Today I’m in Mechelen, a town in between Brussels and Antwerp, where I was invited to speak with a group of about 35 members of the Belgian transport workers union BTB/ABVV.
Two years we ran a campaign with them against “social dumping” by IKEA, which was replacing unionised Belgian truck drivers with workers from Eastern Europe at much lower wages and with no social protections.
I get to speak to trade unions quite a bit about online campaigns, but in this case I was able to speak a bit about that campaign which we did, how it turned out, and what we can do together in the future. I thought this part of my talk may be of interest to you:
The campaign was one of our larger ones, attracting 10,672 supporters.
It ran in 15 languages – translated by volunteers at LabourStart. Of course it ran in all the usual European languages including English, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
But it also ran in Norwegian, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Slovenian and Ukrainian. And because workers outside Europe should also oppose social dumping, it ran in Indonesian and Hebrew too. It was even translated into Esperanto, the international auxiliary language.
It got support from all over Europe and all over the world – 1,456 people in Britain, where I live, supported it. 1,332 Americans signed up. It got over 1,000 Canadians and over 500 Australians too. The English version of the campaign got the support of 320 people in Belgium and another 309 in the Netherlands.
Nearly 550 people supported the Dutch version of the campaign and well over 1,000 supported the French version.
These are good numbers, but they also show that within the Belgian and Dutch labour movements, awareness of the campaign was quite small. The campaign had more support from Canadian workers than it did from Belgian workers.
And that is what we have to change.
We now have tools to mobilise the tens of millions of people in the international trade union movement, but we must first learn to mobilise our own members.
Next time, we must do better.
What was the result of this campaign?
We have not yet won. There have been ongoing negotiations with IKEA, involving BTB, the FNV and a Swedish trade union working together. A meeting took place in September with IKEA’s world-wide HR person. Unions continue to tell IKEA to either work with us to stop social dumping, or we will bring this to the attention of the media.
The struggle continues. Maybe we will have to do another campaign.