International Solidarity —
Two Union Workers
Tell Midwest of Mexican
Labor Rights Struggles
Visiting ABB in Greensburg, Pa.: Local 625
Fin. Sec. Mark Shaffer, Higinio Barrios, Field Org. Jim Brown, Hector González and Local 625 Vice Pres. Pam Coward.
Hector González Gómez, local officer of the Mexican metalworkers’ union STIMAHCS, came to the United
States on a visit recently with the idea that he would find life easy here. What he discovered did not always measure up to that
On their tour of the Midwest González and fellow visitor Higinio Barrios Hernández caught a glimpse of a
U.S. impacted by corporate-driven policies not unlike those causing misery at home. They shared a dinner with women and children
living in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee, a city where they also spoke with immigrant workers fired for trying to organize a union.
And he marveled at how workers in Chicago organized a democratic union through experiences much like his own.
These two representatives from Mexico’s Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) spoke to audiences in eleven U.S.
cities from April 23 to May 4 on a tour organized by UE and co-sponsored by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), an
international student movement of campuses and individual students fighting for sweatshop-free labor conditions and workers’
Bringing their stories of Mexican labor rights struggles to U.S. audiences, González and Barrios were accompanied
by UE Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander. Lenore Palladino, Midwest Regional Organizer for USAS, joined
them for presentations in South Bend, Milwaukee and Chicago.
The tour began in western Pennsylvania with tours of two UE-represented plants both owned by transnationals — St.
Gobain (UE Local 622) in Latrobe and Asea Brown Boveri (UE Local626) in Greensburg — followed by an evening presentation at
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The next morning the two Mexican trade unionists spoke at a breakfast hosted by the United
Steelworkers of America at its headquarters building here.
From Pittsburgh, the tour proceeded to Kent, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Ann Arbor, South Bend, Milwaukee, Madison,
Iowa City and Chicago, where they spoke at numerous universities, a few churches, and were hosted by a variety of unions, including
the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, USWA Local 1010, UAW Local 22, and the Milwaukee County Labor Council.
The FAT representatives were warmly received everywhere. With pleasure, they reported major victories in the Mexico
City area in the last year. These included major progress in Cd. Juarez and the organization of three gas stations averaging 60
workers each and of several thousand bus drivers from what was formerly Ruta 100. (Ruta 100 was the scene of a major labor conflict
in Mexico City in the mid-1990s, fraught with official corruption and assassination.)
HEROES DEAD AND LIVING
Among the highlights of the trip was an unexpected meeting with the Charleston Five at the Haymarket memorial in
Chicago. This a site hallowed by the sacrifice of the Haymarket martyrs, trade unionists executed for their advocacy of shorter
working hours. (The Charleston Five are courageous dock workers who faced lengthy jail sentences and fines because of their fight to
defend their union and jobs.) Arriving at the cemetery to meet some of the students who had organized the presentation scheduled for
that evening, both groups were delighted to encounter each other.
Following an impromptu speech by one of the brothers from Charleston, Barrios stood without speaking, and began to
cry. Pulling himself together, he explained that he had learned about the martyrs of Chicago when in grade school and never imagined
he would be standing by their graves. He then spoke of the marches which had taken place in Mexico two days earlier tocommemorate
May Day, and concluded by committing himself to return to Mexico to fight even harder for the rights of maquila workers.
|Visiting the District 11 Hall in Chicago:
Higinio Barrios and Hector González with Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bruce Klipple (center).
Hector González Gómez is a local officer of
metal workers’ union at the Sealed Power plant in Aguascalientes. His plant was a runaway from the original location in
Mexico City. In Aguascalientes the company brought in a CTM local with the objective of paying lower wages and benefits. (The
CTM is a federation historically dominated by the government.) However, the FAT followed and successfully organized the plant.
Higinio Barrios Hernández is an organizer
with CETLAC, the workers’ center which is operated by the FAT in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso,
Texas. Born in Oaxaca, he came to Cd. Juárez nine years ago in search of work. Over the next six years he was employed in
various maquiladora plants, where his work ranged from manufacturing auto parts for Ford and General Motors to cataloguing
coupons. At the same time, he began to attend classes and participate in CETLAC. Because of his talents and commitment he was
hired three years ago as an organizer.
Participation in a meeting of newly organized workers in Chicago local held special significance to Hector González.
Workers at Azteca Foods proudly selected the number for their new UE local, elected members of their negotiating committee, and
discussed their contract demands. González was impressed with the democratic functioning of the local, commenting repeatedly that
it reminded him of his own union!
He was also surprised by the plant tour of GATX Logistics, where a mostly African-American and Latino workforce had
left a corrupt union and, with great difficulty and after two Labor Board elections, won recognition of their UE local union. Again,
González was stunned by the similarity to his own experience — he had himself belonged to corrupt, government-dominated union
locals in Mexico before coming to work at Sealed Power, an American-owned plant where workers are represented by the FAT.
Another high point was the time spent with students at the University of Iowa, where UE Local 896, COGS represents
graduate student employees. In addition to more informal discussions, graduate students from UE Local 896 and SAS members put
together a packed meeting where they announced that more 100 UE Local 896 members have now signed supplemental dues check-off cards
to support FAT organizing in Mexico. Both of the workers from Mexico were impressed by the numerous student activists they
encountered throughout the trip, and amazed that students would be so concerned about conditions faced by workers in Mexico.
"This tour brought the real story of globalization to union halls, churches, universities and other venues from
Ohio to Iowa," says UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bruce J. Klipple.