TORONTO, JUNE 11 -- The 700,000-member Communications Workers of America and its Canadian counterpart announced a new North American alliance today that they said will serve as a model for union dealings with multinational corporations around the world.
While vowing to retain his union's sovereignty in national affairs, Fred Pomeroy, president of the 40,000-member Communications and Electrical Workers of Canada, said the alliance will be a catalyst for other unions to confront "globalization of business, which is one of the most serious problems the labor movement faces today."
CWA President Morton Bahr, speaking at a news conference during his union's 52nd annual convention here -- the CWA represents 10,000 Canadian workers, as well -- said unions everywhere are "fast approaching domination by stateless corporations."
Bahr said cross-border union alliances are particularly needed to combat exploitation of cheap labor abroad resulting from growing world integration of trade and investment. Bahr said some of the strategies will be developed during a June 28-29 conference in Geneva, of the Post, Telephone and Telegraph International, an international communications labor organization.
Bahr cited as an example of potential cross-border union pressure St. Louis-based Southwestern Bell Corp.'s bid to purchase New Zealand's telephone company for over $1 billion. "Because of our relationship with Southwest Bell, we can put enormous pressure on them on behalf of New Zealand communications workers," Bahr said.
He said that 45 percent of all cable television franchises in Great Britain are owned by the seven regional telephone companies in the United States, and the CWA could forge an alliance with British communications unions to help protect the cable workers there.
The CWA president cited one recent case in which cross-border union pressure had an immediate effect.
He said his union waged a six-week strike against Canada's Northern Telcom Ltd., which has U.S. operations employing about 600 union workers, and during the walkout he called Pomeroy and asked him to put pressure on top executives of Northern Telcom here.
"They were told that they can't practice good labor relations on this side of the border and do this to the unions on the other side. ... The message we are trying to sell is that wherever you go around this globe to find low wages, there will be a union waiting for you," Bahr said.
The labor leader said his union was keeping an eye on Sanyo Corp.'s operation in San Diego, which, he said, has "joined the march to Mexico" by moving much of its unskilled work across the border.
The CWA has a contract with Sanyo, and an alliance with the Mexican trade union movement could result in the CWA exerting pressure on Sanyo in San Diego to offer better wages in Mexico, Bahr said.
The United States and Mexico announced today that they are to begin talks toward a free trade pact to parallel the one already in force between the United States and Canada.
Shirley Carr, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, who is an outspoken critic of the U.S.-Canada agreement, said she had talked with AFL-CIO head Lane Kirkland about the "devastating effects a U.S.-Mexican free trade agreement could have on our Mexican colleagues."
She said she would draw on her experience with Coca-Cola Co.'s Canada operation, in which she said she helped resolve a strike in New Brunswick by telling company executives "either settle or there will be an international boycott."
Carr added, "If they want to deal in a global economy, we will deal in a global economy. ... I see it spreading, perhaps by industry, perhaps one country at a time."
The alliance announced today is counter to a trend among some Canadian trade unions to sever their ties with large American unions of which they were affiliates.