The purpose of the trip is to introduce the United Workers Congress as a growing platform projecting the voices of workers not protected under current US labor law, share strategies with leaders of the Indian trade union and social movements and to move conversations that will build the United Workers Congress long-term.
In addition sharing organizing models used to build our base and our power with similar sectors in India, UWC delegates will discuss strategies impacting employment structure/practices, including day laborers (daily wagers), contract workers, self-employed, cooperatives, and labor-community alliances.
Why is this happening now?
The 1980s and 1990s ushered in dramatic economic and political changes resulting in an increasingly “liberalized” and unregulated economy. National economies have been integrated into the global marketplace, giving rise to intense competition, massive changes in production systems and in employment structures (relationship between employers and workers). These conditions have irrevocably changed the challenges facing the labor movement and workers’ organizations continue to struggle to adapt their strategies and visions to contemporary conditions. Today, when problems face the labor movement in a national or local context, more often than not, labor organizations’ effectiveness is determined by their capacity to think globally as well as locally.
In the global economy, today, the continent of Asia is a primary stakeholder. For any social justice movement, Asia must be taken into account and included in any strategy for making large-scale change. Asia holds the largest workforce and the manufacturing base in the world. It is the largest recipient of foreign investment and represents most of the global working poor. According to the ILO there are 555 million working poor, a significant percentage being Asian, in particular women.
While there have been some organizing efforts between the US and Mexico, the US labor movement has not made a large effort to connect with Asia. Some unions and labor leaders have developed projects in specific Asian countries but no plans have ever attempted to connect with a larger Asia or regional strategy.
In 2003, when the World Social Forum International Secretariat decided to move WSF from the Americas continent (from Porto Alegre, Brazil) to a Global South continent, the decision was taken to hold the Fourth WSF in 2004 in Mumbai, India. The interaction between US-based anti-racist and organizations of color with Indian organizations began for the most part from then on. Through Grassroots Global Justice, a delegation of labor and community leaders and activists primarily from the US (along with some delegates from Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, and Colombia) came to India. They represented a variety of grassroots, labor and social justice organizations – some of them are currently in the UWC leadership.
The composition of this delegation was noteworthy at the time, in the context of the US where anti-globalization activists prior to even 5 years before that used to be represented in international events predominantly by white activists from policy and think-tank organizations based in or near Washington D.C. Among many meetings planned for the delegation, one fruitful engagement was between Jobs with Justice and the New Trade Union Initiative. The two organizations shared a belief in broadening and expanding the scope of the labor movement both within and beyond traditional trade unions, the importance of labor-community alliance, political independence, local autonomy and inclusive democracy, and mutual reciprocity.
The NTUI and JwJ engaged in pioneering collaborative work on bi-national research, exchanges, and workers’ rights tours. Together, in 2006, they also seeded what has now become the Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
Meanwhile in 2008, the work of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, now National Guestworkers Alliance with Indian workers of Signal International sprang into the scene and opened up new challenges and unprecedented areas of work. This campaign developed into a bi-national campaign with the NGA organizing the Indian workers in the US and Indian organizations organizing their families back home—and it eventually won protections for the workers as well as re-uniting many of them with their families. The NGA has continued to build on this work, with a primary partnership with NTUI but also with several other partners.
In 2010, labor leaders in the US and in Asia documented their views about international collaboration. The results of this were shared at a meeting in New York City and the goal of building a US-Asia relationship based on mutuality rather than patronage, on bottom-up rather than top-down process, was affirmed. In 2010, Ashim Roy, General Secretary of NTUI, attended the US Social Forum and had several dialogues with emerging leaders of a growing new workers’ movement in the US.
Soon afterwards, in 2011, the UWC’s founding took place, with a clear internationalist spirit from its inception. The leadership of UWC created the pathways for national and international work simultaneously, acknowledging their inevitable connections.
With the future of work trending towards increased precariousness, in the US and around the world, it was critical that the United Workers Congress work with their partners in Asia to develop more comprehensive strategies to win full and fair employment.