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Every so often there will be a post on the International’s Facebook page that questions the reasons why as a union we support Turkish transportation workers, Chinese auto workers, Vietnamese textile workers, Mexican auto parts workers or other workers around the world.
What do the struggles of these workers in far-away places have to do with our battles for state government workers in Michigan, agricultural implement workers in Iowa, auto parts workers in Virginia or nurses in Ohio? What does this have to do with our efforts to organize transplant auto manufacturing facilities in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and elsewhere? Why should we care that Chinese workers are severely underpaid, overworked and face health and safety hazards on the job that are unthinkable in the United States? Or that child labor remains a serious problem in countries like Vietnam? Or in Mexico, Turkey and many places elsewhere, intimidation and thugs supported by the local authorities are used to stamp out organizing drives?
In a global economy, these problems directly affect our ability to bargain decent wages and job protections in this country. For example, why should a corporation pay decent wages and have to follow established health and safety and environmental standards in the United States when it can go to China, pay a tiny fraction of the wages, not have to protect their workers and pollute the air and water at will?
There’s no question we do a moral good by bringing to light the very real problem of child and slave labor in developing countries. But it’s also a moral good to raise the wages and standards in China to improve the lives of the workers there. The increased cost on manufacturers in China also has the very real benefit of preventing corporations from easily off-shoring our jobs.
Building bridges with workers in other nations also provides us with allies in our efforts in the United States against foreign-based automakers who continually violate their workers’ First Amendment right to free association and to join a union if they so choose. These alliances can help us share information, coordinate strategy and create favorable situations for workers at the same global corporation who work in different countries.
For decades, corporations have recognized the value of globalization in their quest for bigger markets and bigger profits. In the labor movement, we recognize that our fight for democracy in the workplace and economic and social justice cannot end at our borders.