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Global union taking on Wal-Mart a classic showdown between “David and Goliath”
Labor unions from around the world will meet next week (Aug. 22-25) in Chicago to plan efforts to organize workers at Wal-Mart stores around the world. Up to 1,500 delegates will debate the plan at the second annual World Congress of United Network International, a five-year-old global union whose aim is to get multinational corporations to observe labor and other rights wherever the corporations operate around the world. UNI has 900 affiliated unions representing 15 million workers in 150 countries.
Dan Cornfield, Vanderbilt University labor expert and professor of sociology, says the meeting and proposed plan to unionize Wal-Mart workers is significant on the labor front for a number of reasons.
He says UNI’s plans are the vanguard of a movement toward multi-national collective bargaining agreements, which are exceedingly rare and represent the next frontier or challenge for labor unions. Unions from around the world working together is also a cutting-edge strategy, he says.
“UNI taking on Wal-Mart is also the classic showdown between David and Goliath. Wal-Mart is a savvy and resourceful corporation and its employees represent the type of low-wage workers labor unions have gone after to increase its dwindling membership,” Cornfield says. “Post World War II, recruiting low-wage workers in the corporate service sector has been where the action is for labor unions.”
Cornfield says this event does have some historical parallels to when unions took on the growing mass production manufacturing sector in the United States in the 1930s. The unions were able to successfully organize the auto workers, which was comparable then to what UNI is trying to do now with Wal-Mart, he says.
Cornfield is editor of “Work and Occupations,” a scholarly journal that covers work, employment and labor issues. He is the author of more than 40 articles and seven books on work, employment and labor issues, including his co-edited book, “Labor Revitalization: Global Perspectives and New Initiatives.” To interview Cornfield, call 615-322-2706. After hours, call the Vanderbilt News Service pager at 615-951-5472.
Media Contact: Princine Lewis, 615-322-NEWS