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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sun, 1 Feb 98 11:39:05 CST
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Unions build cross-border solidarity
Article: 26817

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the February 5, 1998 issue of Workers World newspaper

Sweeney in Mexico: Unions build cross-border solidarity

By Shelley Ettinger, Workers World, 5 Feburary 1998

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was in Mexico Jan. 22-23. It was the first time an AFL-CIO chief ever visited that country.

By traveling there, Sweeney took an important step toward strengthening links between the labor movements of the United States and Mexico.

He affirmed U.S. unions' opposition to NAFTA. He reached out to unions struggling to build a labor movement that is independent from the Mexican government.

His meeting with leaders of independent unions was a major boost to cross-border solidarity.

However, it is troubling that Sweeney was reportedly in close consultation with the Clinton administration throughout his trip to Mexico, and is apparently working with Washington to pressure Mexico on labor rights.


Under Sweeney's leadership since late 1995, the AFL-CIO has reached out to unions in other countries--from fired dock workers in Liverpool, England, to South African gold miners to south Korean workers fighting layoffs to Indonesian youths defying a fascist dictatorship to build a new union movement.

This is a big improvement from the 1980s, when individual union activists had to build their own organizations of solidarity with their sisters and brothers struggling in El Salvador and the Philippines--or even more recently, when the United Electrical Workers built a network of activists to provide support for maquiladora workers in Mexico.

Sweeney has done well to throw U.S. organized labor's collective weight behind the struggles of workers in other countries. The step was long overdue--now here more so than in Mexico, especially at the maquiladora plants of the border region.

In "free-trade" zones there, employers have been raking in profits by super-exploiting Mexican workers. Most of these employers are U.S.-based companies.

In the last few years, fierce struggles to organize new, fighting unions have broken out at the maquiladoras. The union battles pit mostly young, mostly female workers against multibillion--dollar U.S. corporations and the Mexican government.

Meanwhile, the labor movements of the United States, Canada and Mexico have stood united against the North American Free Trade Agreement. Before and since its implementation four years ago, unionists in all three countries denounced NAFTA for causing mass layoffs and lowering wages.

Mexican workers have been hurt by far the worst. In fact, it's because of NAFTA that maquiladora exploitation has thrived.

The governments of all three countries back NAFTA on behalf of their capitalist classes. President Bill Clinton signed the pact, and just last fall pushed to expand it through "fast track" trade legislation. He failed, due mostly to a labor mobilization against it.

Clinton did make a nod to labor when he allowed a side agreement to NAFTA in 1994. On the pretext of enforcing labor rights, this agreement permits any of the countries' labor ministries to investigate complaints of violations of workers' rights in the other two countries.

Here's how this sidebar agreement has worked in practice:

Mexico charged the Sprint Corp. with violating the NAFTA sidebar by closing its La Conexion Familiar office in San Francisco days before a scheduled union election. Sprint and the U.S. Labor Department simply ignored the Mexican charge.

On the other hand, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman is now charging that Mexican maquiladora workers are subject to routine sexist discrimination when employers force them to undergo pregnancy tests. There is terrific pressure on the Mexican government to respond.

In this way, the U.S. government manages to appear sympathetic to labor concerns, especially the rights of women workers. In fact, what Washington is doing is asserting its imperialist supremacy over Mexico--all the while managing to shift attention from the real culprits, which are U.S. corporations.

The AFL-CIO won't help workers anywhere by strengthening the U.S. government's hand against Mexico or any other oppressed country. The best way to show international solidarity is directly, with concrete aid and other shows of support--especially against U.S. multinationals, which are sucking super-profits from Mexican labor at the same time they downsize U.S. workers.

There is plenty of opportunity for that. For instance, an international labor conference in Havana last summer called for a May 1, 1998, day of worldwide actions against austerity, cutbacks, layoffs and all the other attacks on workers that have characterized the recent period.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: ww@workers.org. For subscription info send message to: info@workers.org. Web: http://workers.org)