In addition sharing organizing models used to build our base and our power with similar sectors in India, UWC delegates will discuss strategies impacting employment structure/practices, including day laborers (daily wagers), contract workers, self-employed, cooperatives, and labor-community alliances.
Why is this happening now?
The 1980s and 1990s ushered in dramatic economic and political changes resulting in an increasingly “liberalized” and unregulated economy. National economies have been integrated into the global marketplace, giving rise to intense competition, massive changes in production systems and in employment structures (relationship between employers and workers). These conditions have irrevocably changed the challenges facing the labor movement and workers’ organizations continue to struggle to adapt their strategies and visions to contemporary conditions. Today, when problems face the labor movement in a national or local context, more often than not, labor organizations’ effectiveness is determined by their capacity to think globally as well as locally.
In the global economy, today, the continent of Asia is a primary stakeholder. For any social justice movement, Asia must be taken into account and included in any strategy for making large-scale change. Asia holds the largest workforce and the manufacturing base in the world. It is the largest recipient of foreign investment and represents most of the global working poor. According to the ILO there are 555 million working poor, a significant percentage being Asian, in particular women.
While there have been some organizing efforts between the US and Mexico, the US labor movement has not made a large effort to connect with Asia. Some unions and labor leaders have developed projects in specific Asian countries but no plans have ever attempted to connect with a larger Asia or regional strategy.
In 2003, when the World Social Forum International Secretariat decided to move WSF from the Americas continent (from Porto Alegre, Brazil) to a Global South continent, the decision was taken to hold the Fourth WSF in 2004 in Mumbai, India. The interaction between US-based anti-racist and organizations of color with Indian organizations began for the most part from then on. Through Grassroots Global Justice, a delegation of labor and community leaders and activists primarily from the US (along with some delegates from Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, and Colombia) came to India. They represented a variety of grassroots, labor and social justice organizations – some of them are currently in the UWC leadership.
The composition of this delegation was noteworthy at the time, in the context of the US where anti-globalization activists prior to even 5 years before that used to be represented in international events predominantly by white activists from policy and think-tank organizations based in or near Washington D.C. Among many meetings planned for the delegation, one fruitful engagement was between Jobs with Justice and the New Trade Union Initiative. The two organizations shared a belief in broadening and expanding the scope of the labor movement both within and beyond traditional trade unions, the importance of labor-community alliance, political independence, local autonomy and inclusive democracy, and mutual reciprocity.
The NTUI and JwJ engaged in pioneering collaborative work on bi-national research, exchanges, and workers’ rights tours. Together, in 2006, they also seeded what has now become the Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
Meanwhile in 2008, the work of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, now National Guestworkers Alliance with Indian workers of Signal International sprang into the scene and opened up new challenges and unprecedented areas of work. This campaign developed into a bi-national campaign with the NGA organizing the Indian workers in the US and Indian organizations organizing their families back home—and it eventually won protections for the workers as well as re-uniting many of them with their families. The NGA has continued to build on this work, with a primary partnership with NTUI but also with several other partners.
In 2010, labor leaders in the US and in Asia documented their views about international collaboration. The results of this were shared at a meeting in New York City and the goal of building a US-Asia relationship based on mutuality rather than patronage, on bottom-up rather than top-down process, was affirmed. In 2010, Ashim Roy, General Secretary of NTUI, attended the US Social Forum and had several dialogues with emerging leaders of a growing new workers’ movement in the US.
Soon afterwards, in 2011, the UWC’s founding took place, with a clear internationalist spirit from its inception. The leadership of UWC created the pathways for national and international work simultaneously, acknowledging their inevitable connections.
With the future of work trending towards increased precariousness, in the US and around the world, it was critical that the United Workers Congress work with their partners in Asia to develop more comprehensive strategies to win full and fair employment.
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General Strike Rolls Through India
By Roger Sikes, Lead Organizer of Atlanta Jobs with Justice as a part of a delegation of the United Workers Congress to India
In the United States the general strike has been all but a myth for decades… In India, there is a 1 day general strike at least once a year. However, some Indian trade unionists have felt the yearly general strike has become more of a predictable tradition than an ineffective action that leverages economic power to meet the demands of Indian workers. This year’s general strike is a shift from those of recent history for a number of reasons:
1) All of the Indian Trade Unions (from left to right on the political spectrum) have come together to participate.
2) This will be a two day strike.
This unity amongst the Indian trade union movement is a big step and is sorely needed to confront the aggressive neoliberal shifts pushed by powerful corporate interests and Indian government over the past 20 years. The concept is that all trade union federations – regardless of political affiliation or orientation, must prioritize their class interests. This massive strike of over 100 million Indian workers is a manifestation of this concept.
Our contingent met at the CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) office in Delhi yesterday morning (the first day of the strike), to meet with Indian workers participating in the strike and to understand the main demands of the strike. It was a whirlwind of activity as workers flowed in and out of the union office, building up numbers before the march.
At about 10:30 am we left the CITU building and began marching throughout the street in two lines wearing CITU visors, hoisting banners and carrying the 10 Point demands of the strike:
A summary of the main demands include: 1) Protect the right to organize (end retaliation against organizing workers) 2) Stop using contract labor 3) Raise the minimum wage 4) Stop outsourcing labor
We marched for about half a mile before encountering a police barricade. Some unionists sat down in this area to guarantee that the transportation flow was disrupted. Others continued on and encountered a line of police at a busy intersection… The CITU members seemed to have a shared unspoken agenda and marched directly up to the police line taking the space so that traffic could not flow through the intersections controlled by us. Protesters were peaceful and intentional and the police seemed wary of confronting the marchers with force – although there was certainly pushing and shoving at the tip of the line.
We rushed to a meeting after the march and ended up at the wrong location… The driver of our vehicle informed us that it would not be possible to drive us any further at that time because many intersections and streets were flooded with trade unionists and supporters. We were still trying to gauge the effectiveness of the strike, but we took this matter of fact statement from our driver as a good sign.
The general strike in India gave us an opportunity to reflect on the re-popularization of strikes as a tactic in the United States—including the more recent strikes of Walmart workers on Black Friday. While the National Labor Relations Act has strict rules around striking, workers are finding new ways to do it anyway in the face of increasing insecurity and retaliation.