UE Activists Discover
To most UE members who recognize the Spanish
abbreviation, the "FAT" is an independent federation of fighting, democratic
unions much like their own. But Mexicos Authentic Labor Front is not only a labor
To two rank-and-file UE members who visited Mexico
last year, the FAT is also an organization that gives women the space and support to
realize their own worth.
The exchanges with their FAT sisters had particular
impact on Marianne Hart of Local 1421 and Mary Crippen of Local 896, who were accompanied
by Robin Alexander, UE international labor affairs director. They visited the city of Leon
and Mexico City in late November as part of the UE-FAT worker-to-worker exchange program.
In Leon, some 200 miles northwest of Mexico City,
the UE members met with some 15 members of El CODIM in the FATs offices. From the 15
or so women of diverse ages who gathered in the union office, the UE members learned each
womans story and more about the work of the organization, a FAT affiliate.
"The women told us of how the group had helped
them to realize their own strength and even their humanity," says Crippen.
"Several told us how they had lived their lives feeling like objects, and were
grateful to the FAT womens group for helping them find their voices and individual
"They spent a lifetime oppressed and
abused," Hart says. Many of those in the union office were older women who described
a serious problem of discrimination in the workplace by age and gender.
The FATs womens group operates
"like a community support group for women," helping working-class women overcome
these problems, says Hart. "But they are able to use their talents, resources,
experiences through the FAT, in spite of the system, to bring this knowledge of their
worth and recognition of their abilities into the bigger community of women in Leon."
"They do outreach work in the community on
issues like housing, childcare and jobs. They take their growth and give it back to other
women in the community."
While in Leon, the UE members attended a community
meeting of single mothers and went to the opening of a new womens center for
democracy and human rights. The UE delegations visit coincided with an international
day in opposition to violence against women; the womens center presented short
videos on domestic violence. The women who run the center are not affiliated with the FAT,
but work in conjunction with the FAT on various projects.
Thanks to the CODIM connection, Marianne Hart
appeared on a special two-hour morning local television program as part of a panel
discussion on domestic violence. For her it was neither an easy nor a boring topic.
"I lived this life, for 15 years of abuse and broken bones," she says. Although
her experiences were difficult to talk about, Hart says, "I felt it needed to be
said. The thing I learned from it was that silence is complicity. What I regret the most
is that I didnt tell anybody."
As she told her Mexican TV audience, Hart says
"part of my development was with the union, which gave me a sense of accomplishment
Also appearing on TV as part of the panel was
Angeles Lopez, representing the FAT, as well as representatives of the major political
parties, the Roman Catholic Church and social service agencies. (One of the local FAT
leaders who organized the UE delegations visit to Leon, Lopez had traveled to the
U.S. earlier in the month as part of the UE-FAT exchanges.)
Also in Leon, the UE duo addressed two classes at a
local university, at the invitation of instructor (and FAT organizer/lawyer) Felipe
Ortuρo, who had met UE members in Ohio and Pennsylvania the month before, and met with an
official at the state office on human rights (what he advises immigrants newly arrived in
Mexico is much like what Local 1421 tells immigrant workers in California, Hart
They also toured a semi-automated shoe factory
where Hart had problems with working conditions and visited with women in a
poor working-class neighborhood (a colonia).
Speaking of the visit to the colonia Crippen recalls
their meeting with Rosa, who had only recently wired her home for electricity, on her own.
Rosa introduced them "to some of the other women who are involved in the struggle to
fulfill such basic needs as water and sanitation in their neighborhood. And in the midst
of that struggle, one woman we met has made the effort to start parenting classes, to
teach parents how to raise their children with kindness and respect."
At the Oaxtepec resort outside Mexico City, the UE
pair listened in fascination as delegates to the second FAT Womens meeting discussed
their struggles, organizing challenges, educational programs to develop women as union
leaders, and the identity of the organization.
"We were not observers, we were participants
wherever we went, which made it very exciting," says Hart. The UE delegation publicly
offered a message of solidarity at the Womens Congress, and then again at the FAT
Hart, who has served as co-convener of UE Convention
Resolutions Committees, was amazed as FAT Congress delegates listened intently to the
reading of a 37-page political resolution. "And they took it very seriously,"
During the FAT Congress, Mary Crippen says, "we
had the opportunity to meet with some of the workers who are in the midst of struggles
going on at such plants as Echlin, the Morales print shop and Han Young. Hearing the
stories from the workers themselves really brought their struggles home for me, and I look
forward to sharing them with people here at home to help solicit more support for the work
the FAT is doing.
"The many things I learned on this trip made me
genuinely proud to be a member of the UE, and therefore a small contributor to the work
that is going on not only here but in Mexico," Crippen observes.
Says Marianne Hart, "The experience was
overwhelming... both in terms of what I learned, the breadth of the work the FAT does, and
their commitment to organizing. On a personal level I was able to share very personal
experiences and feelings with the women from the FAT because they were so open and
generous. There were no walls between us. This experience actually made solidarity without
borders real for me."