Union concern at treatment of American workers

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date: 1 April 2011

embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 4 April 2011

The TUC is today (Monday) going to the American Embassy to raise concerns about the way that several American states have introduced anti-union laws as a reaction to the global economic crisis.

At a meeting with Ambassador Louis B Susman at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will hand over a letter signed by UK union general secretaries, calling on him to raise the issue with Barack Obama, the Governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, and any other states planning to curb the ability of unions to represent their members.

In recent months Wisconsin, and more recently Ohio, have passed laws removing collective bargaining rights from public sector unions, essentially allowing the state authorities to impose pay settlements and changes to pensions and other terms and conditions, with the unions powerless to do anything about it.

The TUC letter acknowledges the pressure that public spending has come under around the world, but says that public sector workers did nothing to cause the global economic slowdown and need their wages to keep pace with rising living costs, not kept down to keep the state wage bill low.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The right of unions to bargain collectively with employers to negotiate wages and other benefits on behalf of their members is a fundamental one, and unions in America have quite understandably been protesting loudly about the changes being imposed in Wisconsin.

'Cleaners, teachers, librarians and other public sector workers across America did nothing to cause the global economic crisis, and the actions of a number of states to cut unions out of wage negotiations and impose pay settlements is entirely unjustified.

'At a time when living costs are soaring, workers need their wages to keep pace with inflation, not just to maintain a decent standard of living for their families but also to help the economies of the world recover from the global recession.'

The text of the letter reads:

Dear Ambassador

This letter records the solidarity of British workers and their unions with our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin and many other US states, who are fighting to preserve their right to collective bargaining.

The right to bargain collectively with your employer is a fundamental human right, recognised by the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations. We welcome the support shown by Amnesty International (including the US and UK branches) for this principle, which is under sustained political attack in Wisconsin and beyond.

The TUC and British trade unions would strongly urge you to convey our concerns about what is happening in the USA to the President, and to the Governor of Wisconsin and any other Governor who is attempting to take away workers' rights to bargain collectively.

We understand that public budgets are under pressure in the USA - as they are in the UK - as a result of the global economic crisis. But attacking collective bargaining is exactly the wrong thing to do in response.

The workers who depend most on collective bargaining for decent living standards did not cause the crisis, and should not have to pay for it.

But the declining wages and the increasing inequality which has resulted from the steady erosion of collective bargaining, especially in the USA but across the developed world, certainly did play a part in causing the global economic crisis.

To escape from that crisis, working people, their families and their communities, will need better living standards, not worse, and more equal societies, not less.

Collective bargaining is far and away the best way to improve workers' living standards, so as well as being a fundamental human right, it is vital to the economic wellbeing of countries like the USA and the UK.

I hope you will share our commitment to defending the right to bargain collectively. As Vice President Joe Biden told the AFLCIO on 17 March, 'We absolutely, positively need collective bargaining.'

Yours sincerely,

Brendan Barber

TUC General Secretary


- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk


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Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: [email protected]

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