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Mutual Discovery
As Mexicans
Tour Mid-America

AMERICA'S HEARTLAND

FAT members visit in Minneapolis  

Gilberto Martinez (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 America’s heartland. Two rank-and-file leaders of Mexico’s 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 Local 896-COGS.

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 unions.

MILWAUKEE SEND-OFF

Their trip to the union’s 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 management.

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 university’s graduate employees. Mary Crippen, Recording Officer, then chair of the local’s 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 1!

Martinez and Sauza expressed their warmest thanks for the District’s 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 FAT’s 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 right union!"

The visitors were accompanied by Robin Alexander, UE director of international affairs.

UE News - 11/98


Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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