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“Labor Has To Be International:” David Abdulah Describes Workers Strategies for Organizing Transnational Corporations

The power, global reach, and flexibility of multi-national corporations increased dramatically during the 1980ís and 1990ís as a revolution in communications technology and the increasing adoption of free trade agreements between countries allowed companies to shift production easily from one part of the globe to another. Many companies could now pressure labor unions by negotiating favorable contracts wherever labor costs and local tax laws suited them. However, the increasingly interwoven global economy, along with the technology that facilitated it, also gave rise to international labor organizing. As David Abdulah, education director of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union of Trinidad and Tobago, relates, union organizing and activism has become global, as workers in different countries develop networks across borders to keep up with and combat the unfair labor practices of the multi-nationals.

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ABDULAH: Just as capital is global and transnational in nature, so too labor has to be international. And also when workers of the world unite, which for many years perhaps may not have had a gut reaction by so many, now is becoming more and more of a reality because, of course, the world has shrunk. And there is less insularity, there’s much greater information and access to information. Communication is much easier. So that in fact, it has become easier for there to be solidarity on a global scale by workers.

We operate within an international trade union secretariat, which is the International Federation of Chemical, Energy and Mineworkers Unions where the ICM or International Secretariat has facilitated what we call industry-wide councils. Or even in some cases company councils, so that one can have a Unilever council comprised of all the unions that represent workers of Unilever subsidiaries in any part of the world. Similarly there can be a Nestle council or Exxon or Texaco, whatever it may be, Shell, and therefore we can be aware of negotiating and bargaining positions of unions all over the world. And they can not therefore come to Trinidad and say they are going to pay us this, or do that when we know they are doing something somewhere else and vice versa because there may be some contracts that we have in Trinidad that are superior to some contracts that may exist in the United States and so on. So that it provides an information sharing as well as common strategizing and we can therefore, hopefully, equalize to the greatest extent possible the terms and conditions of work.

Source: Interviewed by Simin Farkhondeh, 1997
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads