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On July 4, Celebrating
Worker Independence
In Mexico

'Every UE member should be alarmed by the relentless march of transnationals as they rush into Mexico to exploit cheap labor and a vulnerable workforce'

Alexander, Dunne, Burke, Havaich
The UE delegation in Mexico June 26 to July 7 consisted of John Payne, Local 221, Robin Alexander, director of international labor affairs, Tom Dunne, Local 1172, Becky Burke, Local 893, and Ed Havaich, Local 751.

For five Americans visiting Mexico, observation of the Fourth of July this year carried unmistakable irony.

These UE members spent Independence Day with some 200 desperately poor and determined strikers who had declared their independence — from a U.S.-based fruit company.

Mostly women, the Irapuato packers range in age from 13 to 80. For 50 cents an hour, they cut, peeled, pitted and sometimes pureed fruit, working between 10-12 hours most days, up to 16-18 hours some days, seven days a week.


Speed-up has led to injuries; one 13-year-old told UE members how she had been burnt by acidic juices on arms and stomach. Management insisted that packers buy gloves, an impossible demand to fulfill on such low wages.

The final indignity came when the company refused to pay the profit-sharing required by Mexican law because supposedly there were no profits. "How could there not be any profits with all the work we’re doing?" the packers asked.

Fired ... for organizing.
This 13-year-old in Irapuato, Mexico left school to work in a fruit-packing plant to help support her family — until management at the U.S.-owned company fired her and her 200 co-workers for organizing a union.

Workers organized with a union affiliated with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT). They filed for certification on June 23; three days, later, the bosses for the South Carolina company who had refused to allow the workers to go home until all the fruit was packed now said there was no work at all for them.

When the packers saw trucks loaded with fruit coming, they blocked the entrance to the factory. "I am willing to fight to the death," a striker told Becky Burke, a child abuse inspector from Cedar Rapids, Iowa and member of the UE Local 893, IUP executive board.

The trip to Irapuato "had an emotional impact on me," commented John Payne; in the words of Ed Havaich, it was the "defining moment" for the UE delegation: the five gave up a free day of sightseeing in Mexico City to endure an uncomfortable, nine-hour bus ride.

The UE delegation, hosted by the FAT as part of a trinational worker-to-worker exchange, consisted of Burke, Havaich, a Local 751 chief steward from the Niles, Ohio, General Electric plant, Payne, Local 221 chief steward and a Headstart worker from Burlington, Vt., Local 1172 Vice Pres. Tom Dunne from Everbrite in Milwaukee, and International Labor Affairs Dir. Robin Alexander. For the third year, a UE delegation visited Mexico together with a group from CISO, a Quebec solidarity alliance which includes labor unions and federations and popular organizations.

The UE delegation was in Mexico from June 26 to July 7.


The conditions at the U.S.-owned fruit-packing plant outraged the UE members, but as Tom Dunne told the UE NEWS, the American presence in Mexico is unmistakable.

"The dominance of American corporations is obvious as one travels through Mexico. Everywhere you go you see the names of major U.S. companies on the facades of brand new manufacturing facilities. Corporations have imposed an economic and cultural imperialism that has enslaved Mexico," Dunne said.

From reading the UE NEWS and hearing reports at UE National conventions, Havaich was aware of the FAT’s hard work to bring democratic unionism to Mexican workplaces. "Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the experience of walking through Mexican manufacturing facilities," he said. "We toured a number of factories, some with state of the art equipment and others that faced the challenge of competing with antiquated machinery."

$4 TO $20 A DAY

Havaich pointed out that the average Mexican worker earns between $4 and $20 a day. "Most of the Mexican workers we talked to fell on the bottom of the scale," he said.

"Mexico is a land of many contrasts," commented Dunne. "Ultra-modern skyscrapers overlook growing settlements of impoverished people. Billboards advertise products that the vast majority of Mexicans will never be able to afford. Multi-lane expressways carry traffic past villages with dirt roads. Chic and trendy restaurants stand side-by-side with street vendors hawking everything from food to motor oil."

"My overall impression was one of a poor country where workers have little to lose in organizing in many ways, because the conditions are so bad and management is so exploitative," said Payne.

Burke with F.A.T. members ...
Becky Burke from Iowa with members of the shop committee at a Mexico City plant that manufactures ribbons and elastic strips. The workers’ union is affiliated with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT).

The 10-day trip saw the UE members taking part in meetings and tours with a delegation from Quebec. "At times the information came so fast that I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose," said Havaich. Burke especially appreciated the comradery among the Canadians, Mexicans and Americans. (Having spent part of her childhood in Argentina, Burke speaks Spanish fluently.) Living so close to Quebec, Payne was particularly glad to make contact with the Quebecois trade unionists. And he also welcomed the opportunity to give a first-hand report to his local about UE’s international work.

"The FAT is a really dedicated crew, working under very difficult conditions," Payne said.


"Our enemies are not the Mexican workers, but instead the profit-driven corporations that have taken advantage of their poverty," said Dunne. "There is a lot we can learn from their struggles in the face of adversity... the FAT has persevered despite a corrupt system of government that has conspired with corporations against Mexican workers."

"Every UE member should be alarmed by the relentless march of transnationals as they rush into Mexico to exploit cheap labor and a vulnerable workforce," suggested Havaich. "Good-paying factory jobs in the U.S. are being sacrificed in the name of globalization. Workers in both Mexico and the U.S. share the pain of corporate greed. Therefore, our battle cry continues to be solidarity."

Dunne added, "As corporations exploit global markets, the labor movement must aggressively act to organize the unorganized on a global basis as well. Educating our members is the first step toward realizing that goal."

UE News - 07/99

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

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