International super-union on the way

Following unanimous votes in favour by delegates at congresses of the Communications International (CI) and Media and Entertainment International (MEI) in September and October 1999, the stage is now set for the creation of an international trade union alliance of CI, MEI, the FIET white-collar and private sector service workers' union and the International Graphical Federation (IGF). The plan is to have Union Network International (UNI) in place for for the start of the new millennium.

The way now seems to be clear for the creation of Union Network International (UNI), bringing together four existing International Trade Secretariats: the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (FIET); the Communications International (CI); the Media and Entertainment International (MEI); and the International Graphical Federation (IGF). The new "super-union" would bring together up to 800 unions with over 15 million members from more than 140 countries around the globe in the rapidly converging fields of new technology, communications and services.

FIET's world congress, meeting in Australia, approved the UNI project in March 1999. On 8 September 1999, delegates to the CI special congress in Geneva voted unaimously in favour. CI general secretary, Philip Bowyer, told delegates that: "From January in the year 2000, we will be in a better position to deal with international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank and ILO. We all know that somewhere in the world almost every week groups of communications or electricity workers are being affected by the decisions of these organisations ... Companies like Sprint, MCI Worldcom, Cable and Wireless or UPS strenuously oppose union organisation. We need to bring unions together everywhere such companies operate in the world, to take actions to them, to make them allow workers to organise. In the 21st century, to face up to such global companies, not only will this be done better with UNI, it is the only way to face up to such companies."

Speaking at the CI congress, Phillip Jennings, general secretary of FIET, welcomed the vote and stated that UNI aimed to be different: "We want ... to be creative and to show working people, our members, the public at large, the world of business and government that unions have not lost their originality or ability to address the social concerns of working people. We will be a global force in the next century." He emphasised the importance of the alliance in counterbalancing the power of global business, shown by the fact that the top 10 corporations in the telecommunications and computer sectors now have market shares of 86% and 70% respectively. At the same time, Mr Jennings argued, income inequalities are increasing. A strong union representation is therefore required to ensure that globalisation is given a stronger social dimension.

The MEI world executive committee voted unanimously to recommend the move at a meeting in Budapest in February 1999. MEI president Tony Lennon endorsed the concept, stating that: "UNI is an idea whose time has come. Ever-growing ownership concentration by media giants without loyalties to a single country or culture, new technologies resulting in the convergence of the audio-visual, telecommunications and computer industries, mergers of our affiliates at the national level and the challenge to represent workers in our sector around the world, not just in the industrialised countries, all those factors led us to the conclusion that the creation of UNI was the best solution." On 8 October 1999. delegates at the MEI world congress voted unanimously for the UNI project. "We're glad to be aboard the launch for a rendezvous with history," said Jim Wilson, MEI general secretary.

MEI's executive committee had set certain criteria to be met if MEI was to consider the new organisation:

  • assurance of a commitment to organising the media and entertainment sector;
  • guarantees of continued policy independence for MEI's members at the world and regional level; and
  • agreement to maintain the MEI staff at least at the present level.

All these criteria were accepted in a memorandum of understanding which also includes commitments on: preserving MEI's autonomy as a separate sector under its own political leadership; no changes in the recognition of MEI's European Alliance by the European Trade Union Confederation and the preservation of the organisation's Brussels office.

Tony Lennon of MEI also attended the inauguration of the construction of a new building by FIET and CI in Nyon (outside Geneva) in January 1999, which is set after its completion (scheduled for October 2000) to house the world headquarters of UNI. A large Brussels office is to be opened before that date.

IGF is to vote on the project at a congress in Italy on 14-15 October 1999.

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