Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Here's the final excerpt from the New York Times article about Andy Stern:
There are, however, painful questions inherent in globalizing the labor movement. At a recent meeting with his executive board, Stern mused out loud about the possibility of conducting a fact-finding mission to India, along with executives from one of the companies outsourcing its jobs there. Perhaps that could be a first step, he thought, toward raising the pay of Indian workers who have inherited American jobs.
Then Stern stopped himself and considered a problem. Sure, there was an obvious logic to unionizing foreign phone operators or machinists: American workers won't be able to compete fairly for jobs until companies have to pay higher wages in countries like China and India. But how would it look to workers in America? How would you avoid the appearance that you were more worried about the guy answering the phone in Bangalore than you were about the guy he replaced in Iowa? John Kerry and other Democrats had been railing against the C.E.O.'s who outsourced American jobs -- and here was Andy Stern, considering joining forces with those very same C.E.O.'s to make sure their Indian workers were making enough money.
''The truth is that as the living standard in China goes up, the living standard in Ohio goes down,'' Stern said. ''What do you do about that? Are we a global union or an American union? This is a hard question for me to answer. Because I'm not comfortable with the living standard here going down. This is a question I think we need to think about going forward, but I don't think that means we should be scared.''
The idea of a global union isn't entirely new. But the concept has never been translated into a formal alliance, and experts who study labor think Stern may be onto something important. I realized during our brief time in Birmingham why Stern seemed ambivalent about whether the A.F.L.-C.I.O. approved his reform plan, or whether his union even stayed in the federation. In a sense, no matter how the conversation is resolved, it is bound to lag a full generation behind the reality of the problem; it is as if the unions are arguing against upgrading from LP's to compact discs while the rest of the world has moved on to digital downloads. Even if the leaders of big labor do kill off half their unions and reorganize the rest, all they will have done, at long last, is create a truly national labor movement -- at exactly the moment that capital has become a more sprawling and more obstinate force than any one nation could hope to contain.

Click here to see the whole article.


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