Day 2 Photo Gallery
State of the Union Address
Address by Marcello Malentacchi, General Secretary,
On behalf of the International Metalworkers’ Federation and its affiliates and all the international guests, I’d like to thank President Gettelfinger and UAW officers for their fraternal invitation to address the brothers and sisters gathered at the 34th UAW Convention.
I would also like to take the opportunity now to extend
our gratitude to the lifetime commitments of the UAW officers and directors
who are retiring after this convention. I especially would like to say
how I have admired and appreciated Vice President Richard Shoemaker’s
ceaseless commitment on behalf of workers in the U.S. and around the
world. You all leave a solid foundation for the fundamental fight for
justice to continue.
The essential importance of thinking – and acting – globally is highlighted in President Gettelfinger’s Report to the Convention. We see also this strongly reflected in the proposed resolutions that will be debated and considered for adoption by you the delegates in the days ahead.
Your union has a long and proud tradition of involvement in the international labor community. It is a tradition based on the universal ideal that the fight for economic and social justice cannot be limited to one nation or one people, and it cannot be achieved without international solidarity. That UAW tradition has inspired metalworkers around the world seeking to build a better and more just world.
Our fight for economic and social justice has no doubt greatly intensified in recent decades, both here in the United States and indeed for workers and communities everywhere around the world. What confronts us are two basic and undeniable facts about today’s global economy, facts to which we must strategically respond at the national and international levels.
The first one is the growing concentration of income and wealth into fewer and fewer hands. The gap between rich and poor has widened tremendously, so much so that it threatens to tear apart the fabric of societies.
Let me give just one illustration of the inequality
that exists. The combined wealth of the world’s three richest
people – just three people – is greater than the total economic
output of the world’s 48 poorest countries. That is only one stark
indication of the gross and unacceptable inequities in our world today.
Increased inequality and the power of transnational companies are of course linked to one another. A well-respected American economist, James K. Galbraith, summed up this relationship and warned of its consequences.
He said, “The haves are on the march. With growing
inequality, so grows their power. And so also diminish the voices of
solidarity and mutual reinforcement, the voices of civil society, the
voices of a democratic and egalitarian middle class.”
Our response must be collective in nature. It must be
international in scope. We must harness the power that comes from worker
unity and global trade union solidarity!
We see how global companies attempt to exploit the world’s
inequalities in order to divide workers. Nowhere is this more visible
than in the process of industrial restructuring. Workers’ capacity
to respond to the challenges of industrial restructuring depends on
the collective strength of trade unions – nationally and internationally.
The IMF and metalworkers around the world have responded with dismay and outrage by the behavior and actions of Delphi Corporation and its attempt to abuse the bankruptcy process to destroy the living standards of U.S. industrial workers. The attempt by Steve Miller to undermine the jobs, wages and working conditions of autoworkers signifies a basic disdain and disrespect for all workers. The IMF and its affiliates stand along side the unions and workers at Delphi throughout this difficult struggle.
What is happening in the U.S. once again exposes the weakness of private rather than public system of social insurance protections. President Gettelfinger recently wrote in a Detroit newspaper that: quote – the harsh reality is that a large and growing number of lower-and middle-income working Americans are forgoing preventive care and putting off medical treatment because they can’t pay for both health care and basic necessities like food, housing, gas and electricity.
In one of my IMF opinions in Metal World magazine –
which I hope you can take some time to look at on the IMF’s web
site – I wrote that American workers and their families made it
possible for the United States to become the greatest economic power
in the world. They deserve and need a much better social welfare system
than the existing one.
And more often than not, the employers making such threats – whether to workers in the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, China or the United States – are made by the same transnational employer.
Meanwhile we see new productive capacity being added in many parts of the world. All too often, these new investments are made by employers intent on avoiding and resisting unionization.
That presents a basic challenge to us all, a challenge to build union strength and organize the unorganized – often in the face of fierce opposition and outright violations of worker and trade union rights. No one has taken up that challenge with more commitment and spirit than Vice President Bob King and UAW’s organizers.
We must never forget that we have the capacity and tools to respond to the challenges of union building – and that response must have a global reach and fully harness the power of international solidarity. The UAW hosted an IMF World Auto Council in 2004, where delegates from around the world gathered in Detroit to discuss our collective challenges and the strategies to respond.
Together with the action program adopted by our Congress
in Vienna in 2005, which Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn participated
in, the call is made for workers and trade unions to engage transnational
corporations. We must build, strengthen and make effective use of world-level
industry and company councils and action groups to exchange information,
develop joint strategies and coordinate collection actions.
Another more recent tool to engage transnational corporations are International Framework Agreements. International Framework Agreements are negotiated between a transnational company and the trade unions of its workforce at the global level. It is a global instrument with the purpose of ensuring fundamental workers’ rights, including the right of all workers to form and join unions of their choice, to collectively bargain and to strike in defense of their rights.
The signatory company of an International Framework Agreement commits to respecting workers’ rights in all of the target company’s locations, as well its suppliers worldwide. These agreements are negotiated on a global level but implemented locally. They are about thinking – and acting – globally.
The IMF has signed 15 such agreements. All are with European-based transnational companies. Negotiating, signing and implementing such an agreement with a U.S.-based company would mark a strategic breakthrough for all metalworkers. And so I urge the UAW today to globally help forge our common future by redoubling efforts to achieve a first International Framework Agreement with an American-based transnational corporation. The IMF and affiliates worldwide stand by the UAW’s side in achieving this goal.
Metalworkers worldwide continue to face violations of fundamental worker and trade union rights. In recent months we have mourned the death of our steelworker brothers who were murdered by the Mexican authorities while on strike at the Sicartsa steel plant in Michoacan, Mexico.
We have condemned the Belarus government’s attempt to silence May Day actions by arresting Aliksandr Bukhvostau, leader of the IMF-affiliate REPAM. We condemned, too, the arrest by Korean authorities of Brother Jeon Jae Hwan, president of the Korean Metal Workers Federation on trumped up charges of breaking the law of public assembly after participating in a workers’ rally in December.
In China, Xiao Yunliang, a fellow metalworker falsely accused of rioting and leading a violent workers’ demonstration, was sentenced in May 2003 together with Yao Fuxin, another labor activist, who received a seven-year term.
I am very pleased to report to this convention that our collective protest and solidarity have made a difference. Jeon Jae Hwan, KMWF president, and Aliaksandr Bukhvostau, REPAM’s leader, were released last month to the applause of the international labor community.
The labor activist Xiao Yunliang, held in prison since
March 2002, has been released by the Chinese authorities three weeks
ahead of completing a four-year sentence.
We also take heart from another victory achieved in Nepal after years of struggle, where the first steps towards a return to democracy and worker rights have been taken. And we salute workers and trade unions in France, Korea, Indonesia, the U.S. and South Africa, among others, that are mobilizing to protect, defend and extend social and labor protections for all workers – whether they be permanent or temporary, immigrant or local, woman or man, young or older.
These victories and hardships underscore the vital importance of international solidarity and the power of collective action. Indeed it is the determination of workers fighting for basic rights, and the international solidarity that supports these efforts, in spite of harsh obstacles.
Employers do not act alone in a global race to the bottom that has created ever-widening gaps between rich and poor. Governments must be held accountable for ensuring the economies function to benefit all people, not just the richest few.
This cannot happen when governments fail to fully protect and enforce worker and trade union rights, or actively undermine such rights, whether in the U.S., Burma, Australia, Mexico or China.
It also cannot happen under global trade and investment rules that place the interests of transnational companies above all others.
Workers everywhere have a stake when workers anywhere are under attack. This is true whether it is management abuse of U.S. bankruptcy courts to radically restructure companies by tearing up collective agreements, or government attempts to undermine basic worker and trade union rights, or the push by employers and government for trade and investment rules favored by transnational companies.
Corporations are crossing national borders, so too must
our solidarity efforts. Only by coming together in a united global front
can we challenge the power structures that exploit our differences for
profit. In achieving necessary change, we must mobilize with our civil
society allies and non-government organizations that share our views
Brothers and sisters of the UAW, international and distinguished
guests, I thank you all for your most kind attention this morning and
for inviting us to join you here. And I greatly look forward to us together
forging our common future of a better world. Solidarity forever! Solidarity
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