USW Chemical Workers Forge New Ties at International Conference

The world’s chemical industry is facing many challenges: climate change, the backlash against plastics and hazardous chemicals, and the introduction of new production technology.

Against this backdrop, global union federation IndustriALL held the World Conference for the Chemical Industries this past summer to discuss the challenges trade unions are facing and how to combat them with organizing, solidarity, inclusiveness and communications.

Kent Holsing, USW Local 12075 president and chairman of the DowDuPont North American Labor Council (DNALC), Doug Watts, USW BASF Group chairman, and USW International Affairs Director Ben Davis joined 230 delegates from 45 countries for the three-day conference at the headquarters of IndustriALL affiliate Petrol-İş Sendikası in Istanbul, Turkey.

Pictured: delegates from Lastik-iş attending the conference, along with Ben Davis, director of USW’s International Affairs department; Kent Holsing, DowDuPont North American Labor Council chair, and Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL.

Watts and Davis attended the BASF Union Representatives meeting that was held in conjunction with the World Conference. That meeting drew representatives from BASF sites in 23 different countries.

Watts, who works at BASF’s largest production facility in North America at Geismar, La., said the meeting helped him understand what really happens at other BASF sites around the world.

“BASF likes to move its managers all over the world to gain experience, and this almost always comes with a certain measure of ‘at (my previous site), we do it this way’ mentality,” Watts said. “It almost never really adds up to an apples-to-apples comparison, and I didn’t have any contacts in these other BASF facilities to get the rest of the story. Now, I have those contacts and have faces to put with the names.”

Watts said he will take the information he obtained from the BASF representatives meeting and use it to educate his members and the other locals that are part of the USW BASF Council.

Boosting global solidarity

Holsing participated in the World Conference panel titled, “Boosting Global Union Solidarity: Using International Tools, Trade Union Networks and Global Framework Agreements.”

While speaking about the history of the DNALC, its purpose, accomplishments and future, Holsing emphasized the importance of developing grassroots solidarity, communication and networking to fight multinational corporations, like Dow and DuPont, globally.

Other panel discussions focused on topics like health and safety, worker struggles, building power within the chemical industry, empowering women and youth, ending precarious (temporary, contract labor) work, and Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, refers to digitization of images, sound and text that can be processed by a computer, robots, automation and the Internet of Things (physical objects embedded with sensors, software and electronics that enable them to collect and exchange data).

While some of the panelists saw Industry 4.0 as a way to attract new workers to an industry seen as dirty and dangerous and improve workplace safety, others expressed concern about job loss and unions not being ready for the change.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan said that while the division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms is shifting fast, workers have a right to information and consultation; education and training; and privacy at home and at work.

Networking opportunity

Holsing, Watts and Davis visited a BASF facility, about 40 minutes outside of Istanbul, and they met the site union representative, exchanged contact information, and toured part of the facility. They also visited a Dow facility. The Dow Site Leader gave Holsing a tour of the Dow plant, and he met with the plant’s union representatives, employees and Lastik-İş (the Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Industry Workers’ Union) members.

Pictured: the Dow plant in Dilovasi, Turkey. (L-R): Lastik-iş union representative at Dow Dilovasi plant; Ben Davis; Kent Holsing; Ozay Bektas, Lastik-iş local union president; Lastik-iş union representative at Dow Dilovasi plant; and Doug Watts.

“It was the first time they had met a union representative from the United States, especially one from the same company they worked for,” Holsing said.

Following the Dow visit, the three visited the headquarters of Lastik-İş in Istanbul and met with İhsan Malkoç, secretary general, and Alaadin Sarı, president. They discussed the importance of developing a relationship between Lastik-İş and the USW, exchanged ideas, and asked and answered questions.

Pictured: (L-R) ihsan Malkoç, secretary general of Lastik-iş; Kent Holsing; Alaadin Sari, president of Lastik-iş; Ben Davis; Doug Watts, USW BASF Group chairman, and a Lastik-iş member.

“It was a very productive meeting and can lead to some great networking possibilities,” Holsing said.

Click here to read the action plan the World Congress issued that sums up the conclusions of the panel discussions, and gives a road map for global union organizing in the chemical sector over the next four years.

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