Letter: Working-class solidarity or union politics?

John Carlin's account of the UPS Teamsters' strike in the US was limited and unrepresentative ("We're not going to take it any more", 17 August).

I am delighted that the strike has been resolved and operations are resuming as normal, but feel it appropriate to redress the balance. Mr Carlin applauds the strike ordered by the Teamsters as a measure of "working-class solidarity" against "rich corporations" getting richer at the expense of workers and a "long overdue backlash and possibly even a defining moment in American labour relations".

Yet, oddly, Mr Carlin does not say that UPS workers are the best paid in the industry (drivers earn $50,000 in pay, $20,000 in fringe benefits) and that UPS management's original offer ensured it would stay that way.

He fails to mention that the vast majority of part-timers don't want to be full-time employees: 45 per cent are students and many others work part-time so that they can raise children. He does not say that part-time workers in UPS in the US also get full-time benefits, such as holiday pay, pensions and health insurance, a rarity in the US.

He incorrectly claims that "more than 20 per cent of jobs in America are part-time ... and the trend is spreading". Currently, 15 per cent of US jobs are part-time; this has not increased since 1984.

Mr Carlin fails to discuss the real issues of the dispute: the Teamsters' opposition to the UPS proposal for a single pension plan, for instance, and why UPS workers were not allowed to vote by the Teamsters on the UPS package. UPS had proposed a single pension plan that will be created exclusively for the benefit of UPS employees and will increase the monthly pension benefit for full- and part-time employees by an average of 50 per cent. The fund would be managed 50-50 by the company and the Teamsters but the union rejected it because UPS's current contributions go to 31 multi-employer Teamster-controlled pension plans that benefit several thousand Teamster retirees who have never worked for UPS.

But perhaps the most extraordinary omission in this article concerns the leadership of the union. Ron Carey, the Teamster president, has federal investigators looking at his campaign funding irregularities; his recent election has not been certified and, with only a 4 per cent victory over James Hoffa Jnr, there is a real prospect of a near-term rerun. What better way to expand that 4 per cent than appearing on national TV in the States every day as the fearless leader of one of the biggest strikes in recent American history?

Burkhard Meyer

UPS UK, Feltham, Middlesex