BEIJING United States trade union leaders offered on Tuesday to expand ties with China's state-run union, saying during a visit to Beijing that they shared with Chinese workers the cause of fighting poor conditions and lack of voice.
Anna Burger, chairwoman of Change to Win, a U.S. union coalition, said workers in both nations were being hurt by searing international competition and lack of representation, and it was time to find common ground.
"Trade between the two countries has created incredible wealth, but the reality is that the wealth has not been shared between all of the workers in our two countries," she told reporters.
The U.S. unions have been visiting as the two countries prepare for high-level talks on trade concerns beginning Tuesday in Washington. Many U.S. workers and manufacturers have blamed China's cheap exports and low-paid workers for undercutting U.S. conditions. But the U.S. visitors reached out for greater cooperation with China's unions.
Led by James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, they met with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the Communist Party-run body that officially speaks for workers.
The Chinese Federation generally discourages strikes and confrontation by employees, and acts as a conveyor-belt of growth-focused government policy. Independent worker activists have often been subjected to harassment and arrest.
But the ACTFU has also become increasingly vocal about poor wages and treatment, and has pressed multinationals to establish unions. Hoffa said U.S. unions needed to develop cooperation.
"Anything we can do by dialoguing with the labor union here helps create that pressure" to improve employee conditions in both countries, he told reporters.
Both sides agreed to "exchange information and strategies on issues of collective bargaining and organizing with multinationals in the future," Burger said, adding she believed the Chinese union officials were sincere about their work.
Hoffa -- son of famed U.S. labor leader James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa who disappeared in 1975 -- and a group of representatives have been on a 10-day tour of China.
The ACFTU unionized a Wal-Mart in the south of the country last year. Within weeks, unions had been established at all of Wal-Mart's 60 outlets across China.
But Hoffa said China's unions needed to do more to mobilize workers in the state-run businesses that dominate much of the economy.
"Wal-Mart's good," he said of the Chinese federation's efforts, "but let's go after the state-owned companies."