Global Unions is a term used to describe international trade union organisations that share many of the same traditions and values. These values include the belief that trade unions must be free and independent and controlled by their members rather than by political parties, governments or employers. They are not the only international trade union organisations, but they are, by far, the most representative of them.
Global Unions, in their constitutions, structures, and practices adhere to the principles of democratic governance. They are autonomous organisations controlled by their affiliated trade unions or trade union confederations. They all have periodic Congresses that set policy and elect governing bodies.
Global Unions are 12 Global Union Federations (GUF) that group national trade unions by sector or occupation and two organisations that are
ITUC and TUAC formulate policy and represent the trade union movement with larger society and with intergovernmental organisations. Their memberships and role are different although they have much in common. Fuller descriptions of the respective roles of ITUC and TUAC can be found here : ITUC - TUAC
Just as the roles of the ITUC and TUAC correspond to the policy and representation responsibilities of their national affiliates, the GUFs are the extensions of their national respective affiliates. The GUFs that have a primarily private sector membership group unions in sectors, but also, increasingly, inside common employers or supply/production/service chains. This role has assumed greater importance with the integration of the global economy and global production.
Global Union Federations have negotiated over 60 international framework agreements with major multinational enterprises. IFAs are a visible sign of growing contact and relations of GUFs with their corporate counterparts. Nearly all GUFs group several sectors and are structured in a way that accommodates sectoral differences. Greater detail is provided in descriptions of specific GUFs.
There are GUFs that represent mainly public sector workers. They also focus on specific sectors within their membership and seek to reinforce the rights and influence of their affiliates. They provide services and, like the ITUC and the TUAC, focus a great deal on public policy issues that affect public service and governance. The major, predominantly public service GUFs are PSI and EI although many other GUFs have public sector membership.
The roles of TUAC and ITUC on the one hand and GUFs on the other are complementary and overlap to some degree in the areas of organising and collective bargaining. The ITUC and TUAC in the context of their respective mandates TUAC seek to create an enabling environment for organising and bargaining. Organising and bargaining depend on a legal framework that protects those rights and credible enforcement that makes them real. The fundamental rights in those areas are reflected in conventions of the tripartite (worker, employer, and government representation) International Labour Organisation, including, but not limited to conventions 87 on freedom of association and the right to organise and convention 98 on the right to collective bargaining.
In addition to using the standards and procedures of the ILO, work and intervention with other international bodies, including the World Bank and the OECD (in the case of TUAC) is often designed to put pressure on governments and/or companies to respect the rights to organise and bargain. GUFs are also often involved with or associated with this action, initiate them or, in some cases, act on their own..
Much of the work of GUFs, including in their campaigns and relations with multinational enterprises, focuses on improving the organising and industrial relations strength of their affiliates. It is in that connection that they often work with ITUC and TUAC. Although the contents of IFAs vary, they all contain language related to the respect of principle contained in the key conventions of the ILO and many go beyond that to more specifically address the problem of employer opposition to efforts by workers to form independent trade unions.
Trade unions join together for the same reason that workers do, to be in a stronger position to defend their interests and to act. This is true for the international trade union organisations as well. Industrial strength often effectively combines with political strength to enhance the overall influence of the trade union movement.
However, most of the co-operation among Global Unions involves a limited number. To give one example, in recent years, several international framework agreements have been negotiated and signed with companies by more than one GUF.
In January of 2007, the Council of Global Unions was created. It is composed of GUFs, the ITUC and TUAC. Its role is to stimulate co-operation in agreed, priority areas and to reinforce work already being carried out by Global Unions.