Bridgestone/Firestone union network is staking out new ground in international bargaining

What's new with the global solidarity? Two words: the Internet

"It's critically important that we develop a vertical structure of trade unionists all over the world dealing with… Bridgestone/Firestone" says George Becker, International President of USWA. His union joined with the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) to co-host a world conference of unions of Bridgestone/Firestone workers on July 31 and August 1, 2000.

Both Becker and ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs downplayed the importance of the gathering. However, it appears that the goal of the meeting was to lay the foundation for the very ambitious goal of global bargaining and negotiation with multinational companies. In an interview with the Bureau of National Affairs, ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs spoke of building a "countervailing force" that can speak with unity and power in multinational negotiations. He stated: "In an age of globalization, national collectivism is not enough - collectivism has to apply on a global basis to be effective [in dealing with] global, multinational companies."

The fruits of the discussions are not likely to be seen for many months, but the group hopes to introduce itself and its goals to the Japanese management of the company in February 2001.

What's new with the global solidarity? Two words: the Internet.

During the bitter strike at Bridgestone/Firestone in 1996, the USWA used traditional tactics of international solidarity such as demonstrations throughout the U.S., Japan and Europe, and a conference in Nashville with workers from 15 countries. They went further, however, and became one of the pioneers in "cyberpicketing". Organized by USWA and the ICEM, unionists around the world bombarded Bridgestone/Firestone executives, partners and shareholders with e-mails and pressure.

Since then, most other unions have also got on the Internet bandwagon. They have developed sophisticated websites, which they use on an ongoing basis to communicate information and to coordinate participation in political action, strikes, and for workers campaigns and boycotts. (The Coordinated Bargaining Committee in the General Electric negotiations being one of the most recent examples). The important role of Internet networking in organizing the Seattle World Trade Organization protests has given all grassroots organizations, including unions, new confidence in the medium.

A new Top Level Domain: .union

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the global body which assigns top level domain names, and which is proposing to "catch up" to the growth of the internet by expanding the universe of domain names from the current .com, .edu, .org, .gov, etc. The labor movement, led by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, has submitted a formal expression of interest in sponsoring a new domain name, called .union. Whether this proceeds or not is uncertain, but even without its own domain name, the union movement will continue to thrive on the Internet.

Current status of Bridgestone/Firestone negotiations in the US

The global network meetings were closed, and no statements were made concerning the current negotiations between the USWA and Bridgestone/Firestone. Talks have been proceeding on a day-to-day basis by mutual consent of the parties since the contract expired on April 18, 2000. All other rubber industry negotiations are on hold until this pattern setting agreement is reached.

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