On July 4, Celebrating
'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'
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
CORPORATE GREED AT WORK
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
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 were
doing?" the packers asked.
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
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
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.
U.S. CORPORATE PRESENCE
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 FATs 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.
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 UEs
"The FAT is a really dedicated crew, working under very
difficult conditions," Payne said.
'TAKING ADVANTAGE OF
POVERTY' FOR PROFIT
"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
UE News - 07/99