In The Economist of 25 Aug 2005, A “Going global” feature looked at the issue of “Workers of the world attempt to unite against Wal-Mart” (login required, I think). The report is of a meeting of some of the world’s biggest trade unions, who are (not for the first time) seriously considering becoming single global unions. This is especially needed, in their opinion, to deal with massive mulit-national organisations.
â€œGLOBAL companies need global unions,â€? says Noel Howell, a spokesman for the Union Network International (UNI), a federation of 900 trades unions from 150 countries. It is hard to think of a single global firm that would agree. Certainly not Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer with 1.6m workers, 1.2m of them in America. It says that unionisation is not â€œrightâ€? for Wal-Mart, at least in America, and that unions â€œdo not want us to succeedâ€?.
The UNI held a congress in Chicago this week with the supposed need to unionise Wal-Mart as a main theme. (Four other firmsâ€”DHL, an express delivery company, Walt Disney, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Ikea, a Swedish furniture storeâ€”were identified as future targets.) Wal-Mart is leading a â€œrace to the bottomâ€? in wages and benefits, the UNI claimed, and other big firms would follow by choice or necessity. According to a study last year by the University of California, Berkeley, wages at Wal-Mart were so low that taxpayers in California alone footed an $86m bill for health benefits and other assistance claimed by Wal-Mart employees.
Watch this space. This is just the beginning…