Mexican Auto Unions Create New Federation

by Jeffrey Hermanson

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Mexico’s auto workers are for the first time forming a national federation in what is a very significant development both for Mexican labor and for Mexican society as a whole. Ten organizations representing over 25,000 Mexican workers have committed to the new organization.

There have been conversations between Mexican auto industry unions for 20 years, and there have been good relations between the oldest independent auto unions, SITIAVW of Puebla and SITNISSAN of Morelos, but until recently the conversations have included some CTM auto unions that were trying to legitimize themselves as relatively independent. The CTM unions have now dropped out of the conversations, and the truly independent and democratic unions are moving to formalize their alliance and found a legally recognized federation.

SITIAVW (Independent Union of Workers of Auto Industry VW) is a founding member of the new federation, along with SITAUDI, SITNISSAN (the independent union of Nissan-Cuernavaca, Morelos), STIMAHCS (an auto parts union affiliated with the FAT), los Mineros (miners) of Bombardier Hidalgo (aerospace and auto parts), SNTGT (General Tire), SINTB (Bridgestone Tire), SEGLO (logistics services) and the newly formed SITGM (Goodyear Mexico) of San Luis Potosí.

SITIAVW and SITAUDI are independent, single-factory unions based in Puebla, SITIAVW with over 10,000 members, SITAUDI with somewhat less.

The addition of auto parts unions and rubber worker unions is an important move, since for every auto assembly worker it is estimated there are at least twice as many parts and component supplier workers.

The project is sponsored jointly by IndustriALL and IG Metall, and the project organizer is José Luis Rodríguez Salazar, a former president of SITIAVW. Find here a link to a recent IndustriALL article about the struggle of the union at Goodyear.

This is an incredibly important development in Mexican labor, as the auto, auto parts, tire and aerospace industries are one of the biggest, most important and most advanced industrial sectors of the Mexican economy. The leading role of SITIAVW in this is due to their long history of independence, democracy and militancy, earning them the best contracts in the industry and the respect of the entire labor movement. The project director is also widely respected, as he led SITIAVW through some of its most difficult struggles during the Vicente Fox sexenio (six-year term) and is the only SITIAVW president to have been re-elected and to serve more than one term.

Equally important in the leadership of this initiative are los Mineros, a powerful national miners union whose leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia broke with the corporativist labor movement (CTM, CROC, CROM, allied in the Congreso de Trabajo or Congress of Labor) fifteen years ago and embarked on militant organizing and collective bargaining campaigns, challenging the biggest, most powerful Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, expanding their jurisdiction to aerospace and auto parts, aiding progressive independent organizing projects like CAT-Puebla and CFO on the border.

Gómez Urrutia was falsely accused and threatened by the Mexican government and has been living in exile in Canada for over ten years, but has been elected Senator on the list of MORENA, the reform party whose presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador was just elected president. Gómez will return to Mexico to take his seat on September 1, giving the independent labor movement a powerful voice in the Senate. Los Mineros have an affiliation agreement with the United Steel Workers (USW), which represents workers in Canada and the United States.

This is happening at a time of historic change in Mexican politics, with the defeat of the presidential candidates of the PRI and PAN by López Obrador or AMLO, the founder and leader of MORENA, who was elected in a landslide. This could mean the reform of Mexico’s labor laws. The independent labor movement is working to take advantage of this opportunity to become a leading force in Mexican society.

Jeffery Hermanson has been a union organizer with ILGWU/UNITE, the Carpenters and the Writers Guild of America since 1977. He was the Field Representative in Mexico for the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center from 2000-2003 and currently works with the International Union Educational League.  This article first appeared on the New Politics blog at http://newpol.org/content/mexican-independent-and-democratic-auto-unions-form-new-federation

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Organizing Walmart

by Paul Garver

 

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Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart is not for breezy summer reading on the beach or in the mountains.  Save it for cooler weather at a comfortable desk in September. But if you are either a prospective or current labor organizer or labor studies major, do read it and take notes.  Other than actually becoming a Walmart “associate,” there is no better way to learn what it is like to experience “Walmartism.”

Organizing Walmart workers is both totally necessary for the future of the workers’ movement and a quixotic project that requires enormous persistence and a huge leap of faith.  It is the largest employer in the USA and in the world.  “Walmartism” combines a huge centrally controlled bureaucracy with the arbitrary authority of layer upon layer of managers in such a way that Walmart “associates” have little control over their working conditions and lives.

Reich and Bearman describe in excruciating detail how Walmart workers make sense of their jobs on the shop floor.   Their information comes from the experiences and reports of twenty student activists who spend an intensive summer researching and helping organize Walmart associates in five different urban areas in conjunction with OUR Walmart [Organization United for Respect at Walmart].

The major source of resources for the OUR Walmart project, the United Food & Commercial Workers [UFCW], pulled the plug on its commitment the same time that the students’ summer project ended in September 2015.

By then the students had undergone much conflict, learned a lot, but organized few associates. However their interviews with current and former workers prove an invaluable source of insights into the complex obstacles to organizing at Walmart.

Drawing on a wide array of methods, including participant-observation, oral history, big data, and the analysis of social networks, Working for Respect is a sophisticated reconsideration of this pivotal workplace.  The most detailed and valuable sections of this book describe the variety of reasons why folks work at Walmart, why they remain or leave employment, and which issues are most important for them.

Current union organizing models are not effective at Walmart given its sprawling scale and its sophisticated management methods. Since employees have various reasons why they work at Walmart, no single organizing method is a magic key that reaches all associates at each store.  And Walmart, owned by the wealthiest family in the USA, is ruthlessly determined to stamp out any organizing among its associates.

The authors, like the students and the UFCW,  can offer no easy answers.  They do share a few insights with the reader.  One is that issues like respect and dignity on the job  mobilize Walmart workers more effectively than purely economic demands.  Another is that while face-to-face organizing is crucial, but Walmart, social media networks have to play a major role in sustaining networks of workers across the vast sprawl of the Walmart empire.

There is nothing in this book about Walmart organizing in other countries, but I will add an observation about China, where Walmart is well established and growing.  Whereas Walmart in the USA and Canada has closed whole stores and departments rather than allowing any kind of union foothold, Walmart in China embraced Chinese-style management- and Communist Party- dominated “trade unions.”  Walmart associates in China who insist on real collective bargaining are shut out by management and “union” alike. Sporadic communications among Walmart employees persist mainly through social media.

Welcome to 21st century global capitalism!   The essential, though seemingly impossible,  task for workers is to overcome Walmart and its clones through self-organization.  This book provides a few useful hints how to begin..

Adam Reich is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of Hidden Truth: The Young Men Navigating Lives in and out of Juvenile Prison (2010); With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital (2012); and Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States(2014).

Peter Bearman is the Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theories and Empirics at Columbia University. He is the author of Relations Into Rhetorics (1993) and Doormen (2005) and coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology (2009), as well as coeditor of the Middle Range series at Columbia University Press.

Korea and Labor Unions

Korea Reflectionsby Michael Leon Guerrero, Exec. Dir., Labor Network for Sustainability

LNS Part of Union Peace Mission to Korea

 

LNS executive director Michael Leon Guererro reports on a delegation of US trade unionists, Black Lives Matter, and other social movement activists to trade unions in Korea, sponsored by US Labor Against the War and the Korean Trade Union Confederation. Michael reports that the Korean labor movement played a key role in the peace process:
 
The road to the peace process was paved by the Candlelight Revolution – a popular movement uprising that lasted for months – ending in December 2016 with the impeachment of Korean President Park Gun-hye. Anchored by the KCTU, the movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in a series of protests against the corruption of the Park government and political domination by the family-owned conglomerates known as chaebols. On May 9, 2017, Moon Jae-in, a human rights attorney, was elected as the new President.
 
The delegation learned the history of the KCTU, which has grown to be a powerful organized voice of workers and changed the political landscape of Korea since being established just 30 years ago. Some of them met with former KCTU Chairman Han Sang-gyun and former vice-president Lee Young-Joo, both imprisoned by the Park administration on trumped up charges while protesting labor law reforms that would further limit workers’ rights.
 

Support Striking Oil Workers in Australia

Eric Lee, LabourStart

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Last year maintenance workers at Exxon Mobil’s onshore and offshore facilities in Australia received a shock when they heard that their employer, maintenance contractor UGL, was firing the whole workforce. 

They were told that they could keep their jobs if they signed up to a new agreement that cut wages by 15-30% and other entitlements, and forced them onto new fly-in, fly-out rosters that tore them away from their families.

These workers have now been on strike for a phenomenal 350 days, resisting Esso and UGL from exploiting ugly legal loopholes that undermine workers’ fundamental rights.

They’ve asked for our solidarity, and for us to send messages to the company demanding a fair deal.

Please take a moment to show your solidarity today:

Click here

And please share this message with your friends, family and fellow union members.

Abolish ICE Demonstration-Sacramento

Poster - Abolish Ice - DSA nationalLACLAA ( Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement)  organized a  dynamic demonstration today at the ICE offices in Sacramento to oppose the policies of jailing children and to slow down ICE.  Photos, videos, and sound recordings contributed to the scene.

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Desiree Rojas, Sacramento LACLA President pointed to large photos and said we have now seen children put into dog kennels.  We have seen ICE Separate families. And, we must resist.

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Desiree Rojas LCLAA

“We will fight for the children !  We will fight back against ICE !”

LACLAA , a part of the AFL-CIO, has been organized and active in Sacramento since 1982 and was particularly active in the anti NAFTA efforts and in organizing annual Cesar Chavez marches.

Local residents of the Japanese Citizens League,  who had themselves been incarcerated in 1942 in the Japanese Incarceration told of their stories.  And, how the incarceration haunted them for decades.

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Fabrizio Sasso

Fabrizio Sasso, Executive Secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council  described today’s effort as a part of the battle for Freedom and Democracy.

The video is here. https://www.facebook.com/sacramentolabor/

Duane Campbell (DSA) the Co Chair of the Immigrants’ Rights Committee of Democratic Socialists of America told the crowd of some 200 of the DSA campaign to Abolish ICE.

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Duane Campbell – DSA Immigration Committee

“This issue before us is one of human decency.  Under the Trump Administration ICE has developed a new policy of deliberately separating families of immigrants and refugees.  They are separating parents from their children as a form of collective punishment.    We have seen the photos. We know what is happening! Continue reading

Reject the Republican Repressive Immigration Bills

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Getty Images

Republicans in Congress have rejected a way to fix DACA and protect Dreamers. Now they are forcing a vote on two cruel bills that hold dreamers hostage to the Trump Administration’s deportation machine that separates kids from their families, deports hard working immigrants from the country, eliminates the diversity visa program, restricts family unification and prevents people fleeing violence and death from seeking asylum.

This is not who we are as a country.

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When we rip babies from their parents arms, build prison camps for children, raid workplaces and round up anyone who is not white, and threaten the 800,000 DACAmented Dreamers who have only ever known America with deportation we have to step up. This is a moral crisis and people like you and me must stand up to this.

Congress must know that these bills allowing the most inhumane parts of Donald Trump’s immigration policies can not pass. Tell your Representative that they must vote NO on these cruel bills.

When President Trump needlessly ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—a temporary fix to help individuals who came to this country as young immigrants—it became Congress’ responsibility to solve the problem. At every turn, Congress has failed miserably to come up with a solution that protects Dreamers from deportation. And now, House Republican leadership has blocked a fix that has overwhelming public support and a majority of the members of the House want to vote on.

Continue reading

Building Global Labor Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

 

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Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization.  Edited by Kim Scipes. Haymarket Books, 2016.

I do not have any good reason for taking so long to review this valuable book.  I picked it up only at the recent Labor Notes Conference after discussing it with Scipes there.  Did I arrogantly believe think that after decades as a global labor activist that I had nothing new to learn?  This collection of essays proves me wrong.

I have been acquainted with Kim Scipes since I invited him to join a mini-conference on international labor at the Blue Mountain Center in 1988.   Once a US Marine, he became a sociologist and an activist in teachers’ and writers’ unions.  Scipes was then, and remains, a tireless critic of the AFL-CIO’s international policies, writing numerous books and articles on the topic

Thirty years ago, I fully agreed with Scipes that the AFL-CIO’s international policy was unambiguously nefarious in its intentions and consequences of workers around the world.  Under the strongly anti-Communist presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland, the AFL-CIO turned over its field operations in its regional institutes mostly to members of the Social Democrats USA, a smallish sect stemming from the pro Vietnam War wing of the former Socialist Party.  While paying verbal obeisance to free and democratic trade unionism, operatives of the AFL-CIO’S government-funded regional institutes tried to build pro-US union federations and from time to time supported right-wing coups and US military and political interventions.

In the 1980s my SEIU local leadership supported my involvement in union solidarity missions to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.  At the SEIU convention in Toronto in 1988, I helped organize a large group of local delegates that successfully put forth and negotiated a composite resolution on SEIU’s international policy that effectively replaced adherence to U.S. imperial policies with an emphasis on pragmatic solidarity with all global workers based on mutual interests in the globalized economy.  Both the then SEIU President John Sweeney and the Left bloc of delegates asked me to introduce the report from the convention resolutions committee which had negotiated agreement on the new language, which following seconding speeches from both reformers and administration loyalists, was unanimously adopted by the Convention delegates.

A convention resolution does not immediately change union policy, and in any event international labor solidarity has never been high on SEIU’s list of priorities.  But when John Sweeney became president of the AFL-CIO (following a contest with his former mentor AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Tom Donahue who shared Lane Kirkland’s Cold War views), he allowed a slow evolution of the Federation’s policies towards pragmatic support for more autonomous and even militant labor movements overseas.   The former regional groups that had promoted political anti-Communism were abolished in 1997, to be replaced by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity [“Solidarity Center”].  While still dependent on U.S. government funding, the Solidarity Center has developed credible programs to encourage independent union-building in several countries, ranging from Bangladesh and Cambodia through Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Egypt and Tunisia.

Thus the AFL-CIO followed the approach of long-standing union development agencies controlled by national union federations like those of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, which made use of government funding to establish enduring partnerships with autonomous unions in developing countries.  The International Union of Food Workers (IUF), a global union federation for which I worked from 1990-2006, accepted well vetted project funding controlled by its affiliated unions in European countries, while remaining very reluctant to accept any funding from the USA, except for dues-based direct funding from affiliated American unions.  This was based upon very negative experiences that IUF affiliates had in the 1970s and 1980s with covert interference from AIFLD [American Institute for Free Labor Development] and other US regional labor institutes. However, this reluctance is slowly receding in recent years as experiences overseas unions have had with Solidarity Center programs have become generally positive.   Most staffers of the Solidarity Center both in Washington and in its numerous field programs throughout the world now are recruited for their pragmatic skills in union building and appear ideologically committed to working towards a solidaristic global labor movement.

Organizing at the global level with the IUF convinced me that it was necessary and possible to organize workers from all parts of the world into effective networks within specific global corporations (I worked on this task with the IUF on Coca-Cola, Nestle and other global food and drinks corporations).  This work is neither spectacular nor immediately effective, but in the long run lasting connections among workers based on mutual interests forged in face-to-face encounters do provide a counter-power to global capitalism.

The essays collected in this volume by Kim Scipes partially reflect this evolution.  Scipes himself remains very skeptical that the AFL-CIO has actually changed its spots in any consistent or persistent direction.  He cites both in this volume and in other writings, that the Solidarity Center in Venezuela supported a union whose leader briefly supported a coup against Hugo Chavez.   He also cites the 2013 AFL-CIO convention at which resolutions against imperialist wars were blocked from the chair.   His own conceptualization of global labor solidarity seems strongly rooted in an enduring belief that U.S. imperialism is by far the major obstacle to establishing global worker solidarity.  He argues consistently that its almost exclusive reliance on U.S. government funding compromises the Solidarity Center.  While he refers to the need to build global union and worker alliances against transnational capitalism and in specific global corporations and sectors, he does not feature it much in his own analysis.

In his essay “Building Global Solidarity Today: Learning from the KMU in the Philippines” Scipes presents what he considers to be a leading instance of a national union center (Kilusang Mayo Uno – May First Movement) practicing genuine trade unionism at home and abroad.  Scipes attended “International Solidarity Affairs” programs conducted by the KMU in 1988 and 2015, also conducting some field research in the Philippines.  I agree with Scipes that the KMU’s international efforts are commendable, but fear that in isolation such isolated efforts are insufficient to challenge capital at the global level.

To his credit, Scipes includes several superb essays by contributors who have fresh and compelling insights into major global labor issues that they elaborate in considerable detail.

Timothy Ryan has been Asia regional director of the Solidarity Center since 2001, after serving as a field representative in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  His essay, “It Takes More than a Village” is a comprehensive analysis of how technical training in organizing and collective bargaining [assisted by the Solidarity Center field office] combined with external leverage through links with consumer organizations in Europe and North America over a long stretch of time enabled the beginnings of union organization among garment workers in Bangladesh, following the Rani Plaza building collapse and factory fires that killed so many workers.   Ryan’s essay exemplifies how global campaigns that actually empower rank-and-file workers can be built against tremendous political and economic opposition.  Scipes shows admirable generosity in including this essay by a key officer of an organization that he in principle disapproves.

Mike Zweig’s “Working for Global Justice in the New US Labor Movement” draws upon his own active involvement in US Labor against the War [USLAW] both to describe some new and tentative steps US unions have taken to oppose wars and support unionists in Iraq.  He favorably cites the reform of the Solidarity Center.  Where Scipes sees a glass mostly empty at the AFL-CIO, Zweig sees it as partially full.  However Zweig at the same time calling for a new culture of independent labor politics that would provide a more secure foundation for deep reform of the US labor movement.

David Bacon’s “Building a Culture of Solidarity across the US-Mexican Border” is based on his own extensive knowledge as a journalist and photographer working on both sides of the border.  He develops a convincing case that the most organic and powerful link between the progressive movements of Mexico and the United States consists in the Mexican workers and families who live and work in both countries.    Bacon cites the solidarity work of the United Steelworkers (USW) with the Mexican unions SME and ‘los Mineros”, which is based both on actions against common multinational employers, and on the community and family ties among workers.  [Ben Davis, first at the Solidarity Center in Mexico and later at the USW International Department, has facilitated this ongoing connection].

Finally for a fresh perspective I recommend Jenny Jungehülsing’s “Building Bridges Between the Labor Movement and Transnational Migration Research”, which draws out the potential for international solidarity based on ties among migrants.  Her case studies include the USW-Los Mineros relationship as well as the ongoing relationship between the Salvadoran members of the LA-based SEIU Service Workers West local and the FMLN in El Salvador.

In conclusion, if you have any interest in building global labor solidarity, buy and read this book.  It is currently available from Haymarket Books for $9.50 (PB plus e-book) or $5.00 (e-book only).