Unions at Wal-Mart!
After years of dogged attempts to organise unions in Wal-Mart, workers in Canada are starting to make some gains at this, the world’s largest retailer.
In August, the Quebec Labour Relations Board certified a union at the Wal-Mart store in Jonquière, Quebec after more than half of its 145 workers signed cards to become members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). A mandatory contract will soon have to be agreed — and that would create the first union branch at Wal-Mart anywhere in North America.
Workers at a Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, are also close to winning certification. Union officials are hopeful of similar inroads in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.
In the UK the GMB general union has members in Wal-Mart-owned ASDA supermarkets. In the United States the company is still defiantly anti-union. Wal-Mart is the largest private sector employer in 25 of 50 states with a US work force of more than 1.2 million, but not one of more than 3,500 stores is unionised.
Ten meat cutters at a Wal-Mart supercentre in Texas successfully organised in 2002, only for the company to close the department. A long list of filings with the US National Labour Relations Board complain that Wal-Mart is involved in anti-union activities. There are dozens of complaints outstanding against Wal-Mart in more than half the US states. Anti-union laws in the US make organising considerably tougher than in Canada.
Other factors make unionising Wal-Mart difficult. Workers tend to be part-time. Many stay with the company only until they find something better. Activists angry at conditions often leave rather than fight. But as Wal-Mart moves out of its base in rural and suburban America into heavily unionised strongholds in urban centres, keeping unions out is becoming tougher.
Support Mexican workers
In June this year the Sara Lee company announced that it would close factories in Cuidad Frontera and Allende in Coahuila, Mexico in September. These factories, which produce Sara Lee’s Hanes among other brands, will be converted into distribution centres that will require only 50 workers, leaving 2,290 people unemployed, 1,200 of which are associated with Confecciones Monclova.
Sara Lee claims that these factories are being closed due to “changing production requirements and preparedness for apparel trade restrictions”.
The reality is that these factories are closing because workers there were openly organising to improve their working conditions. Another nearby factory where workers are not visibly organising remains open.
For four years Sara Lee has violated the rights of workers organising in the Confecciones Monclova plant. In 2002, 12 of the campaign leaders were unjustly fired. Now Sara Lee wants to close the entire factory and leave all of the more than 1,000 workers there unemployed.
In August the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) launched a “Boycott Goodyear campaign”, following the victimisation of workers and trade unionists in the tyre-making firm since the beginning of the year.
The dispute between National Union of Employees in Companies Manufacturing Rubber Products (NUECMRP) and Goodyear Malaysia also involved the exploitation of foreign workers and outsourcing.
In January this year Mohd Saad, Secretary of the NUECMRP branch at the Goodyear factory, was sacked following allegations of absenteeism. Sulaiman Amin, vice president NUECMRP, was also later sacked and another union official Hisham bin Shariman was suspended.
Foreign workers have persistently been denied rights due to them. The majority of these workers are from Nepal, Myanmar and Vietnam and are paid only a nominal sum compared to indigenous workers. They have been denied bonuses, annual leave, medical leave and rest days as required by law. The firm is using foreign workers and outsourcing to undermine conditions of Malaysian workers.
After months of fruitless negotiation, the labour movement in Malaysia has decided to launch the boycott to force Goodyear to address the issues.
More information is available on the Asian Labour news website www.asianlabour.org/archives/002560.php
Support Argentinian occupations
Workers at Brukman, one of about 200 self-managed factories in Argentina, are appealing for help. Although workers recovered their factory at the beginning of 2004 and are running it again, the factory has been damaged by police action, and many of the machines are not running at full capacity due to lack of spare parts and repair manuals.
The appeal is being promoted by Workers Without Bosses, a global network of people involved in Indymedia who want to organise assistance for Argentina’s occupied factories. Its website contains information and ways to get involved, including organising film screenings, getting machine parts, and working on a film to document it all.
For more information go to www.workerswithoutbosses.net