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63rd National
UE Convention

Convention Celebrates
Echlin Victory

Benedicto Martinez, a FAT national coordinator and general secretary of STIMAHCS — Dan Kovalik, lawyer for the United Steelworkers — Jerry Barr, director of the Toronto-based Canadian Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund

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Just before the 1997 convention, armed thugs prevented workers at a Mexican auto-parts plant owned by Echlin Inc. from leaving a government-controlled union for STIMAHCS, the metalworkers’ union affiliated with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT). The organizing by STIMAHCS took place as a result of the UE-initiated Echlin Workers’ Alliance.

Just weeks before this year’s convention, the government agency responsible for hearing complaints under the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement upheld a complaint filed by UE and other unions. The decision by the National Administrative Office finds fault with Echlin and concludes that the Mexican government failed to enforce its own laws protecting workers’ rights.

Taking note of that victory, this year’s convention heard remarks from a panel of international speakers who have worked with UE on the Echlin case as part of the Echlin (now Dana) Workers Alliance.

In introducing the speakers, Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley stressed that "the only solution to corporate exploitation across borders is trade union organization across those same borders." He asked delegates to envision a day when unions from different countries sit down at the same bargaining table opposite their common multinational employer.

"UE has helped lead this pioneering work to build this trinational alliance," Kingsley observed. "Our Local 1090, in its organizing and contract struggles, was the catalyst for the formation of the alliance in the first place. But the leadership we have given to this work has come at a terrible price," Kingsley said; the plant has since been closed. The victory we celebrate, he said, was made possible by the local’s sacrifice.

Kingsley pointed out that UE locals in southern Connecticut joined in a protest at the Echlin stockholders’ meeting. "We took over that otherwise polite and orderly meeting of very wealthy people," he said. And a number of convention delegates attended the NAO hearing in Washington during the union’s political action conference.

The favorable decision by the NAO is "a limited victory, as there is no immediate remedy," Kingsley stated. The unions will ask the new corporate owner, Dana, to commit to a code of conduct, investigate the company’s Mexican labor relations record, and rehire Mexican workers fired for their participation in the organizing campaign there.


Benedicto Martinez


Benedicto Martinez, a FAT national coordinator and general secretary of STIMAHCS, said the U.S. NAO decision is very important for the FAT as the Mexican federation advances a complaint through the Mexican legal machinery. In the plant itself, the union is maintaining contacts and there is "a resurgence in enthusiasm and interest." The FAT believes a victory is possible if there is a new election under totally different conditions, including a secret ballot election and physical guarantees of safety for the workers, Martinez said. The ramifications of the case could have an impact on Central and South America as well, he said.

Dan Kovalik, lawyer for the United Steelworkers, worked closely with UE in filing the complaint before the NAO. He characterizes the decision as a good one as it recognizes most of the unions’ complaints. In particular, this is the first NAO ruling that recognizes health and safety problems. "It’s very groundbreaking in that respect."

The Dana Workers Alliance has filed a complaint with the Canadian NAO, announced Jerry Barr of the Canadian Steelworkers. "We’re now going into the Canadian hearing having won the case for all practical purposes in Washington," said Barr who is director of the Toronto-based Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund. He noted that the Echlin case marks the first time that national labor federations in Canada, Mexico and the United States had signed on to the same complaint.

Both Barr and Kovalik praised UE’s leadership role in bringing the unions of the three countries together for the campaign for workers’ rights in the Echlin/Dana chain.


Members Cite Lessons Learned
From Solidarity Trip to Mexico

When the convention considered the resolution "International Labor Solidarity," three UE members had something in particular to say.


Sherri Nelson, Local 791

Sherri Nelson, Local 791, Rich Drylie, Local 683, and Al Harhay, Local 1111 traveled to Mexico in June as part of a delegation cited by the resolution. (Drylie was unable to attend the convention, but Nelson read his statement.) Their experiences affirmed for them the importance of international solidarity.

Their visit coincided with that of a 15-strong delegation from Quebec, reported Nelson and Harhay. "It is one of the most profound cultural, political and socio-economic lessons I have ever learned or experienced," Drylie said in his letter.

The trip was "very much a learning experience," with lessons learned from both Mexican and Quιbιcois trade unionists, Nelson said; "we all have the same darn problems." She discovered that jobs lost from Canada and the United States to Mexico are being moved to China and South America.

"So we have to do what we can," Nelson declared. "We can’t meet this with prejudice and ignorance." Foreign workers aren’t at fault for job loss. "We have to fight to get everybody’s wages up. That’s the only way we can combat the bosses and the corporations, to make all of us have decent living wages, decent benefits and decent working conditions."


Al Harhay, Local 1111


Harhay agreed. Despite language and cultural differences and varied work experiences, "what we found were amazing similarities. It is obvious that the borders, industries and language mean nothing to the bosses. Their unifying factor is greed."

Bosses prevail by keeping us divided, Harhay observed. "When and only when all working people stand together will we achieve a fair return on our labors and a decent life for our families," he declared.

In Drylie’s letter, he reported proudly that Local 683 had decided to pledge $50 to the UE-FAT Solidarity Fund. "This is not a great deal of financial support, but it would be my hope to have Local 683 be the catalyst for other locals." Cross-border learning experiences don’t finance themselves, he said.

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Perla Martinez


Delegates also heard from two young organizers from CETLAC, the workers’ center sponsored by UE and the FAT in the border city of Juarez. Perla Martinez and Alex Perez both attended the UE organizers’ school in Milwaukee.

Workers in the foreign-owned plants in Juarez know very little about their rights, said Perez. Educating workers is CETLAC’s main job. "Many of these maquila plants in Juarez are plants that have closed their doors in the United States, in many cases throwing out unions such as the UE," Perez said. "If they go to Mexico thinking that they’ll be free of unions, I’m going to tell you that it’s not the case. In Mexico, we’re going to do everything we can, working with you, to organize these plants!"


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