UAW’s King uses gala with Chinese to argue for union

January 21, 2011

UAW’s King uses gala with Chinese to argue for union

White House dinner also chance to talk with Hillary Clinton

Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington —To hear him tell it, Bob King was all business — or, more accurately, all union — when he attended a state dinner at the White House for the Chinese president. Reporting back to union activists attending a four-day conference in Washington on Thursday, King said he saw Wednesday night’s event as an “organizing opportunity.”
The dinner, he said, gave him the chance to lobby China’s deputy premier to allow that country’s workers to unionize; ask Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about “getting together and talking about global labor rights”; and appeal to former President Jimmy Carter for help in the UAW’s attempts to organize U.S. workers at foreign-owned auto plants.
“I tried to do it respectfully, but I said what’s in my heart: Collective bargaining rights are needed in China and if there’s any way that we in the UAW could help support and train people on collective bargaining we’re happy to do that,” King said of his chat with the Chinese official.
“I thought he might be offended but he was more receptive than I thought.”
Independent trade unions are illegal in China, but the country has state-run unions through the All China Federation of Trade. Workers who strike over pay or working conditions often are fired, and labor organizers are often imprisoned, according to human rights groups.
King, who doffed his union jacket in favor of a tuxedo for the dinner, said Clinton “was very anxious” to accept his invitation to talk about global labor rights.
The UAW wants foreign-owned auto plants in the United States to endorse the union’s principals for fair bargaining among American workers, and King appealed to Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter for their support.
He noted that the Carter Center the couple founded helps oversee foreign elections.
“How can we have the moral high ground to go to other countries of the world and talk about a fair election process and we do not allow workers in workplaces in America to have a fair election?” King asked.
Just in case any of those attending the union conference questioned his inclusion on the elite White House guest list, King said he was focused on the UAW’s future.
“I want to be very, very clear on this: I was only invited because I represent you,” he said.

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