Labor federations in Los Angeles and Shanghai have announced a partnership to help workers in both cities cope with globalization. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, each regional labor group says it has something to learn from the other.
This is the first formal link between a U.S. central labor council and its Chinese counterpart, involving the 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the six million member Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council.
Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the Los Angeles federation, outlined the agreement in a telephone conference call from Shanghai. She says Los Angeles and Shanghai have the largest urban economies in the Pacific Rim, and that workers in both cities face similar challenges.
"We see that corporations act and plan globally, and it's time for workers to also act and plan globally to protect our interests," she said.
Durazo says the United States and China have different systems of government, and their unions have different structures. Trade unions in China are government-sanctioned, while those in the United States are independent. Still, she says, they have common interests, and they plan to share information on bargaining tactics and strategy.
The Los Angeles labor leader says trade unionists in China, which is officially communist, have only recently been exposed to profit-making corporations. She says they hope to learn something from the long experience of their Western counterparts.
Chinese unions have had some notable successes. They have recruited workers in three global corporations - Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken - that have resisted unionization in the United States.
A huge influx of foreign investment has brought China both prosperity and problems, including income disparities and a flow of migrant workers from the countryside to the cities. China has recently strengthened laws designed to protect its workers, but Durazo says Chinese officials and labor leaders acknowledge that safeguarding the rights of workers is difficult.
"The challenge, of course, for them, is enforcement," she said. "And they admit to that."
The labor leader says with global shifts in business and the loss of many middle-income jobs in the United States, her federation may look to other regions that trade with Los Angeles, in Asia and Latin America, to expand its partnerships.