ROBERT BRYCE Agapito Gonzalez could help keep some U.S. manufacturing jobs from going south. There is a precedent for American union involvement in Mexico, which goes back to the turn of the century when American Federation of Labor founder Samuel Gompers was involved in Mexican labor issues and was an honored guest at the inauguration, of President Plutarco Elias Calles in 1924. In fact, CTM boss Fidel Velasquez served as one of Gompers’ guides. In his book Shoulder to Shoulder? The American Federation of Labor, The United States, and the Mexican Revolution, Gregg Andrews writes about the problems facing Gompers problems similar to those that now confront American labor leaders. Andrews writes that Gompers wanted to create a PanAmerican federation of labor “to counteract the growing influx of American capital into Latin America.”Gompers understood that “the lack of organization among Mexican workers also ‘ hurt the American labor movement.” But many American labor leaders are leery of further involvement with the current regime. “In Mexico, you have a country where there is no democracy,” said Jaime Martinez of the San Antonio office of the International Union of Electrical Workers, an AFL-CIO-affiliated union. Martinez, who opposed NAFTA, says his 150,000member union wants to work with Mexican unions. But without democracy, he said, Mexican workers have little hope. “The CTM is dominated by PRI. It has no value whatsoever. It’s a corrupt organization manipulated by the government. There is no hope for workers to continue under that type of subjugated condition. We will work to establish a more democratic voice for workers. If that means speaking out against the CTM, we will do it.” Martinez says his union has lost 250,000 members over the past few years, due primarily to the opening of maquiladoras U.S.-owned assembly plants in Mexico. “I expect to see more involvement from the IUE, the United Auto Workers and other unions that have been establishing solidarity with unions who are interested in establishing a more democratic voice in Mexico.” Not all U.S. labor is avoiding the CTM. Some American unions, including the Farm working to solidify relationships with estab lished Mexican unions. Baldemar Velasquez, president of the 6,000-member FLOC, an AFL-CIO affiliated union, signed an agreement with a CTM union. The pact will encourage support for organization of farm workers on both sides of the border. Based in Toledo, Ohio, the FLOC, Velasquez said, has increased the wages of American farmworkers and some now earn up to $9 per hour. Working with the 200,000-member SNTOAC \(Union of National Workers and Salaried can counter the power of the multinationals. “Today, we have to look at ourselves as citizens in a collective economy as opposed to citizens of a particular nation,” he said. Other unions, including the 40,000-member United Electrical Radio and Machine they call a “strategic organizing alliance” with the Authentic Workers Front, or FAT, an independent union federation that has broken with the CTM. Robin Alexander, director of international labor affairs for the UE, says her union is working with the FAT to organize workers in other cities, including Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso. But the UE’s efforts are going slowly. At a General Electric plant in Ciudad Juarez, nine workers were fired in late November and early December, after trying to organize workers for the FAT. Around the same time, 21 female union activists were fired in Chihuahua, at a plant run by Honeyvvell. As in most of the maquiladoras, women make up 80 percent of Honeywell’s workers. Maria de Guadalupe Tones worked for 18 years making electrical switches for Kemet, an American company that operates a Matamoros maquiladora. Now working for the Comite de Obreras Fronterizas, which at times collaborates with the American Friends Service Committee to educate workers about their rights, Tones says some companies have moved to Reynosa, an industrial border town 60 miles west of Matamoros, to find cheaper labor. “I don’t see how workers in the maquiladoras in Reynosa survive. There are workers at a Zenith plant who get less than 100 pesos \(about work week.” According to the San Antonio-based Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, a worker in Reynosa must work 20 hours to buy a pair of canvas tennis shoes. A frying pan requires 6.8 hours of work. Tones says workers in Reynosa and other towns with weak unions have a hard time organizing because, if caught engaging in union activities, they are fired or forced to resign. Other low-wage towns are controlled by sindicatos blancos,”white unions,” which Tones says are “run by union leaders who are paid off or controlled by the companies.” In Piedras Negras, 380 miles northwest of Matamoros, maquiladora operator Dennis Charlton predicts that Mexican unions will continue to decline as more American businesses move south. Charlton’s 86 workers produces rainsuits for Louisiana-based Neese Industries, and as members of the CROC, a powerful non-CTM union, earn slightly less than workers doing comparable tasks in in Matamoros.”Mexico wants to progress and they feel they can’t do it with corrupt unions,” Charlton said. “A lot of the companies coming over here are going to communities that are nonunion, period. They are going to Ciudad Acuria and Ciudad Juarez because both basically are non-union towns. And that’s what attracts American companies that have had labor problems.” 28 FEBRUARY 25, 1994
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