Sign Up

Sweeney Among the Globalists

How does a trade union leader look at the global economy?

November 15, 2000

How does a trade union leader look at the global economy?

Stereotypically, one would not be surprised if John J. Sweeney took a hostile position against globalization. After all, as president of the AFL-CIO he represents some 13 million U.S. workers. But as our new Read My Lips feature shows, Mr. Sweeney will not be so easily categorized. Rather than call for globalization to be put back in the bottle, Mr. Sweeney calls for it to be rethought and reshaped.

What is wrong with globalization as it is now taking place?

“From the suites of Davos to the streets of Seattle, there is a growing consensus that globalization must now be reshaped to reflect values broader than simply the freedom of capital.” (September 2000)

What is the task immediately at hand?

“Our task is not to make societies safe for globalization, but to make the global system safe for decent societies.” (January 1999)

Will globalization stick around?

“In its current form, globalization cannot be sustained. Democratic societies will not support it. Authoritarian leaders will fear to impose it. (January 1999)

Did Henry Ford offer any guide to globalization as it is occurring today?

“Henry Ford was right. A prosperous economy requires that workers be able to buy the products that they produce. This is as true in a global economy as a national one.” (April 1998)

What other historical figures can provide guidance?

“When the famed U.S. labor leader Walter Reuther saw that Japanese autoworkers were riding bicycles to work, he warned: ‘You can’t build an automobile economy on bicycle wages.’ But of course they could, by exporting their automobiles to the United States. Now the limits of that export-led growth model are apparent.” (January 1999)

In your view, what is lacking in the globalization debate?

“After World War II, American leaders were, in Dean Acheson’s words, ‘present at the creation’ of a global order. Now at the end of the cold war, we desperately need that same vision, that leadership, that creativity to be applied to the governance of the global marketplace.” (May 1998)

Nike, the sports apparel company, has repeatedly been targeted by opponents of globalization. Why?

“A core part of the global market is what might be called the ‘Nike Economy’ — footloose companies that play countries against one another while seeking subcontractors with the lowest wages and cheapest conditions.” (May 1998)

Who does benefit from the global economy?

“In the ‘Nike Economy,’ there are no standards, no borders and no rules. Clearly, the global economy isn’t working for workers in China and Indonesia and Burma any more than it is for workers here in the United States.” (May 1998)

What must be done to reconcile the differences between workers and corporations?

“We can no longer allow multinationals to parade as agents of progress and democracy in the newspapers, even as they subvert it at the workplace.” (September 2000)

How can we make globalization work for America?

“For globalization to work for America, it must work for working people. We should measure the success of our economy by the breadth of our middle class, and the scope of opportunity offered to the poorest child to climb into that middle class.” (May 2000)