It’s an honour and pleasure for me to bring you the greetings of the International Metalworkers’ Federation and the international guests. You are part of our global family of 25 million organized workers, sisters and brothers, in more than 100 countries of the world.
We are happy and proud to be here in Detroit and attend this major 35th Constitutional Convention of the UAW. We feel very welcome here. In fact, the United States has throughout its history welcomed people from all parts of the world. I have to start by telling you a personal story about my grandfather and California.
More than 100 years ago, year 1900, my grandfather was a young man, 20 years old, son of a poor farmer, and poor farmer he became himself. My country Finland was part of Russia. The Russian czar started to prepare a war against Japan. He wanted to draft young men from Finland as cannon fodder and send them somewhere to Siberia.
My grandfather didn’t want to go to Siberia to fight for a country that wasn’t his. So he dodged the draft, left the country, found somehow his way from Finland to Britain, took a ferry across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, found somehow his way across the continent, and ended up in Hat Creek California. There he worked for six years as a lumberjack, and I’ve seen wonderful black and white photos of the brotherhood that reigned among the lumberjacks. After six years, the war was over, my grandfather somehow found his way back to Finland, met my grandma and married her. So I thank California and the United States for taking such good care of my grandpa, because thanks to that, I exist.
The world has changed a lot since the days of my grandfather, and since the creation of the UAW in 1935 in the Fort Shelby Hotel in Detroit, by workers who dreamed of a better world, of workplaces where workers would be treated with dignity and respect.
This is still our dream today, 75 years later, in the new globalized world without borders. In this new world, we have to realize that only by joining the forces of workers on all five continents, can we fight with success for the right to organize, decent pay and working hours, for a better life for working people and their families.
During the past two years, you have again gone through tough times, perhaps the toughest of all times. So have your fellow workers in all parts of the world. Almost 10 million jobs have disappeared in less than two years in the world’s manufacturing industries. Hardest hit were the automotive, metal and electronics industries.
Trade unions and around the world have fought for cash for clunkers schemes, investment in infrastructure and construction projects, resources for training and social protection.
The workers did not cause the global financial and economic crisis. It was caused by greedy bankers and irresponsible speculators. They destroyed our jobs in the real economy. Now is the time to regulate the finance sector in the whole world, to make sure that this mess will never happen again.
Later this week, the world’s industrial trade unions will gather in Toronto to a major conference organized by the IMF and our sister International the ICEM. We will launch a list of demands to the G20 presidents and prime ministers, leaders of the world’s biggest developed and developing countries, who will meet next week in Canada.
In addition to financial regulation, we demand a global tax on financial transactions, the so-called Robin Hood tax. It would curb speculation and collect funds for supporting sustainable development and green jobs.
We want to make a case for manufacturing industry as the locomotive of national economies. America needs industrial jobs, the world needs countries that make things. Industry is the backbone for the creation of good quality jobs with decent working conditions, proper training and skills, health and safety, and respect of trade union and workers’ rights. Sustainable industry jobs contribute to social development and better standards of living for citizens.
You have led your union through the most difficult of times. You have done it showing great leadership, responsibility and determination – determination to find in difficult situations the best possible solutions for the workers and their families. It has not been easy, it has been painful. You have my deepest respect.
You have also been the President of IMF’s Automotive industry department, chairing a global auto union council meeting in Sao Paulo Brazil in 2007. It has been a privilege to know you and to work with you. You have also warm greetings from my predecessor Marcello Malentacchi.
Do you remember the big stainless steel monument in front of the IMF head office in Geneva Switzerland? We have made it a very nice replica of it which I wanted to hand to you here. I won’t tell this big congregation that I forgot it in my office, because it would be too embarrassing. But it is on its way. It is called “Global Solidarity”. So I hope you find a nice place for it in your home, and when you look at it, you will remember your colleagues and friends all over the world.
I wish you good health and happy years of retirement to be cherished with Judy and your loved ones.
But we know that the struggle must go on. Trade unions are under attack by right-wing governments and multinational corporations, who want to deny workers the right to organize and the right to decent conditions of work.
But organized labor is fighting back.
In Mexico, just a month ago, workers at Johnson Controls scored a historic landmark victory. They went on strike, saying that they wanted to be represented by a real union, not by one that had signed a protection contract with the management, a contract that the workers didn’t even know about. Thanks to the determination of the workers and thanks to international solidarity, the company had to back off, and today these workers are represented by a true union, our great affiliate Los Mineros. Let’s fight together, to make sure that all workers at Johnson Controls and all workers in Mexico will have the right to join a union of their choice, and to bargain for good wages and working conditions.
Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionist. During the past 25 years, more than 2500 unionists, national and local level representatives like you, have been killed. I will travel again to Colombia in July in an international delegation to support the Colombian workers. I thank the UAW for your opposition to the US-Columbia free trade agreement. Let’s continue the fight together, to make sure that the unionized workers in Colombia have the right to live and to defend their interests.
In Korea, union leaders are being jailed because of article 314 in the Penal Code, which prohibits “obstruction to business”. This article is being used to imprison unionists for organizing peaceful action, demonstrations and strikes. I thank the UAW for your opposition to the US-Korea free trade agreement. Let’s continue to fight together to make the Korean government to repeal the article 314, and to guarantee the right of the brace Korean workers to better wages and working conditions.
And even in China workers at Honda, Foxconn and other companies are striking. They say they’ve had enough of exploitation, wages of 150 dollars a month, 60-70 hour working weeks. Let’s support the demands of Chinese workers for decent pay and working hours.
Like Ron said yesterday, this is only the beginning. Organized labor is fighting back. I am convinced of the commitment of the UAW to our global struggle. In April, Bob King led a UAW delegation at IMF’s global meeting on Caterpillar, where the workers created a global union network to prevent the company from the workers against each other. In July, IMF’s global Ford network will meet in Detroit to discuss an International Framework agreement, which will guarantee union rights wherever the company operates.
Sisters and brothers, solidarity is a two-way street. The world’s metalworkers give their full support to the UAW in your struggle to ensure workers their right to join the union. We all support your demand for the adoption of the Employee Free Choice Act at the U.S. Congress.
Foreign automotive companies employ around 80,000 non-unionized workers in the U.S. You know well these major companies: Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia. They are well organized in their home countries and elsewhere. We want to use this strength to guarantee neutrality in the U.S. We are preparing plans with the UAW leadership and organizing department to see how to go about this. Make no mistake, it will not be an easy process, it will require years, so please be patient. But I am committed to this, and so are your sister unions in other countries. Let’s fight together to ensure that all these plants in the U.S. will be union plants.
A new era of global solidarity has begun. Also all of you can participate. Go and organize people, become part of our networks, send a protest message on IMF’s web site, become my friend in Facebook. Joint action across the borders makes us strong. This is solidarity in action.
I wish you a great Convention and best success in your courageous and valuable work. We, the world’s metalworkers, stand by you.