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Chidambaram Sai Prasad is from Chennai, India: “This is not the idea of America that we had. We thought that America is a free country and that people had rights,”
Chidambaram Sai Prasad is from Chennai, India, a city often described as the “Detroit of India” because it is where many auto manufacturers have established industrial facilities.
“This is not the idea of America that we had. We thought that America is a free country and that people had rights,” said Prasad of American labor law in his remarks Wednesday to more than 1,200 UAW delegates and activists at the Special Convention on Collective Bargaining in Detroit.
Not deterred by the injustices he has seen here, Prasad declared that he – and several other fellow interns who are joining forces with the newly launched UAW Global Organizing Institute (GOI) – have a plan.
“The plan is to inform, inspire and impact,” said the business major. “We plan to spread the word and create social awareness for what is happening to the middle class, not only in America, but all over the world.”
AW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who opened the day’s session with remarks on workers’ right to organize, said in no uncertain terms, the union must become global if it is to win rights for all workers.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who opened the day’s session with remarks on workers’ right to organize, said in no uncertain terms, the union must become global if it is to win rights for all workers.
But, he said, “If we are going to be global and go around the world asking labor unions and workers to join us in our struggle to organize in the United States, then we, too, must join them in their struggle. And we must help them to lift up their standard of living, because only then will we have true fair trade in the world.”
Williams described the UAW’s agenda for this multi-faceted movement, which will rely on the members and retirees, as well as labor allies to expose a single, transnational company’s disrespect for global human rights in this country and abroad.
He said the UAW will involve “regions and designated coordinators in different states, site captains and an army of thousands of activists to strategically engage in a bannering and leafleting campaign to put out our message across the country.”
And members are eager to get involved.
One is Glenn Johnson of UAW Local 1112 in Region 2B.
“It’s essential to have a level playing field. While the UAW has raised the bar, the transnational companies have resisted unionizing in the U.S.,” he said. “We must use all tools available to us. If any country has a unionized company, then all their global workers should be organized.”
This international aspect will largely be assisted by young activists recruited by the UAW to serve internships with the union’s recently developed GOI.
The interns are from all over the world – China, Brazil, South Korea, Japan and Australia – all countries with rapidly growing economies where transnational automakers are eager to increase sales.
“I am proud that we have recruited the very first group of global organizing participants,” said Williams.
During their time in the United States, the interns actively study the current system under which U.S. workers attempt to organize. They work on the ground, talking with auto workers at transnational plants about their experiences in an attempt to help them organize through the UAW’s Fair Elections Principles.
While talking to workers through house calls, many of the interns were taken aback by how unfair the current system is for American workers to form a union.
Even the interns from China – a country not typically lauded for its high standards of human rights – were surprised by the difficulty and fear faced by workers trying to form their own unions that companies incite in workers from transnational plants in the South.
Boyue Liu, a Chinese law student interning with the GOI, was surprised at the unfairness of this country’s labor law.
“We think the right to organize should be a fundamental right that we take for granted in China... But in the United States, one of the most democratic countries, people have to fight really hard to get this right. We were shocked,” she said.
Once they complete their internships, they will return to their home countries to expose the lack of free speech and freedom of assembly afforded to workers in plants owned by the transnational automakers. They will organize activity at car dealerships and larger events, such as global auto shows or even the Olympics to “re-brand” the company as one that treats its employees unfairly.
They hope to use the strength of social media technologies and traditional news media to make their point.
Whatever methods they choose, it is clear these dedicated activists will remain committed allies to the union’s cause for a long time to come. In fact, some are already strong labor allies, despite their youth.
“I think there is no way you can live in Brazil, in India, in Russia in emerging countries without being involved in labor unions,” said Thiago Silva of Brazil.