By Yvonne Pitts
UE members pose with a delegation of Québécois trade
unionists from the Montreal-based CISO (International Labor Solidarity Center)
in Mexico (top photo). IN bottom photo: the UE delegation with Morales Brothers strikers. Norma
Sprague is at left in the front row; in the second row, second from left is
Charles Tangle with Yvonne Pitts, Sue Lukasik and Beth Austin.
Five UE members and Robin Alexander, UE director of
international affairs, participated in a worker-to-worker exchange in Mexico
during early July that fostered international solidarity and increased
awareness of shared problems. As Local 1111 member Sue Lukasik
observed, "The trip was eye-opening. We all have the same problems
internationally, with different levels of severity."
Hosted by the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), Lukasik, Charley
Tangle, Local 683, Beth Austin, Local 893, Norma Sprague,
Local 267, and Yvonne Pitts, Local 896 were part of an international
delegation of trade unionists that also included workers representing unions
The FAT, founded in 1960, is a labor federation with unions
that represent workers in over half the states of Mexico in manufacturing
industries including textiles, garment, shoemaking, rubber, and auto parts, as
well as in agriculture and construction. The FAT also addresses broader social
and economic issues; the organization includes worker-owned cooperatives, farm
worker and community organizations.
Under extremely adverse conditions, the FAT fights for social,
gender, and economic equality as changes in local, national and global
economies increasingly concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. Beth Austin
recalled, "I’m impressed by the resilience of the people and their
commitment to the common cause of improving working conditions, against
seemingly insurmountable odds."
Like UE, members of the FAT share a vision of international
worker solidarity as a means to combat the negative effects of policies such
as NAFTA, which has driven worker wages down on both sides of the border.
In 1996, UE and the FAT formed a Strategic Organizing Alliance
to develop strategies to deal with the escalating problems associated with
neo-liberal globalization. Worker-to-worker exchanges, which allow rank and
file unionists the opportunity for in-depth dialogues with other unionists,
increase awareness of common struggles and shared problems, such as
privatization and downsizing.
In Mexico City, UE members toured a worker-owned and managed
glass factory that workers took over after a successful four-year strike in
the early 1980s. The glassworkers are affiliated with the FAT, which provides
legal and technical counseling. The plant’s business model provides a viable
alternative to corporatist models that sacrifice workers’ fair wages and
human rights in the name of profits for stockholders. "Decisions about
the plant were made for the general good through consensus," Yvonne Pitts
noted, "giving workers responsibility for the plant’s success or
failure. Comparing this system to our model of top-down management
demonstrated that alternative strategies in which workers’ voices are heard
are possible." With a broad vision of social and intellectual
improvement, the workers designed educational programs in language, computer
skills, primary and secondary school education and job training that are
available to plant workers.
The UE delegation also spoke with workers currently engaged in
labor strikes and visited the Morales Print Shop strike site in Mexico City.
The strikers, mostly women with an average of 30 years with the company, had
black and red strike banners hanging around the guard shack, which they
maintain 24 hours a day. Corruption, delays, and intimidation from the
employer have not weakened the workers’ commitment to the
three-and-a-half-year-old strike. With help from the FAT, the striking print
shop workers’ appeal is moving toward a final legal resolution. UE member
Norma Sprague remarked, "The union movement here is impressive. Strikers
stick together like true brothers and sisters. I couldn’t believe the
conditions, when I learned what people actually made."
(Last April striking Morales worker Jovita Cruz Aguilar
traveled to the U.S. as part of a worker-to-worker exchange. She visited
several UE locals and spoke about labor conditions in Mexico and the need for
worker solidarity. While in Mexico, UE members reaffirmed their commitment to
solidarity and mutual support.)
UE members had the opportunity to speak with other Mexican
labor, political, and human rights activists. The delegation spent a week at
the RORAC compound in Temamatla. RORAC, an organization that supports
educational activities and provides technical support for the FAT, provided an
informal setting in which trade unionists and activists can interact, exchange
ideas, and develop strategies. While at RORAC, UE members attended talks by
officials from the Department of Labor in Mexico City.
Later, Mexican activists in agricultural reform explained how
changes in the Mexican Constitution over land ownership had displaced
peasants, causing huge migrations into urban areas. This change allowed
multinational agri-businesses more control over land and food supply, while
creating a pool of impoverished workers. Other union representatives linked
declining wages and poor conditions to NAFTA and the rise of multinational
The UE delegation also met with Bertha Lujan, FAT
coordinator, and member of RMALC (the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade),
an organization dedicated to developing alternatives to neo-liberalist
economic policies. Lujan and other RMALC members explained that treaties such
as NAFTA minimizes worker wages and bargaining power while structural
adjustment policies such as those imposed by the World Bank deprive countries
of economic and national self-determination. Through investigation, action and
building alliances to foster discussion between U.S., Canadian and Mexican
groups, RMALC proposes alternatives to regional economic integration.
"As capital and multinational corporations globalize, so
must labor. Otherwise both Mexican and American workers will continue to
suffer declining wages, loss of important benefits such as medical coverage,
decreased bargaining power, and will have no control over economies which are
built on their labor" said Yvonne Pitts after hearing the RMALC
UE members returned to their locals with new understanding of
the commonalities we share with workers in Mexico. Beth Austin reflected,
"Overall, I think the trip was excellent. It helps put in perspective
some of the things that we’ve been reading and hearing over the past few
years. Being able to talk with folks who are involved is something I won’t
"I learned that similar problems exist here too,"
says Sue Lukasik. "Although we claim to have progressed beyond
discrimination and unfair policies against labor, it still exists, it takes
different forms." The worker-to-worker exchange provided valuable
opportunities for UE members and Mexican unionists to discuss shared problems
and gain understanding of each other’s problems. Only through such
conversations will we develop solutions to protect all workers’ rights.
UE News - 10/00