of the ITF Executive Board. At each ITF Congress, section meetings are held to discuss industry developments and problems in the airline, railroad, shipping and trucking sectors.
The ITF is of particular importance to IAM members working in the airline industry. The IAM is proud to head the ITF Civil Aviation Committee. IAM Grand Lodge Representative Carla Winkler serves as the first woman chair of the Civil Aviation Section.
Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI)
At its World Congress in Buenos Aires, on 9 December 2005, the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW) and the World Federation of Building and Wood Workers (WFBW) created a new global union federation, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI).
The BWI is the Global Union Federation grouping free and democratic unions with members in the Building, Building Materials, Wood, Forestry and Allied Sectors.
The BWI groups together around 318 trade unions representing around 12 million members in 130 countries. The Headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland. Regional Offices and Project Offices are located in Panama and Malaysia, South Africa, India, Australia, Burkina Faso, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Kenya, South Korea, Russis, Argentina, Peru and Brazil.
BWI’s mission is to promote the development of trade unions in their sectors throughout the world and to promote and enforce workers rights in the context of sustainable development.
International Labor Rights
The IAM believes governments and employers around the world should recognize and support basic labor principals as defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The IAM stands ready to come to the aid of workers’ worldwide when basic labor principles are violated or threatened. We remain committed to the adoption of these minimum standards at home and abroad – IAM members and all workers deserve nothing less. These principals include freedom of association and the right to organize; the right to bargain collectively; prohibitions on forced labor; equality of opportunity; and prevention of child labor.
Fighting the use of child labor is high on the list of priorities for the IAM Trade and Globalization Department. It is estimated by the ILO that there are some 250 million children 5-14 years old in developing countries who are working outside their homes. Almost one-half of this number (120 million) are working full time. These children work in agriculture (including forestry), mining, manufacturing, retail trade and personal service sectors. Much of the work done is hazardous.
Child labor is not just a problem for developing countries. According to a witness before a recent Senate hearing, in the U.S. a child dies in a work-related injury every five days and 60,000 children under the age of 14 work illegally. Much remains to be done to protect the children of the world.
Facing the 21st Century
While free trade policies are being implemented by governments and businesses around the globe, workers need to fight for fair trade policies that raise labor standards and workers’ wages not lower them. Looking towards that future, the greatest international challenge facing IAM members may come from the complex problems presented by China’s integration into the global economy. The terms and conditions under which China enters the world trading order will directly affect hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers.
The Asian economic crisis has highlighted the need for regulations and rules regarding the movement of investment capital around the world. The IAM Trade and Globalization Department believes that our members should not have to choose between their jobs or degradation of the environment in which they live; between ill conceived trade agreements or concessionary labor contracts.
Labor standards for workers are certainly as important as standards for capital. The conflict is not between free trade and protectionism. Instead, it’s between a set of trading rules that benefit a few or rules that will allow the majority of the world’s working citizens to share the benefits of global trade. The Trade and Globalization Department is dedicated to this fight for worker”s justice.