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Trade unions want answers to globalization

Germans have a tradition of secure working conditions through trade unions. But organizing them has not been as simple in other parts of the world. Will that change any time soon?

In Bangladesh, factory owners forced needlewomen to work in a run-down factory. In Turkey, the owners of formerly state-owned mines boasted about lowering extraction costs by four-fifths.

Both times profit was placed before security, and catastrophes resulted.

These incidents were not a coincidence, says Reiner Hoffmann, the newly elected head of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

"That shows that we need work and health protection in these countries, so that they have standards whereby such tragic accidents can't occur," says Hoffmann.

From May 18-23 in Berlin, the Third World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation takes place under the theme "Building Workers' Power". Experts are discussing how to strengthen working conditions in countries such as Turkey and Bangladesh.

Germans in their majority have had positive experiences with trade unions, engaging in a type of social partnership that contributes significantly to growth and affluence, says Hoffmann.

Reiner Hoffmann, new DGB boss

the DGB's Reiner Hoffmann fights for a minimum wage without restrictions

But in other regions of the world, people's take on trade unions is completely different. They often face considerable pressure once they want to organize.

"In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen wanted to install a works council. The businesses and trade unions were for it," says Hoffmann. "As Texas is extremely hostile towards trade laws, the idea was shattered."

Unfortunately, it's still possible to find too many such examples all over the world.

No blueprint for the rest of the world

"In Germany, it's much, much easier to organize a works council," says Hagen Lesch of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. "In the US, you try to prohibit labor disputes on factory premises."

Does Chattanooga need a works council?

Therefore, the German model for social partnership can't be established everywhere in the world. But even in Germany, not everything that glitters is gold.

"In Germany, we also have a daily fight for better wages or confederations that allow membership from businesses without tariff binding," says Hoffman.

In both developing and developed countries alike, high rates of economic growth are tied to growing inequality, criticizes the International Trade Union Confederation.

As a result, poverty has declined less than would have been possible, if a more equitable system were in place. Therefore the German Trade Union Confederation tries to follow the example of countries, such as those in Scandinavia, with strong aid and social systems.

Regular Employment Declines

"The core task of the trade unions is to ensure that affluence is reached and fairly distributed," says Lesch.

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Workers surviving the Soma mine explosion criticize lax government oversight

The International Trade Union Confederation has worryingly observed a worldwide decline of regular, stable employment, and an increase of employees lacking a formal contract. There's also been a rapid expansion of exploitive supply chains across the entire globe.

It's clear that the unions must try to keep up with the globalization of production and distribution to ward off dirty competition among international value chains, argues Hoffmann.

"Dirty competition based on terrible work terms and health conditions can, in the worst case, as we have now seen in Turkey, lead to death," says Hoffmann.

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