IBM Workers In Europe May Strike Over Offshoring

Shareholders at IBM's annual meeting this week will vote on an anti-offshoring resolution.
IBM workers in Europe may strike this week over what they say is the company's ongoing movement of jobs to low-cost countries such as India and China, according to union sources. Meanwhile, a U.S. employee group is asking IBM stock owners to vote on an anti-offshoring resolution at the company's annual meeting Tuesday.

Trade unions representing IBM workers in Germany have called for protests at IBM locations countrywide on Tuesday. Employee groups at IBM France have voted to strike at facilities in Toulouse and Marseille on Wednesday. IBM workers are unionized in parts of Europe but not in the United States, though some U.S. workers belong to a loosely knit employee association.

IBM union leaders in Europe blame recent layoffs and facility closings on the company's shifting of jobs to low-cost countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. In an E-mail distributed over the weekend to IBM's European workers, union officials outlined their position succinctly: "Our main slogans are no offshoring, no layoffs!" IBM employs about 100,000 workers in Europe. The company recently said it might close German offices in Hannover and Schweinfurt.

An IBM spokesman in France says he's unaware of the impending job actions, but adds he doesn't expect any disruptions to customer service or other IBM operations. "We would expect any labor action to be held responsibly," he says.

Meanwhile, the offshoring controversy is hitting IBM closer to home. Members of a U.S.-based employee group have succeeded in placing several pro-labor resolutions on IBM shareholder ballots. One resolution requests that IBM's board of directors establish an independent committee to study the effects of offshoring on the company's "brand name and reputation." Another resolution calls for "an end to age discrimination in retirement policies." Stockholders will vote on the resolutions Tuesday in Charleston, S.C., at IBM's annual meeting.

Rick White, a staffer at Alliance At IBM, which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, says he doesn't think the offshoring resolution will pass, "but we nonetheless want to raise public awareness of this issue."