(left) and Juan Sauza (right) met with Macalester College students in Minneapolis. Their
trip also took them to the University of Iowa, where graduate employees are represented by
UE Local 896.
This was not the usual tour of Americas heartland. Two
rank-and-file leaders of Mexicos Authentic Labor Front (FAT) took in a metal
fabricating plant, a human billboard, university
classrooms, a picket line and union meetings in a visit to UE District 11 this fall. The
Oct. 10-18 trip, one of a series of UE-FAT worker-to-worker exchanges, was initiated by UE
Juan Sauza, production coordinator at a worker-owned window glass
cooperative near Mexico City and Gilberto Martinez, secretary of a
metalworkers local in Aguascalientes, spent the week learning about the UE and
sharing their experiences with UE members and other trade unionists and students.
Both men had been active in successful struggles to oust
government-dominated unions from their plants and organize member-controlled, independent
Their trip to the unions mid-western district began in Milwaukee,
Sauza and Martinez spoke at a church, at a meeting in the Latino community organized by
the UE and LCLAA, and at a dinner in their honor which was organized by the Fair Trade
Committee of the Milwaukee County Labor Council. There they met labor-backed gubernatorial
candidate Ed Garvey and running mate Barbara Lawton at the dinner.
A highpoint of the trip was meeting with Local 1127 members and a plant
tour of Steeltech, conducted by Local Pres. Brian Childs together with a member of
From Milwaukee, they continued on to Iowa City, where they spent several
very busy days with UE members at the University of Iowa; Local 896-COGS represents the
universitys graduate employees. Mary Crippen, Recording Officer, then
chair of the locals solidarity committee, traveled to Mexico City a year ago in a
similar exchange and was eager to return the hospitality.
The Mexican brothers socialized with UE members, sat in on a university
class instructed by a UE member, taught classes in history, sociology and geography and
joined a coordinating committee meeting where one of the main topics was the up-coming
negotiations. Gilberto Martinez found the meeting to be very familiar: "It was
just like one of our executive committee meetings in Aguascalientes!" he marveled.
In Des Moines, Barb Adams of Local 893-IUP had arranged for
them to be guests on an hour-long radio show hosted by the American Friends Service
Committee and broadcast in Spanish to the increasingly large immigrant community.
That evening, in another highlight of the trip, they visited the USWA
picket line at Titan Tire, where workers have been on strike since May 1. Sauza and
Martinez were impressed to learn that only two workers had crossed the picket line, and to
see the solidarity between white, Latino and Asian workers first hand.
MIXING IT UP IN MINNEAPOLIS
From Des Moines the Mexican visitors continued on to Minneapolis for the District 11 Council meeting, where they were particularly
impressed by the shop reports and the accounts of new organizing efforts. The frank
discussion of both successes and problems at the meeting was similar to the style of a FAT
meeting, they said.
Martinez explained why the workers in his plant had decided to organize an
independent union, and described a recent attempt by the government-controlled CTM to once
again control the plant. The attempt failed when the workers voted against the CTM, 240 to
Martinez and Sauza expressed their warmest thanks for the Districts
hospitality and presented a FAT flag to UE District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen. In return
they received a standing ovation from the members, and a check for $200 from Local 896.
Mary Crippen announced once Local 896-COGS completes contract
negotiations, the local union hopes to follow the example of Local 893 and implement a
supplemental dues check-off to support the FATs organizing work.
In reflecting on the trip, Crippen commented: "One of the biggest
benefits for me of participating on the delegation to Mexico was that it made what is
going on in Mexico and our relationship with the FAT very real for me. It is all pretty
abstract until you meet the people, so I wanted our folks to have the same experience I
did. I think that this really happened. After the visit was over I received a lot of
positive comments from COGS members both about what they had learned and about how it made
our local feel more a part of the UE and reinforced our belief that we had chosen the
The visitors were accompanied by Robin Alexander, UE director of