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Centre for Global Labour Research and the Wales TUC: 'Union organising around major sports events'

Starts: 14 February 2008

Together with the Wales TUC, the Centre for Global Labour Research held a seminar in the Glamorgan Building on 14 February 2008, titled ‘Union campaigning and organising around major sports events’. The seminar forms part of a research project that developed from the Global Labour University summer school in 2007, with the aim of taking part in the discussion in the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012 and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

The two seminar speakers were:

Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO Organising Director

Before becoming head of organising at the AFL-CIO, Stewart Acuff was President of the Atlanta Central Labor Council and played a key role in the union campaign around the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, leading the union negotiations with the Olympics committee.

Doug Miller, Multinationals Project Coordinator, International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF)

Doug Miller is one of the leading trade union campaigners involved in the Play Fair 2008 coalition with the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Initially working around the Athens Olympics, Play Fair 2008 is focused on the Beijing Games, leading the campaign to pressurise sportswear and athletic footwear companies, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympics Committees, as well as national governments to take steps to eliminate the exploitation and abuse of workers in the global sporting goods industry.


The Seminar

The seminar was attended by around 35 people and the participants were a mix of academics and trade union officers. As well as the TGLWF in the shape of Doug Miller, two other Global Union Federations (GUFs) were represented (IUF and UNI) by colleagues that are working closely with them. Other organisations present included the ILO’s Workers’ Bureau (ACTRAV), the Southern and Eastern Region TUC (which covers London), Unite, civil service unions PCS and Prospect, broadcasting union BECTU, the Wales TUC, Thompson’s labour lawyers, London Citizens and the G4S Alliance (a UNI-sponsored campaign). From within Cardiff University, there were attendees from SOCSI, SIRC, CARBS, CPLAN, BRASS, and the Regeneration Institute and there were also colleagues present from Leicester and Swansea Universities in the UK and the University of Kassel in Germany.

Doug Miller Image

Doug Miller

Doug Miller’s contribution (see link to presentation slides) began by outlining the problems for unions in the fragmented supply chains of the sportswear sector. He explained the process of production of sports shoes and T-shirts to illustrate how the retail price of an item is broken down and, in particular, how much of that ends up in the pocket of the worker.

Doug showed how unions at global, national and local level combine with the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Playfair Campaign; how a division of labour was worked out between the various members of the campaign; and who were the identified targets of the campaign. Different tactics and approaches are deployed dependent on the nature of the target and the objective, within the overall goal of freedom of association, justice and dignity for workers.

Stewart Acuff Image

Stewart Acuff

Stewart told the story of how unions in the heart of the anti-union South of the USA had managed to make big gains in the run up to the Atlanta Olympics. He made the point however that although much of the South has a recent history of anti-unionism, Atlanta itself has a large progressive constituency, which the unions were able to tap into.

Through a combination of different methods - public campaigning (including demonstrations, occupations, and other actions), lobbying, political activity, coalition building and organising – unions in Atlanta, led by the Atlanta AFL-CIO (the Central Labor Council), were able to get agreement for unionised work, or union rates for the job, across the Olympics infrastructure. Before anyone had ever used the term, Atlanta’s unions deployed many of the methods of a strategic campaign. They also won social gains beyond the workplace and ensured that at least some of the money generated by the Games found its way back into the local community. Campaigning around a theme of justice they engaged and worked closely with the civil rights movement in the city and were able to build effective political alliances on both shared values and personal relationships from earlier struggles. Not all of the gains were sustained over the longer term, but sufficient were to make the efforts worthwhile and to strengthen the place of organised labour in the city and surrounding areas.

The speakers’ were a good combination, with a case study of how a trade union movement responded to the challenge of organising in an Olympic host country, together with an analysis of a campaign for labour rights along the supply chain in the sportswear sector. Their contributions provoked a lively discussion of the issues raised, including union tactics, the role of political support from the local state in the host country and China and labour rights.

Steve Davies






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