U.S. and U.K. unions plan united front

Logo for UNITE, Britain's largest union.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: It is Memorial Day, not Labor Day, but we begin with an effort underway to create the first transatlantic labor union.

Britain's biggest union -- UNITE -- is joining forces with United Steelworkers. The details are still being forged, but our Stephen Beard reports from London on the talks so far.


Stephen Beard: The two unions are planning to merge later this summer. UNITE is the larger, with some 2 million members in manufacturing, financial services, health care and the public sector. Together, the two groups will represent almost three million workers in the U.S., Canada, Britain and the Caribbean.

This is just the first step. They're calling on other unions in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America to join them.

Derek Simpson is joint head of UNITE. He says the move will meet the challenge of globalization.

Derek Simpson: We have a view that we need a global trade union in order to deal effectively and on a par with the many global companies that we now have members working for.

Some analysts say this could lead to a new era of global labour militancy with cross-border strikes. This may even make it more difficult for some big companies to shift production to cheaper locations abroad, but others find that unlikely.

Justin Urquart-Stewart is a global fund manager based in London. He says unions in the East will hardly want to stop any jobs coming their way.

Justin Urquart-Stewart: They'll be wanting to attract jobs and they want further investment, so they'll have nothing in common with the western unions at all.

He says it's a bit late in the day for Marx's rallying call "Workers of the World Unite," nut officials in the two unions say they're not trying to create a revolution, just pack more of a punch when dealing with powerful multinationals.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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