Thursday, February 10, 2005

Andy Stern

'The New Boss',  Matt Bai, NYT Magazine, January 30, 2005. Andy Stern is a union leader in the US.
Wal-Mart has, in a sense, turned the American retail model inside out. It used to be that a manufacturer made, say, a clock radio, determined its price and the wages of the employees who made it and then sold the radio to a retail outlet at a profit. Wal-Mart's power is such that the process now works in reverse: in practice, Wal-Mart sets the price for that clock radio, and the manufacturer, very likely located overseas, figures out how low wages will have to be in order to make it profitable to produce it. In this way, Wal-Mart not only resists unions in its stores with unwavering ferocity but also drives down the wages of its manufacturers -- all in the service of bringing consumers the lowest possible price.
... What Stern says he is deeply worried about is what he sees as the next generation of Wal-Marts, which are on his turf: French, British and Scandinavian companies whose entry into the American market threatens to drive down wages in service industries, which are often less visible than retail. ... Most of these companies have no objection to unionizing in Europe, where organized labor is the norm. But when they come to the United States, they immediately follow the Wal-Mart model, undercutting their competitors by shutting out unions and squeezing paychecks.
Then there is a story of international co-operation. Tony Woodley is a British union leader.
Stern and Woodley told me about the case of First Student, a company that in the last few years had become the largest, most aggressive private school-bus company in the United States. The company had become a target of S.E.I.U. locals in several cities because it wouldn't let its drivers unionize. ''We keep seeing these things about them in the union newsletter,'' Stern said. ''And it starts nibbling at your brain. I said: 'Who are these people, First Student? What's going on here?' And then we do a little research, and we find out what idiots we are. This is a major multinational company. They're 80 percent unionized in the United Kingdom. So we write a letter to the union here, and we say, 'Can you help us?' ''

Woodley sent British bus drivers to Chicago to meet with their American counterparts. Then the American bus drivers went to London, and lobbyists for the British union took them to see members of Parliament. They also held a joint demonstration outside the company's annual meeting. Woodley told me that First Student -- known as First Group in Britain -- was now making a bid for rail contracts there, and his union intended to lobby against it unless the company sat down with its American counterparts in Florida and Illinois.

I asked Woodley, who looks like Rudy Giuliani with more hair, why he would use his own union's political capital to help the S.E.I.U. He nodded quickly, in a way that suggested that there were a lot of people who didn't yet understand this. He explained that it worked both ways; his union was suffering at the hands of multinationals, too, and Stern would be able to return the favor by pressuring American companies doing business in Britain. Moreover, Woodley went on to say, if European companies get used to operating without unions in America, it might be only a matter of time before they tried to export that same mentality back to Europe.
There's quite a lot about China and the globalized economy, too. Worth reading (Link here).   See also the blog at  Purpleocean.org...   the ILO ...

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