Talking with Belgian transport workers – and looking back at an old campaign

ABVV/BTBToday 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.

Major new campaign on Korea

hansangyuThis was launched today with the support of the ITUC and most of the GUFs.

It’s not our first campaign about Korea, but it’s an important one and I hope everyone reading this will make a special effort to mobilize support in your union and your country.


From campaign drought to campaign flood

flood-vs-droughtCampaigns seem to be seasonal affairs; there are months when we have almost none, and other times when we need to launch several campaigns at almost the same time (which is a pretty bad idea).

Today we’re in the process of launching two major campaigns — one in support of health care workers in Liberia whose leaders languish in jail; the other in support of the jailed leadership of the South Korean labour movement.  Both campaigns are supported by a wide range of powerful international trade union bodies and, I hope, will gather lots of support.

In addition, we’re expecting a major campaign in support of Turkish journalists — so three new campaigns, probably all being launched this week.

This places an exceptional burden on our volunteer translators and I’m doing what I can to space the campaigns apart, and to encourage our partners to supply us with very short texts — with only limited success.

Meanwhile, our latest campaign (in support of Egyptian shipyard workers) is doing quite well, coming up on 7,500 supporters. I’m hoping that at least one of the three campaigns we’re about to launch can break the 10,000 barrier — but this depends in large part on how much our partner unions help us to promote it.

Why our newest campaign is also our largest current campaign

Some campaigns just take off.  Our campaign in support of the shipyard workers in Alexandria, Egypt is one of these.  After just one week online, it’s already almost (and by the time you read this, it will be) our largest current campaign, rapidly nearing 6,000 supporters.  Why is this the case?

Actually, there’s no mystery here: the main difference between this campaign and the campaigns in support of teachers in Ecuador or photographers at AFP is that this campaign appears in German.  We have a number of languages, German among them, for which we have substantial mailing lists, but where not all our campaigns get translated.  For example, we have 5,700 people on our Korean and Dutch mailing lists — but our campaigns are rarely translated into those languages.

There was a time when the only list that mattered was the English one, but that is no longer the case.  30% of the supporters of the current Egyptian campaign are doing so in languages other than English.  Of the three most recent campaigns, this is the highest percentage of non-English supporters, and it will probably grow when we launch the Spanish version later today.

So it’s becoming increasingly clear that for our campaigns to be much larger, we need to translate them into more and more languages, and in particular German, Korean and Dutch.  And those lists need to continue to grow.  Something to keep in mind.

LabourStart joins forces with Italian labour radio station

cgilRadioArticolo1 is an online radio station of the Italian national trade union centre CGIL.  According to the Wikipedia article, CGIL with its 5.5 million members is “the biggest trade union in Europe“.  That’s debatable, but it’s certainly one of the important ones, and one we’ve worked with before on campaigns, especially with their metal workers union.

Thanks to the efforts of our comrades Silvana and Andrea, RadioArticolo1 is keen to have a regular LabourStart program, and they’re starting with an interview with me.  Once it goes live, I’ll share the link — the program will be in Italian — and let’s hope this strengthens our work in Italy and our relationship with CGIL and the Italian labour movement.

Coming soon: A LabourStart intern

Applications are now closed for the paid LabourStart internship this year.  Three of us went through the 12 applicants who applied, and brought this down to a shortlist of just 4 names — and this wasn’t easy as there were several very good candidates.  Interviews will take place in London next week and I’ll report back here once we’ve made a decision on who to hire.  I want to thank Derek and Silvana for helping to sort through the candidates, and Roger Darlington for agreeing to help me with the actual interviews, as before.

Campaign drought?

At the moment, LabourStart is running just 4 campaigns — and we’ve not launched a new one for a month and a half.

Today we closed down the WIPO campaign (see here to see how that turned out) and our Avon campaign from Turkey (we’ve not yet heard back from the union.

The four current campaigns are not blockbusters, having been launched during the quieter summer months (in the northern hemisphere).  Here are the current totals:


If you know unions that could use our help with a campaign, this might be a good time to suggest it.

WIPO: How our campaign helped

Brett Fitzgerald from the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), wrote to us yesterday:

On behalf of the Presidents of FICSA and the WIPO Staff Association, please accept their sincere gratitude for having run this LabourStart campaign.

As you will see from reading the statement delivered by US Ambassador Pamela Hamamota, on behalf of a group of WIPO Member States, at the Extraordinary Session of the WIPO Coordination Committee (of Member States) held on 12 September 2016, this LabourStart campaign helped to contribute to the call from a group of WIPO Member States for the release of the report of the investigation conducted by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) concerning allegations against the WIPO Director General.

FICSA has learned that the WIPO Coordination Committee (of Member States) decided at Monday’s meeting that the OIOS investigation report must be released by no later than 26 September 2016 so that WIPO Member States can have time to read the full report in preparation for the annual Assemblies of WIPO Member States which will begin on 3 October 2016.

Ambassador Hamamota’s statement delivered on behalf of a group of WIPO Member States is available at the following link: