From the TUC

Things that make you go agggghhhh!

21 Oct 2008, By

Wal-Mart that paragon of global corporate responsibility is at it again.

For the second time in three years Wal-Mart has shut a Canadian facility down because the workers had the temerity to organise a union. Rather than abide by the decision of the Quebec Labour Relations Board to impose a three-year collective agreement the company have decided to say ‘Adieu’ to the workers at its Gatineau Tire and Lube express facility. As Wayne Hanley of the UFCW comments,

“Wal-Mart thinks a cheap oil change is more important than the Canadian constitution.”

In response to Wal-Mart’s disgraceful decision, Wal-Mart Watch have launched a new web-site for current and former Wal-Mart employees to tell their (usually, horror) stories.

Wal-Mart’s actions in Canada illustrate the almost schizophrenic attitude that large multi-national’s often take to union representation in different parts of the world. Wal-Mart don’t want to recognise unions in the US and Canada, but do deal with unions here in the UK and even China. In the same sector Tesco have longstanding partnership arrangements in the UK and Ireland, but are in dispute with the UFCW over representation in the US.

Many multi-nationals will claim they are abiding by the labour laws of whatever country they happen to operate in, and/or that each country has a different ‘cultural’ attitude to unions and union recognition, but the simple fact is that many companies take the simple and pragmatic view that if they can ‘get away with it’ (often encouraged by politicians and law-makers) they will.

I got a first hand taste of this some five or six years ago when I visited BMW’s plant in South Carolina. Unlike its plants in Germany & Britain, the Spartanburg plant is ‘non-union’ – although ‘Of course’, I was told, ‘our workers are all free to join unions’. When I asked why the company had chosen South Carolina for its US base rather than any of the other 49 states in the US, I was told about the plant’s (undoubted) excellent position on the eastern seaboard which was important for the European export market. The fact that South Carolina was ranked 49th out of the 50 US states in the ‘union density’ league table had nothing to do with it of course!

So what can unions do to tackle this corporate ‘schizophrenia’. One important thing we can do is to use Global Framework Agreements (of which there are around 75) as effectively as possible. Another thing we can do is to build stronger practical networks between unions around the world – and in particular to get Heads and Directors of Organising talking to each other. The third thing we could perhaps do more effectively is to ‘name and shame’ the corporate bullies who’d rather sack workers than abide by the law. Any other thoughts or suggestions?