Encountering a Commitment
to Democracy in Mexico
District 10 Pres. Joe Chavez visits
Suministros Industrial Machinery, a plant that manufactures and repairs mining equipment.
Above, Benedicto Martínez, FAT national coordinator, a Suministros worker, Chavez, Hector
Arellano, president of the Building Trades Council of El Paso, Texas, and a Suministros
worker. At right Local 893 Sec. Pat Hasenclever, who discovered equipment from her home
state of Iowa awaiting repair.
Two UE rank-and-file leaders were among eight labor and community leaders
from eight states who visited Mexico March 6-14 to strengthen ties with unions and
community groups there. The trip was organized by UE and hosted by the Authentic Labor
Front (FAT), Mexicos national independent labor federation.
Joe Chavez, president of UE District 10 from San Jose, Calif., Pat
Hasenclever, secretary of UE Local 893 (the state-wide amalgamated union in Iowa) and International
Labor Affairs Director Robin Alexander represented the union.
The U.S. delegation toured two factories in Mexico City and three in
Puebla, all organized by FAT, visited FAT-affiliated cooperatives, met with the head of
Mexico Citys labor department and participated in International Womens Day
The FAT-organized factories ranged from small domestic operations to Otis
Elevator, a major transnational corporation. The FATs commitment to union democracy
came through clearly in discussions with workers at each worksite.
The U.S. visitors toured a savings and loan organized by the FAT, which
serves the people of Mirador, a village located high in the hills and an hours drive
from the city of Puebla. Loans are used mainly for farming needs such as seed and
Chavez, Hasenclever and the others also visited Union Provisa, a
cooperatively owned plate-glass manufacturing company. Workers set up the cooperative when
the owner declared bankruptcy and turned the plant and machinery over to union members in
lieu of wages and benefits. Sixteen years later, the factory continues to turn out a
reliable product and provide a living wage.
The U.S. visitors met with railroad workers who lost their jobs due to
privatization and with electrical workers now facing a privatization threat, and with
government workers struggling to maintain their jobs and benefits as their bosses use
temporary workers. Workers from the ITAPSA plant of the U.S.-based Dana Corp. (formerly
owned by Echlin) described their struggles to form an independent union.
PICKET LINE LUNCH
Lunch on a picket line saw the U.S. activists break bread with workers who
have been on strike at the Morales Brothers printing plant since July 12, 1996. Although
the plant will probably never re-open under the Morales name, workers are fighting
for their back and severance pay. There is a possibility they may take over operations as
Manuel Fuentes, director of the labor department of Mexico City,
told the delegation how the progressive new government is attempting to make a positive
impact on workers lives. (Fuentes addressed the 63rd UE
Convention last August.) Fuentes was appointed by Cuahtemos Cardenas, whose
election as mayor was considered a breakthrough in Mexican politics.
Prior to Cardenass election, the administration of Mexicos
ruling party, the PRI, did little for workers. Since then, the labor department has
experienced a 600 percent increase in clients.
In addition to UEs Chavez, Hasenclever and Alexander, the delegation
included Bill Lange, representing the Fair Trade Campaign of the Milwaukee County
Labor Council; Gary Gillespie, president of AFSCME Local 1724, Eugene, Oregon; Urzula
Masny Sokolowski, representing Boston Jobs with Justice; Hector Arellano,
president of the Building Trades Council of El Paso, Texas and Molly Wieser,
representing Escuela Popular, Cleveland, Ohio.