When delegates considered the resolution "International Labor Solidarity," they examined not only what might be but what is: UE’s international solidarity work, based on a commitment to action, is already an example for much of the labor movement.
"There are few unions in the United States that not only have the understanding of the agenda being shoved down our throats by the multinationals and their allies in governments, but also have a vision on how to confront that agenda," commented Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark. "Our union has that vision."
An important part of UE’s groundbreaking relationship with Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT) has been worker-to-worker exchanges, Clark observed. Eight delegates spoke from their own first-hand experiences about the benefit of their trips to Mexico representing the union.
During those exchanges UE members met with trade unionists from Quebec also interested in building solidarity with Mexican workers. A result of those meetings has been closer cooperation between UE and Quebec’s labor solidarity, and the participation of a Québécois labor delegation in the UE convention.
Four Québécois union leaders joined with Beatriz Luján of the FAT in the panel "Eliminating Borders — Solidarity at Work."
Director of the Labor Workshop and Studies Center (CETLAC) in Juarez, Lujan, described the deteriorating conditions in that border city. She detailed environmental problems, shoddy housing, bad schools and lack of personal safety, the latter exemplified by the rising number of rapes and murder of young working women. CETLAC plays a role in opposing violence against women and for the rights of women working in the maquilas. Joint UE-FAT projects like the murals carry with them workers’ visions of how to better conditions and strengthen solidarity, she said. Lujan also reported on organizing drives in this runaway-shop haven.
CETLAC has been supported by both UE and CISO, an international labor solidarity committee of several Quebec unions. Claire Lalande, the general director of CEQ, Quebec’s education confederation, sketched for delegates the labor scene in the predominantly French-speaking province. Quebec has three principal federations, each of them represented in the delegation attending the UE convention. The workforce is the most unionized in North America; from a recent high of 49 percent in 1992, today 40 percent of workers are organized, Lalande pointed out.
Lalande also explained the work of her own union, which represents a wide variety of school staff, from daycare facilities to universities, as well as healthcare and communications workers. CEQ is among the unions currently involved in major public sector negotiations, she said. Major issues include employment levels and the quality of jobs, as well as pay, Lalande added.
Catherine St.-Germaine, an attorney for the Canadian Auto Workers, briefly recounted the struggle against concessions that led to the 1985 secession from the UAW. She drew applause from UE delegates when she declared, "you don’t need a union to go backwards." St.-Germaine blasted the declining social safety net in Canada and the rightward drift of labor’s party, the NDP. She described recent struggles and noted that her own union’s members recently voted by a 97 percent margin to authorize a strike. "We are growing and fighting back," she said to applause.
Suzanne Morin, coordinator of the Solidarity Committee of the Central Council of CSN for metropolitan Montreal, brought the fraternal greetings of 475 affiliated unions and 80,000 members. The CSN council coordinates struggles around labor, political and social issues, including women’s rights, Quebec sovereignty and international solidarity, she explained.
Globalization is a major issue for CSN-affiliated unions, with mergers and plant closings, Morin said. This is paralleled by declining social services. CSN believes that international trade agreements should include labor and social clauses, so that the developing world does not pay too high a price and workers in the developed world are protected. These should include the right to organize, minimum wages, parity between men and women and abolition of child labor, Morin declared. We must internationalize our unions to be able to resist, she said.
Denis Turcotte represented the unaffiliated public-sector union, SFPQ; he is vice president of the Montreal and Laval region responsible for education, mobilization and coordination during negotiations. His union defends the rights of civil servants while at the same time promoting the importance of good public services as a democratic means to serve the population. Therefore, Turcotte said, SFPQ comes into conflict with right-wing politicians and privatizers looking for a quick buck by grabbing hold of public services. "Reforms" contemplated by the Quebec government would threaten both jobs and public services. SFPQ is fighting against free-market thinking while arguing for a more democratic vision of civil service, Turcotte said.
Questions from Mona Parillo, Local 1094, Bob Clark, Barry Rideout, Local 120, Connie Spinozzi, District One, and Rich Drylie Local 683 concerned relations with U.S. motion-picture companies, independent politics, the right to strike in the public sector, attacks on health care and education and goals for international labor cooperation.
Delegates who related their experiences on worker-to-worker delegations to Mexico were Connie Spinozzi, District One; Joe Chavez, District 10; Ed Havaich, Local 751; Becky Burke, Local 893; Marianne Hart, Local 1421; Al Harhay, Local 1111; Rich Drylie, Local 683; and Donna Cramer, Local 506. (See: On July 4, Celebrating Worker Independence In Mexico, Encountering a Commitment to Democracy in Mexico, UE Members Return From Mexico Committed to UE-FAT Alliance). Statements in support of the resolution were also made by Sam Lopez, Local 896, and Ray Pompano, Local 243. Dave Adams, Local 506, reported on his local’s participation in the upcoming mural project.
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