Retiring UAW boss calls for global union co-operation

Bob King says unions should take a page from corporations and leverage their power globally

DETROIT (Reuters) — Retiring United Auto Workers (UAW) president Bob King said in his farewell address on Monday said that if the union is to regain the power it once had it will have to make itself a global player, including organizing foreign automakers in the United States.

All of the corporations the UAW deals with leverage their power globally, said King in a speech at the UAW's convention in Detroit. The UAW and unions around the world must support one another or be doomed to be increasingly marginalized.

"You can't just be a national union to take on a fight with these global corporations and win unless you build global solidarity. We have made a lot of progress there," during his four-year term that is ending this week, said King.

King said the need for global co-operation affects not only the UAW's core automotive industry membership, but also those who work in gaming, agricultural equipment and aerospace industries.

The UAW is a U.S. union that can represent only U.S. workers, but it can achieve greater power by aligning with unions outside the country, said King.

The need for a global front with corporations was a theme of the UAW's four-day convention. Four speeches were given on Monday, and two were delivered in German as delegates listened to translations on individual headsets.

The UAW in February lost by 44 votes an election at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to represent more than 1,500 workers there. The UAW worked with the German Union IG Metall to get VW to remain neutral.

Frank Patta, general secretary of the Volkswagen AG global works council, vowed that the effort to organizeChattanooga workers was not over.

"We lost one battle but we did not lose the entire fight and we will not be beaten," Patta said.

Also speaking Monday was Berthold Huber, the former head of IG Metall and now president of a global umbrella group, IndustriALL, which claims to represent 50 million workers worldwide.

King said he is convinced that Dennis Williams, expected to be elected next UAW president on Wednesday, will maintain an emphasis global organizing efforts.

King, in an interview with Reuters last week, said that because of cooperation with IG Metall, German automaker plants in the U.S. South including VW, Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and BMW will eventually become unionized.

Also on Monday, the UAW reacted to reports that pro-union workers in Alabama want the UAW to stop organizing efforts because they have gone on too long without success.

"They want to have an election right away," said Williams to reporters at the convention. "We perceive it that we have more building to do there."

Williams said Gary Casteel, regional UAW director for much of the South including Alabama, will visit the workers once this week's UAW convention ends.

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