UE Members in Mexico
For 40th Anniversary of FAT
By TOM DUNNE
UE Local 1172
Martínez, FAT coordinator and general secretary of
the metal workers’ union (STIMAHCS), with a plaque from UE honoring the
Mexican labor organization on its 40th anniversary. The
plaque contains a poem by Local 618 Bus. Agent Lynda Leech, one of the many
rank-and-file UE leaders who have taken part in worker-to-worker exchanges
sponsored by UE and the FAT.
Two UE members joined unionists from Quebec, Italy, Spain, and
France in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Frente Autentico del Trabajo
(FAT), Nov. 23-25 in Mexico City.
John Thompson from Local 690 in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Tom
Dunne from Local 1172 in South Milwaukee, Wis., were asked to attend on
behalf of the union because of their extensive involvement in the union’s
political action and international work. The pair were accompanied by UE
Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander.
The celebration included a panel discussion about governmental
transitions and their impact upon labor unions in the various countries.
It also included the release of two books on FAT history, one
in English, by Dale Hathaway, entitled Allies Across the Border
(South End Press) [more information about this book is available below],
and the other, a Spanish language publication by longtime FAT activist, Jorge
Robles. The UE members were also welcomed as special guests at a
conference of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), the newest Mexican
labor federation, of which FAT is a member organization.
Finally, on Saturday, a party was held which included live
music, food and a chance to mingle with FAT members.
The governmental transition panel discussion, was especially
relevant and had been planned by the FAT to help inform its membership and
prepare them to develop a strategy for the coming period in which the Mexican
labor movement faces an uncertain future with President Vincente Fox
now in power. Fox is a member of PAN, a pro-business party, which has embraced
neoliberal change in Mexico and seeks to expand free trade.
Some expressed a very pessimistic view, pointing to the
corporate nature of Fox’s cabinet appointments, and impending battles
regarding privatization and labor law reform. Others saw reason to be
optimistic, pointing out that Fox’s inauguration represents a dissolution of
the corporativist structure which allowed the PRI (the former ruling party) to
maintain control of Mexico’s government for 71 years. They felt that things
could not get any worse for Mexican workers, than in a corrupt one-party
system, with "official" unions that prevent workers from joining
democratic, independent unions, and that the transition would create new
Thompson assessed the discussion, "The importance of
these last days of meetings and discussions with the FAT over the current
political situation in Mexico, and the transition to the Fox government was
very useful for UE members because it gives us a greater understanding of the
possibilities of building the UE-FAT alliance. It also gives us a greater
understanding of the possibilities for change."
Allies Across the Border
South End Press,
2000, 288 pages
(link will open
a new window, taking you to information about this book on the South End
Press web site)
ISBN 0-89608-632-1 paper $19.00
ISBN 0-89608-633-X cloth $40.00
Thompson and Dunne both took part in a panel discussion during
the presentation of Dale Hathaway’s book, Allies Across the Border.
They talked about the book, the history of the UE-FAT alliance, and related
personal stories about the impact that participating in worker-to-worker
exchanges has had on them.
Hathaway, an associate professor of political science at
Butler University in Indianapolis, has written a comprehensive history of FAT
that goes back to its early ties with progressive elements within the Catholic
church in the 1960s, through various struggles of the 1970s and 1980s, up to
current battles such as that at Congeladora del Rio (CRISA), the
American-owned fruit packing plant in Irapuato. Hathaway gives a favorable
overview of FAT’s attempts to build alliances such as the Strategic
Organizing Alliance between FAT and UE, and chronicles the fight on both sides
of the border against the transnationals GE and Dana/Echlin.
For 40 years, FAT has survived an uphill battle against
formidable obstacles, and yet today, survives, stronger than ever. One sign
that it continues to be an organization that has a great deal of influence
relative to its size, is the recent appointment of Bertha Lujan, a FAT
leader for more than two decades, to a cabinet position with the newly elected
center-left PRD government of Mexico City. She was honored with an award for
her service during the celebration.
UE News - 01/01