Excerpt: Interview with Andy Stern

CHAUDHRY: What is an effective union strategy given that we’re living in a highly globalized economy?

STERN: First of all, we have a global economy. We’re not going to stop it—it’s here. It exists and it’s getting bigger and stronger. The questions are: What are its rules? How is it regulated? How do workers benefit, whether they be blue or white collar? The solution is not to go back and try to say we should have closed the borders or that NAFTA was a bad idea. The question now is whether we can change NAFTA.

So you just have to suspend history as an anchor and make it more of a guidepost. You have to integrate it with what’s happening in today’s world. So then the question is, how do you have global unions when you have global employers? How do you have global institutions that not just protect patents of big corporations but also protect the environment and wages? So we’re just not protecting property, we’re protecting people.

CHAUDHRY: So what are the basic premises of a retooled strategy?

STERN: The labor movement was created appropriately [for its time]. We had local employers—whether they were in construction or hotels [or] phone companies—that then went on to be, in many cases, regional, national, and now international. Unfortunately, we have not been growing in proportion to these enterprises. So we’re falling farther and farther behind because they are changing in nature, and because we represent fewer and fewer workers in the private sector. Had we done nothing differently, companies becoming global makes us—the U.S. part—the smaller part of their overall enterprise. And that in itself makes us less strong in dealing with them. So you have to start with a premise: we need global unions to deal with global employers.

CHAUDHRY: You have talked about taking on Wal-Mart. What do you have in mind?

STERN: Wal-Mart is the largest employer not only in our country but around the world. This is about what our world is going to do about the Wal-Mart business model, which is low prices on steroids.

So we want to change their business model. In order do that we clearly need to build coalitions with workers, environmentalists, small businesses, big businesses—all people who see the Wal-Mart business model as irresponsible. At the same time, we hope that the AFL-CIO and the UFCW—the main union in the industry—will focus their energy on getting Wal-Mart workers into unions in spite of some very difficult odds posed by a very aggressive antiunion employer.

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