International workers conference
By Chris Slee
MELBOURNE — Twenty-five international guests and 110 Australian-resident workers attended a conference entitled "Workers Change the World" between September 29 and October 3.
The conference, sponsored by Australia-Asia Worker Links, discussed worker responses to the increasingly international organisation of capital. Multinational companies can easily close a plant in one country and transfer production to another, where wages are lower, conditions are worse and occupational health and safety and environmental laws are weak.
It is not only countries which have long had a high level of unionisation and high wages that are affected. South Korean companies, faced with the rising militancy of the working class in the late '80s, began transferring operations to countries like Indonesia. Atlas Gloves, a partly Australian-owned company, threatened to cease production in Sri Lanka and move to Vietnam during a strike and subsequent lockout at its Sri Lankan factory.
The conference discussed a range of strategies and actions to enhance solidarity between workers. These ranged from research into the ownership of companies and the products they make and distribute, to the organisation of international actions in solidarity with workers in struggle.
The conference urged regular contact and communication between workplaces in different countries, especially within the same transnational corporation.
It also urged coordinated international campaigns highlighting repressive labour laws, unsafe working conditions and other repressive practices in particular countries, as well as campaigns in support of progressive trade union forces.
Education about the problems and struggles of workers in other countries was seen as very important. This can be done via trade union journals, workplace bulletins and alternative media, as well as trying to get information into the mainstream media.
The conference urged the development of an international solidarity network in the region, including trade unions, environmentalists, women's groups and genuine workers' organisations.