LA County Fed Forms Partnership With Shanghai Unions

Random Lengths News | July 12, 2007
The 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (County Fed) announced an historic partnership agreement with the six-million-member Shanghai Trade Union Council on Thursday, July 5. It's the first formal relationship between a U.S. central labor council and their equivalent in China.

"The interests of workers in the U.S. and China are the same. We both want better living and working conditions, and we realize that in this era of globalization workers of the world must join together to build solidarity across borders," explained Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the County Fed.

The agreement pledges cooperation, regular exchange of labor leader delegations, and joint work on research and organizing, especially in addressing multinational corporations operating in both cities.

"Shanghai and Los Angeles represent the two largest cities with the two largest economies in the Pacific Rim," Durazo said in a conference call from Shanghai on July 5. Similar relationships with other Pacific Rim cities should definitely be expected to follow, she added.

Durazo made special mention of longshore workers as providing an important historical as well as ongoing connection. "As a union they have a long history of working with unions in many, many part of the world," she said. "The ports are a special and crucial part of the economy in Los Angeles and Shanghai."

"We're going to share research about the corporations. ... We will share information about bargaining strategies," Durazo promised, adding that that longshore contract negotiations next year could be the first big major example of cooperation in action.

Longshore representatives David Arian and Ray Familathe of ILWU Local 13 were part of the delegation that also included Marvin Kropke (IBEW), Brian D'Arcy (IBEW), Annelle Grajeda (SEIU) Cristina Vazquez (UNITE HERE), Martin Hittelman (AFT), Sandra Lepore (AFT), and Kent Wong (AFT).

"We will not agree on everything," Durazo noted, pointing to differences in structure, as well the governments they function under. But the differences can bring advantages as well.

"We have a much longer history of dealing with the profit motive of corporations. That is why they are very interested in hearing from us," she explained. At the same time, Chinese unions have successfully organized workers in three global corporations -- Wal-Mart, MacDonalds, and Kentucky Fried Chicken -- that have resisted unionization in America and elsewhere.

While Chinese government-sanctioned unions have the right to organize every workplace, it depends on top-down initiative.

"They found resistance at Wal-Mart they had never found before," Durazo related. "They [Wal-Mart] refused to respect the law, which was shocking to the unions." As a result, the unions were forced to become a bit more Americanized. "They had to incorporate rank and file involvement," she said. They are now engaged in training local leadership for the first time -- another sign of convergence between workers in both countries.

"We are very excited," Durazo concluded.

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