Navigation Bar

Home -> UE News -> 2000 Archives -> Article



A Rank-and-File Approach


Tom Dunne, Jovita Cruz Aguilar and Modesta Vasquez Lopez show their support for students at the University of Wisconsin ...
Tom Dunne, Jovita Cruz Aguilar and Modesta Vasquez Lopez show their support for students at the University of Wisconsin who are fighting sweatshops.

Mexican union members who toured the United States last month helped put the slogan "Globalize solidarity" into action as they met workers, students and other concerned citizens in California, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Representing the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), an independent Mexican labor federation, allied with UE, a worker fired for union activity and a striker received enthusiastic receptions as they told their stories in union halls, universities, churches, community meetings and private homes. The pair received good news coverage and appeared on various radio and television shows throughout the trip.

They were joined for part of the trip by Benedicto Martinez Orozco, one of the top elected leaders of the FAT. The three were accompanied by Robin Alexander, UE director of international labor affairs.


Jovita Cruz Aguilar, a 45 year old mother of five, and a key member of the strike committee at Imprenta Morales Hermanos, a Mexico City print shop, spoke compellingly about the nearly four year old strike at her plant. In 1996, the company asked that the local union engage in a sham strike to provide cover for the company’s failure to pay state taxes for health care, pensions and housing. When the workers refused, Imprenta Morales stopped paying them altogether, and on June 4, 1996 refused to allow them to enter the plant. The union responded by declaring a strike.

The workers at Morales, most of whom are older women, have stood firm in their resolve, maintaining a 24-hour picket in front of the company’s two locations and soliciting contributions on buses and in the Mexico City metro to support their strike.

Their diligence has paid off: They recently won their case before the Mexican labor board and have requested a final order instructing the company to turn over its equipment in lieu of back wages so that they can begin operating as a cooperative. But Cruz is optimistic: "He (the owner) said we wouldn’t last, that we would be defeated easily because we are women, but we will hang in there for however long it takes!"


Modesta Vasquez Lopez faces an even greater challenge. A 30-year-old mother of three, she was among some 200 workers fired by Congeladora del Rio (CRISA), a fruit-packing company in Irapuato, owned by Greenville, S.C. based transnational, Global Trading. The workers at Congeladora del Rio, mostly women, some as young as 12 years old, were fired when they attempted to form an independent union with the FAT in June 1999.

The CRISA workers went on strike last July. The company bused in teenaged girls as replacements. Although intervention by the state of Guanajuato resulted in an agreement with the company that it would reinstate the fired workers, management subsequently informed the FAT that it was not going to honor the agreement. So the 154 of the workers continue to pursue their claim of wrongful termination and to seek reinstatement.

Faced with such determination, the company has recently filed civil actions for approximately $150,000 for damages against four of the strike leaders and against the FAT’s local organizer, and criminal complaints alleging approximately $10,000 in damages. But Vasquez Lopez told American workers, "If the company thinks it will succeed in intimidating us it is wrong; we have a legal right to choose our own union, and we are going to keep fighting until we are all reinstated and our union is recognized!"

Their visit is part of the ongoing worker to worker exchanges between UE and FAT. Most of the events on the trip were organized by workers from UE locals where members had participated on previous exchanges, including UE Locals 1172, 1135, 893 and 896.


The Mexican workers learned that the neo-liberal policies which have wreaked havoc on workers’ lives in Mexico through privatization, down-sizing and plant closings also affect workers in the U.S. They also gained a more realistic understanding of the difficulties of organizing a union in the U.S., and joined a rally in Milwaukee against Wal-Mart, spoke to students at Milwaukee Area Technical College who had been thrown out of work when their plant had closed weeks earlier, and had dinner in a soup kitchen which serves some five hundred people a day.

In Iowa City, Martinez, Cruz Aguilar and Vasquez Lopez conducted press interviews, resulting in a several stories in local newspapers. They also visited two University of Iowa history classes and an English class, hosted by UE Local 896-COGS members who are university instructors, speaking to more than 40 undergraduate students about the sweatshop conditions they face and their union organizing efforts in Mexico.

The delegation also met with more than 25 members of Local 896-COGS to discuss the UE-FAT organizing alliance. And they gave a two-hour presentation along with COGS member and Students Against Sweatshops activist Ned Bertz for an audience of 60 community members. The presentation was recorded and later broadcast for public viewing on local cable television.

As Local 896-COGS members have learned more about the UE-FATalliance and met FAT members both on this tour and last year’s visit to Iowa City, they have committed to supporting its efforts. Last year, the membership voted to institute a voluntary $1 "extra" dues check-off which will go into effect this fall. Seventy-five COGS members have already signed up, and more are expected to do so as the check-off campaign goes into full swing this fall.


The FAT delegation receives a contribution to support the Mexican union’s organizing from Local 1173 ...
Following a tour of the Everbrite plant in Milwaukee the FAT delegation received a contribution to support the Mexican union’s organizing. Everbrite workers, members of UE Local 1172, had been collecting the funds for weeks. Pictured are Local Vice Pres. Paul Bergles, Jovita Cruz Aguilar, Modesta Vasquez Lopez and Local Sec.-Treas. Sue Palms.

Other highlights of the trip included tours of various UE plants, several print shops represented by GCIU and a number of strawberry processing plants in California represented by the Teamsters. The UE-FAT delegation also participated in activities surrounding the University and College Labor Education Association (UCLEA) conference held in Milwaukee. This included a workshop, rally, and a very successful fund raising dinner sponsored by the Milwaukee County Labor Council and the Wisconsin Fair Trade Campaign to support the FAT’s organizing work. UE Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark and FAT’s Benedicto Martinez were also speakers at a plenary where they provided an inspiring example of what solidarity can mean when based on mutual respect.

In Madison, UE and FAT met with some of the 54 students who were arrested during an anti-sweatshop sit-in at the University of Wisconsin in February. They also joined in a democracy rally at the UW campus, where UE announced its endorsement of the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), developed by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). The delegation also met with students from universities in Milwaukee, Iowa City, Stanford and San Francisco.

(Tom Dunne is a member of UE Local 1172 at Everbrite in Milwaukee. Robin Alexander is UE director of international labor affairs. Deborah Herman, president of UE Local 896-COGS, contributed to this article.)

UE News - 06/00

Home -> UE News -> 2000 Archives -> Article

Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions • Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources • Education • Health & Safety • International • Links

Copyright © 2003 UE. All Rights Reserved