IEC members attend ICEM executive meeting

IVP/IS Warren Fairley explains the problems Boilermaker locals are having with LaFarge, the world’s largest cement company, to the ICEM executive committee in Geneva, Switzerland, June 23, 2009.

Brotherhood’s IEC draws attention to Lafarge, learns more about global unionism

IN JUNE, SEVEN Boilermaker International officers attended the executive meeting of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) in Geneva, Switzerland. Just as the AFL-CIO unites U.S. trade unions in order to wield more power against U.S. corporations, ICEM unites industrial unions worldwide in order to be more effective in dealing with multinational corporations. Currently, ICEM includes more than 460 industrial trade unions which collectively represent more than 20 million workers in 132 countries.

Boilermaker International officers attended the executive meeting so they could better understand how the ICEM works and how we might use the power of those 20 million workers more effectively. They also took a message to the meeting: In the United States, Lafarge, the world’s largest cement company, is not abiding by the ICEM Global Framework Agreement it signed in 2005.

ICEM’s Global Framework Agreements (GFA) encourage multinational corporations to adhere to high standards on trade union rights; health, safety and environmental practices; and quality of work principles across a company's entire global operations. By signing a GFA, the company agrees to maintain these standards even where they are not required by a country’s laws. The GFA LaFarge signed with ICEM included, among other things, a promise to adhere to high labor rights standards in every country where it does business. But in the United States, at least, Lafarge has not kept their end of the bargain.

IVP/IS Warren Fairley made the Brotherhood’s case. The ICEM executive council was receptive, and Boilermaker IP Newton Jones expects the ICEM Materials Sector Committee to take action against LaFarge at its November meeting. “With a show of worldwide solidarity, we may succeed in halting LaFarge’s union-busting activities,” he said. IP Jones chairs the Materials Sector Committee, which includes unions in the cement, ceramics, and glass industries.

President Jones asked members of the Boilermakers International Executive Council to attend the June meeting in order to show our union’s resolve to be strong against a tough opponent, but he also wanted them to see firsthand how an international confederation operates and to learn what U.S. unions are up against. What they learned was sometimes disturbing.

“It was eye-opening,” IVP Tom Baca said after the meeting, “to hear delegates from several countries — including some third-world countries — tell us how bad they felt about the weak labor laws in the United States.”

Attending the ICEM meeting on behalf of the Brotherhood were International President Newton B. Jones; International Secretary-Treasurer William T. Creeden; International Vice Presidents Larry McManamon (Great Lakes), Sam May (Southeast), Ed Power (Eastern Canada), Warren Fairley (Industrial Sector), and Tom Baca (Western States); Executive Director of Industrial Sector Operations James A. Pressley; and Director of Communications & Education Donald Caswell.