International Solidarity —
For UE Members
In Mexico, New
UE and Canadian union members pose with FAT
Coordinator Benedicto Martinez, (second from left, front row). UE’s Patricia Harris is at right, front row; David Correia is
second from left, back row, with Judy Hice and David Warner; Carymn Stanko is at right, back row.
We as working-class people are not alone in our struggle for better pay and working conditions," says Judy
Hice, president of UE Local 1004, recently returned from a trip to Mexico as part of a UE delegation.
The June 29-July 7 trip was among the regular exchanges of rank-and-file delegations sponsored by UE and Mexico’s
Authentic Labor Front (FAT), a federation of unions and cooperatives. The UE members on this recent trip were joined by Quebec trade
unionists sponsored by CISO, a labor solidarity center.
UE participants interviewed by the UE NEWS came away with an appreciation for the physical beauty of Mexico,
the dedication of the FAT to improving workers’ conditions, and the importance of the UE-FAT alliance.
The five UE members met with the FAT’s national leadership, toured FAT-represented textile factories and a
plate-glass cooperative affiliated with the FAT, heard presentations on current Mexican politics and labor law, met with workers
seeking union organization, and visited the rainforest site of an "ecotourism" project.
For Carmyn Stanko, a licensed electrician employed by the University of Vermont, participation in a recent UE
delegation to Mexico was "one of those life-changing things." Meeting Mexican workers and learning firsthand about their
struggles, the UE Local 267 president observes, "is not the same as reading the paper."
The trip south of the border inevitably contained surprises, although some aspects were anticipated.
"It was certainly very clear to me that the multinational corporations are exploiting the Mexican workers, that
wasn’t a surprise," says Stanko. "As is true in the U.S., capital in Mexico enjoys the same advantages," comments David
Correia, a UE Local 896 member.
What most surprised Hice, a computer specialist employed by Henry Mayo Hospital in San Clarito, Calif., was the low
pay levels and working conditions — and government-dominated union federations that "basically look out for the employer
instead of the employees who are paying the dues."
Different, too, Hice says, is "All the ways the Mexican people support themselves with the various food,
beverage and handicraft stands on virtually every street."
UE Local 896 donated a computer to a cooperative affiliated
with Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT); Local 896 member David Correia presented the computer on a recent trip to
Mexico as part of a rank-and-file delegation. He is pictured above (at left) with Agustin Contreras, coordinator of the
cooperative, and Chelo Carasco, coordinator of the FAT’s cooperative sector.
The cooperative markets locally produced serapes, shawls and
place-mats; cooperative members also raise sheep and make organic fertilizer and organic jam. The cooperative gives its
members a chance to survive the economic crisis in Mexico, and operates on the principles of democracy and solidarity espoused
by the FAT.
Correia, a teaching assistant in the University of Iowa Geography Dept., "was surprised at the extent to which
NAFTA has completely changed the situation for labor in Mexico." Stanko was surprised — and impressed — by "how
organized the struggle is." She explains, "FAT has its own building, an educational center, all these wonderful people
working there, that was kind of a surprise." Particularly impressive: "FAT is working hard to educate the people to
understand their oppression."
David Warner, UE Local 770 committeeperson (chief steward), has visited Mexican border towns, but never Mexico
City, a bustling metropolis of some 20 million residents. The high-rise buildings and subway system impressed him. So did the
factories the delegation toured. "They were clean, the machinery modern, the lighting better than the place I work," says
Warner, a maintenance mechanic at Hendrickson Truck Suspension Systems in Indiana. "It was a pretty well set-up operation. I
was picturing a rundown place with old equipment."
What’s more, "people liked what they were doing, and thought they were being treated fairly," Warner
The same couldn’t be said for a group of unorganized women workers, who had many questions for the UE members
about their wage and benefit levels, and the steps to be taken in organizing. "Their stories were compelling," says Stanko
— stories that revealed the struggle for survival on wages of $7 a day, the struggle to organize an independent union in the teeth
of opposition from a government-dominated organization. "For some it’s dangerous," Stanko points out.
"Their organizing efforts must go on in complete secrecy, but the actual voting by workers to unionize with the
FAT is completely public. It’s amazing they have the success they do," Correia says.
"It’s always an uphill battle to organize a shop, it doesn’t happen overnight," says Warner. He says
he was impressed by the FAT — "they’re doing what they can do to help in some of these places." "The FAT is
looking to organize workers, not just trying to increase numbers," says Stanko. "I see the same with UE, the same
education and passion." Stanko also appreciates the inclusiveness of the FAT. Compared to U.S. experience, "the FAT are
more process-oriented regarding the role of gender both within the FAT and at the workplace," suggests Correia.
Warner says the trip "definitely gave me a clearer understanding of the UE and FAT alliance;" other
participants agreed. "This alliance is a crucial element in global solidarity and without its continued development, labor can’t
effectively oppose big capital," proposes Correia.
"As a relatively new member of the UE, I was introduced to the FAT at a district meeting about two years ago
and told of the relationship, but until you actually see the FAT in action the similarities are not as striking," says Hice.
"We have basically the same way of doing things, from organizing down to the running the locals on a daily basis.""It
makes sense to me that UE would be involved with FAT," adds Stanko. "They have very much the same kind of organization as
Did the trip give you a different understanding of UE? the UE NEWS asked.
"No, the trip reinforced my understanding of the UE and how ‘I am the Union,’ as well as making it
perfectly clear that the members are the only ones who can hope to change the ways of big business and ‘we’ better start doing
something now," says Hice.
"Yes," responds Correia, who says he is "amazed" at the level of UE’s international activity.
"Also, while I know UE is a democratic, progressive union, this trip cemented in my mind that UE is developing, in partnership
with FAT, the model of union organizing that can actually have a global impact."
The importance of making global connections became clearer to David Warner in his discussions with Mexican workers.
"Even though they’re only making 48 cents an hour, they’re equally concerned about losing work to other countries —
bosses pay 25 cent an hour in China, 7 cents in Bangladesh. That’s one thing that left on a strong impression on me," Warner
says. "They’re going to be losing jobs to other countries, too, just like we do.
"If these companies can get away with it, they’re going to — as long as they can," Warner points out.
"Globalization has killed the ‘middle class’ our societies were built on and the gap between ‘rich’ and
‘poor’ is getting larger on a daily basis," concludes Hice. "If we, as workers, don’t stand together against the
large corporations and their greed, the future will hold nothing for us except slavery."
The fifth participant, Patricia Harris, a development technician at the Caswell Center in Kinston, N.C. and
acting president of the Caswell chapter of UE Local 150, could not be reached for comment. The delegation was accompanied by UE
International Labor Affairs Dir. Robin Alexander.