From Socialist Voice, November 2007

From union to non-union

American transnationals continue to undermine trade union growth

A recent large-scale survey by the University of Limerick, which examined the patterns of trade union recognition among transnational corporations in Ireland, points to a growing trend of union avoidance among already unionised companies, which are establishing new sites on a non-union basis.
     A notable finding is that about half the unionised American transnationals did not continue to recognise a union at all when they opened a new site over the past five years. It would appear that the trend is most marked among American transnationals, as more than 80 per cent of Irish and British transnational corporations engage with trade unions, while remaining European transnationals also score highly, with 72 per cent.
     The survey, which examined 162 unionised transnationals, found that 61 of these established a new site (or sites) over the previous five years. Looking at the incidence of union recognition among these, they found that 41 per cent recognised a union in each of those new sites. A quarter of these unionised companies did not now recognise unions at new sites. Furthermore, 34 per cent either recognised unions only at some or most new sites, which by default means that they do not recognise unions at some or most of their sites.
     Again, unionised American transnationals were far less likely to recognise a union at new sites. Indeed, about half the unionised American transnationals did not recognise unions at all at new sites; none recognised unions at all its new sites; 30 per cent recognised unions at most new sites; and 10 per cent recognised unions at some new sites.

The example of Coca-Cola

The recent case of Coca-Cola closing its unionised plant in Drogheda (with the loss of 256 jobs) and moving production to an existing non-union plant in Ballina is illustrative of this trend.
     Coca-Cola Ireland informed employees at the Drogheda plant in September of its decision to close in September 2008. Union representatives have inferred that the decision has been largely influenced by the fact that the Ballina plant is non-union, and that the pay and conditions of workers there are “far inferior” to those at the unionised Drogheda plant. One TEEU official, Arthur Hall, commented: “This is corporate greed at its worst. This is a highly profitable operation, and it has not lost a day of production in disputes for well over a decade. The only reason why it is moving its main production to Ballina that I can see is that it has a non-unionised work force there and can ensure that less of its profits stay in the local economy.”
     This is a disquieting development for trade unions in Ireland. While the trade union movement has struggled for years to secure a presence in transnational corporations, it could at least point towards its strong base in existing companies. What appears to be happening now is that this strong base is corroding, and unions are finding it difficult to hold on to what they have.

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