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UE News: International Solidarity
International Understanding: Local 623 Pres. Jim Cook (right) joins hands with Felipe Ortuño, a representative of Mexico’s independent labor federation, the FAT; looking on are Local 633 Rec. Sec. Craig Holmes, Local 623 Rec. Sec. Brian Rice and Robin Alexander, UE director of international labor affairs. The five came together at a rally outside of Reid Plastics in Leetsdale, Pa., to support Local 690 in negotiations. The rally also declared opposition to "fast-track" and condemned Reid’s attack on UE organizing campaigns at its southern California plants. Ortuño addressed the rally, affirming the need for worker solidarity across borders to counter corporate greed. (By the way, Ortuño left Pennsylvania an honorary member of Local 623.)

November 27, 1997

FAT-UE Exchange a real ‘Eye - Opener

FAT Wins Election at Tijuana Auto Parts Plant

UE to File Complaint on Thug-Infested Election

Insights on Seeing Free Trade from Both Sides of the Border

Murals Unveiled Acoss Two Borders


Solidarity Across Borders
chgmural.gif (87937 bytes)

The second-half of an ambitious cross-border, labor-community cultural project came to an exciting conclusion Sept. 17 with the unveiling of a mural on the southern exterior wall of the UE District 11 Hall in Chicago. The mural was executed by renowned Mexican muralist Daniel Manrique, who was assisted by three young muralists from the Chicago Public Art Groups, a co-sponsor of the project. Entitled "Hands in Solidarity-Hands of Freedom," this mural and companions completed in Mexico City by U.S. artist Mike Alewitz and Manrique are designed to give visual expression to international solidarity. The murals are a project of the pioneering cross-border Strategic Organizing Alliance between UE and the FAT, an effort to build a new kind of international solidarity focused on organizing.

FAT-UE Exchange
an ‘Eye-Opener’

Sitting in the UE Local 506 hall with his co-workers and a labor educator from Mexico, General Electric worker Matt McCracken expressed his appreciation that the union gave him the opportunity for such an encounter. Listening to Felipe Ortuño of the Authentic Workers’ Front (FAT) was an "eye-opener," he said.

During his visit to western Pennsylvania and Ohio last month, Ortuño received a warm reception from UE members in Districts Six and Seven at shift meetings and district council meetings, on the shop floor, and at rallies and bars. Ortuño, who works with the FAT as an educator, lawyer and organizer, came here last month as part of the UE-FAT worker-to-worker exchange program.


UE members also took note of who was missing. Ortuño was to have been accompanied by Ignacio Munguía, who has been on strike for more than a year at a Mexican print shop. The rank-and-file FAT member was denied a visa to enter the United States.

"We feel strongly that the reason the visa was denied had a lot to do with NAFTA and the upcoming fast track vote," said District Six Pres. Daniel Smith in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Similar messages of protest are being sent by District Six locals, Smith told the UE NEWS.

uen_felipe.gif (26442 bytes)In his travels, Ortuño stressed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has not improved Mexican workers’ lives. Wages are declining, families need two or three wage earners simply to feed themselves, children are suffering from malnutrition, crime is on the rise. He carefully explained how the corruption and government-domination of the "official" unions limits workers’ rights. Eighty percent of collective bargaining agreements are arranged behind workers’ backs, he said.

As a chilling, recent example of how workers’ rights are violated, Ortuño cited the FAT’s experience with a thug-infested election at an Echlin-owned brake factory in Mexico City. (See below for UE’s response.)

But, the FAT organizer pointed out, "new possibilities are coming together that allow us to struggle against these conditions." In July, the ruling party lost control of the national legislature and Mexico City. Discussions now underway are heading towards a new alliance of unions. The UE-FAT alliance is important because it is focused on building democratic unions in Mexico, Ortuño told his union audiences.


The Mexican educator/organizer addressed the District Seven Council meeting where, according to District Pres. Joyce Clayborne, delegates found his remarks informative and valuable. "The key to me is that he was asked questions," she told the UE NEWS. "That means people were paying attention and there were things they wanted to know." Questions raised concerned wage levels in Mexico and the FAT’s plans.

After Ortuño’s presentation, Leonard King of Local 947 said his local would contribute a dollar per member a month to help support the FAT’s organizing worker, and challenged other locals to follow suit. The Council voted to recommend that every District Seven local undertake such a program.

Attending the District Six Council meeting, Ortuño was presented a check from amalgamated Local 623 "$500 collected to support the FAT’s organizing. District Six Pres. Daniel Smith handed the FAT representative a check for $250.

johnson.gif (18396 bytes)WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA & OHIO

Ortuño’s visit to the council meeting followed several close encounters with western Pennsylvania UE members. He spoke at a rally outside Reid Plastics in Leetsdale, where Local 690 members are in negotiations, toured B&K Tool in Murrysville with District Pres. Smith and Local 623 Pres. Jim Cook, and toured Liberty Iron in Erie with Smith, Local 683 Pres. Rich Drylie and Local Treas. Joe Toscano, along with Local 618 Pres. Betsy Potter.

And the Mexican organizer spoke to Local 506 members at meetings for all three shifts at the General Electric plant in Erie. Donna Cramer introduced Ortuño at all three meetings; the local political action chair, she traveled to Mexico last year as part of the UE-FAT worker-to-worker exchange program.


The shift meetings had better-than-usual attendance, Cramer reported. The GE workers were receptive and curious; many had informal questions for Ortuño and Robin Alexander, UE international labor affairs director, after the meetings, she said. "People are starting to understand that it’s not that Mexican workers are taking their jobs, but that corporate America is abusing, misusing and discarding workers here," Cramer said.

Local 506 hosted a reception which gave the FAT organizer a chance to meet with state and county officials, leaders of civic organizations and clergy.

In Ohio, Ortuño toured a IUE-represented Packard Electric plant and met with workers and union leaders at a meeting of the IUE local’s solidarity committee. He addressed the annual dinner of the Beaver County, Pa. AFL-CIO Council and lectured to university classes in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He also met the three UE general officers.

As the UE NEWS went to press, Robin Alexander was concluding a tour with another Mexican visitor, Maria de los Angeles Lopez, a FAT organizer and educator from the State of Leon.

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FAT Wins Election at
Tijuana Auto-Parts Plant

In a poll closely monitored by international observers and journalists, the metalworkers’ union affiliated with the Authentic Workers’ Front (FAT) won an election Oct. 6 at a Tijuana auto parts factory despite a last-ditch attempt by the company union to undermine the process.

Workers are employed by Han Young of Mexico, which supplies chassis for truck trailers for the huge Hyundai Corp. manufacturing complex in this border city.


The FAT had already won 52 to 7, when a second group of "workers" appeared. Some were identified as foremen and therefore ineligible to vote and many had no papers identifying them as Han Young employees.

Nevertheless, the FAT affiliate prevailed, with 55 votes against 32 for the government-controlled union.

The government had not certified the results of the election by UE NEWS press time. If the FAT victory is certified by the government, it will be the first victory by an independent union in the maquiladoras.

The last-minute attempt to destabilize the election and government reluctance to certify the results are cited by observers as examples of the fraud and human rights abuses which are too common in Mexico, especially in the border zone.

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UE to File Complaint
On Thug-Infested

On the eve of a Sept. 9 representation election at its Itapsa plant in Mexico City, Echlin management allowed 200 gang members to enter the plant and terrorize workers seeking an independent union. In response, UE is preparing a formal complaint to be filed under the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Workers at the Itapsa plant make brakes sold in the U.S. and Canada. The Branford, Conn.-based Echlin chain also owns Friction, Inc. in Irvine, Calif.; Friction employees are represented by UE Local 1090.


The 270 workers employed by Itapsa began quietly organizing several months ago to replace a government-controlled, company-dominated union with STIMAHCS, the metalworkers’ union affiliated with the FAT, Mexico’s independent labor federation.

Twenty workers were fired before workers brought their organization into the open in May. STIMAHCS filed for a union vote but faced delays engineered by the government and the other union, the CTM. In the meantime, Echlin fired more than 50 other workers, many of them STIMAHCS activists.


The union election was finally set for Sept. 9. The night before, buses brought in 200 thugs armed with metal pipes, clubs and guns. Second and third shift workers were not allowed to leave the plant. The election itself was a voice vote in the presence of the thugs, management and CTM officials, workers had to declare the union of their choice. The vote was 179 for the company union, 29 for STIMAHCS.


UE maintains that the election violated international law by effectively depriving workers of their right to join the union of their choice.

Legal work in preparation for the filing of the complaint to the National Administrative Office is being undertaken by UE, the United Steelworkers and the Teamsters.

UE and the Teamsters became the first unions to file NAO complaint when in 1994 they asserted that General Electric and Honeywell violated the rights of Mexican workers to organize.

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Free Trade Viewed From
Both Sides of the Border

uen_dq.gif (20878 bytes)A trip to Mexico as part of the worker-to-worker exchanges sponsored by UE and the Authentic Workers Front (FAT) gave the president of the UE local at Cleveland Twist Drill a different outlook on the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The problem facing workers in the United States and Mexico is, that with free trade, "the only free thing is the indiscriminate exploitation," says David Quintana of Local 777. "Men, women and children are all exploited on an even basis. Families with their miserable incomes cannot obtain even the minimum food for their nutrition." And this is with three out of every four family members working.

Quintana believes that the transnational companies operating in Mexico "do not respect the legal norms of that agreement." He points to reports of dangerous working conditions, environmental contamination and denial of labor rights.


"Corporations do not have respect for human beings," says Quintana, who is a political refuge from Chile. In the border region plants, "each woman who is hired has to approve a prenatal exam, which can be the main reason to be hired or not." Women who later become pregnant are given tougher jobs than they had before, or reassigned to areas with a more hazardous work environment.

Workers who try to organize receive tough treatment and become victims of blacklisting, Quintana reports. Bosses also try to buy off union supporters with promises of better jobs, cars and houses. "When these dirty maneuvers fail, the companies use personal threats." And more than one labor activist has been assassinated, he observes.


We have a duty to show solidarity with the FAT, Quintana believes. "But this solidarity must be effective." He endorses the worker-to-worker exchanges, "because those who participate learn from one another," but believes more should be done. If possible, each district or even local should adopt a cross-border solidarity project.

The defense of human rights - including the right to a job -  requires "objective forms of solidarity with all the workers of the world," he says. "That is the only answer to economic globalization."

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