Leo Gerard Takes On The World

Globalization a threat to workers and to democracy, says Steelworkers President Leo Gerard
Labour Relations

Globalization and North American integration have created an economic elite at the expense of workers, said Leo Gerard, International President of the 700,000-member United Steelworkers of America. Mr. Gerard addressed nearly 100 attendees at the 2003 Don Wood Lecture on March 6, organized by the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre and School of Industrial Relations.

Mr. Gerard painted a gloomy picture of globalization’s effects internationally—drops in per capita income in Latin America and Africa; a widening gap between rich and poor, both within and among nations; and financial instability, as evidenced by the East Asian crisis, economic collapse in Russia, Argentina and Ecuador, and global recession.

In North America, free trade agreements are exacerbating these problems, resulting in “obscene wealth” for the few and harsh economic realities for workers, he added.

“CEOs in Canada and the United States are rewarded for moving jobs offshore, for laying off workers,” he said, “for terminating pension plans and retiree health care coverage, for ravaging the environment and for violating workers fundamental human rights—especially the right to freedom of association, to organize and bargain collectively with their employers. In its present form, NAFTA would extend those perverse incentives throughout the North American continent.”

Reversing this, Mr. Gerard said, “is the challenge placed before the labour movements of Canada, Mexico and the United States—and since our political leaders seem determined to duplicate the most objectionable features of NAFTA in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, before unions in Central and South America as well.”

Further, a global social movement is needed to ensure that the concentrated wealth created by globalization does not compromise democracy, he added. “That, in a nutshell, is the most serious implication of globalization and North American integration-not just for the labour movement, but also for every citizen on our continent, and in our world.”

The Don Wood Lecture brings to Queen’s distinguished individuals such as Mr. Gerard who have made an important contribution to industrial relations in Canada or abroad. The son of a Sudbury miner and union organizer, Mr. Gerard grew up in the company town of Creighton in northern Ontario, started working at Inco’s smelter when he was 18, and rose steadily through the ranks of union leadership to become a key figure in the international labour movement.

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