World’s most strongest unions & The World’s Most Powerful Labor Union
This Labor Day, America’s labor leaders find themselves in an unenviable position, with union membership plummeting to a 97-year low in 2012. Greater labor mobility, the flight of manufacturing jobs from the United States, and new state laws restricting the power of unions, among other factors, have combined to make the country’s labor movement a shadow of its former self. While recent actions such as coordinated strikes by fast-food workers have some analysts talking about labor staging a comeback, the numbers tell a different story.
Elsewhere in the world, however, organized labor has managed to retain at least some of its clout. Here’s a tour of some of the world’s most powerful — though often embattled and controversial — labor unions.
All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)
Until it encountered the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, Walmart had a nearly unbroken record of killing worker unionization efforts. By 2006, however, Walmart gave in and permitted unions at all of its Chinese branches, which totaled 66 outlets (the big-box behemoth now has approximately 390 outlets in the country). With over 200 million members, the ACFTU is the world’s largest labor group, and its showdown with Walmart marked a watershed moment in the Chinese government’s relationship with foreign investors.
But the power of the ACFTU is in large part derived from the might of the Chinese state; it is, after all, state-controlled. As a result, the union has been dogged by allegations that it is little more than a government tool for controlling the country’s sizeable working class. Rather than advocating on behalf of its workers, ACFTU often strives for harmony between workers and their employers — a philosophy that typically leads to the squashing of workers’ demands in order to maintain the business-friendly labor rules that have helped propel Chinese economic growth over the last few decades. Indeed, signs of labor discontent in China are rife. In 2010, for example, 1,700 workers at a Honda factory launched a strike for higher wages and built a labor group outside the confines of the state-sanctioned ACFTU — a move that was not looked upon kindly by China’s leaders. “The trade union is not representing our views; we want our own union that will represent us,” one striking worker told the New York Times. Other instances include a 700-strong strike at an electronics factory in Shenzhen in 2012 and a rash of strikes in 2011 that hit furniture, clothing, and electronics factories. It’s a movement that, China Labor Watch’s Han Dongfang observed, may force ACFTU “to re?examine its role and look for ways to become an organization that really does represent workers’ interests.”