20 Years of Cross Border Solidarity

A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2016.1170301

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal.  Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union.  Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he's voting for.  Company  and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union.  The election was called off halfway through.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1993 – Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they’re voting for the company union or their own independent union. Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he’s voting for. Company and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union. The election was called off halfway through.

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border – can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border. Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common.

What’s more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources.

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they’ve made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts – this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana.  Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a “beauty contest” at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.
See the entire essay and the impressive photos. http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2016/05/twenty-years-of-cross-border-solidarity.html

Labor Movement’s May Day Promise

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1MAY06 -  Copyright David Bacon

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1MAY06 –
Copyright David Bacon

Erica Smiley May 1, 2016
The American Prospect

Some cast the labor movement as dying or even dead, but even amid attacks on collective bargaining workers are finding innovative ways to organize.

General view of the great crowds of organized and unorganized workers who took part in the May Day demonstration in Union Square, New York, May 1, 1929. , AP,

On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of railroad, mine, and factory workers in the United States put their livelihoods on the line and participated in a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. They were attacked by strikebreakers and police, but their uprising led to the creation of a holiday to honor workers—May Day—now known as International Workers Memorial Day in many countries around the world. Continue reading

Historic Minimum Wage Hike in California

raisewagecityhallSteven Mikalan
(updated) March 31.
California is on track to become the first state to officially raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. On March 31, California’s official celebration of labor leader Cesar Chavez, Democratic legislators agreed to raise the wage from its current $10 hourly mark to $10.50 beginning January 1, 2017, followed by continuous upticks that will result in the wage leveling off at $15 an hour by 2022. (Businesses employing fewer than 26 workers would get an extra year to institute the increases.) Governor Jerry Grown has said he will sign the bill  on Monday.
After that the minimum can rise – but not fall – according to inflation. The agreement includes a provision giving workers three days of paid sick leave annually; it also permits California governors to freeze the wage in times of extreme economic downturn.
The movement toward a $15 wage has not followed a straight line, with individual city electorates or governments passing ordinances raising local wages higher than the state minimum (which cities will still be allowed to do under the proposed law), but making little headway outside of California’s liberal coastal belt. The issue has recently been complicated by the emergence of two competing union-sponsored measures that have sought placement on this November’s state ballot.
At a media teleconference held Monday afternoon, labor leaders and others hailed the coming pay hike.
“No one who works hard should live in poverty,” said the event’s moderator, Laphonza Butler, who serves as both president of the Service Employees International Union’s state council and as co-chair of the Los Angeles Fight for $15 committee. And, in a sign that labor is not taking its apparent victory for granted, she added that until the legislation passes, unions would not cease their efforts to put the matter of raising the wage before voters. Continue reading

Labor Leader Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez Today, March 31 is Cesar Chavez’ birthday. On this day throughout the nation there are many observances honoring Cesar’s work. We are grateful for all these recognitions, which continue to grow 23 years after Cesar’s passing in 1993. But Cesar said that if the union he helped build didn’t survive his death, then his life’s work would have been in vain. The UFW takes this responsibility seriously and carries on Cesar’s work of making the lives of farm workers better by aggressively helping farm workers organize, negotiate union contracts and win new legal protections.

A big focus of the UFW right now is helping farm workers get the same overtime pay as almost every other worker. Workers plan to commemorate Cesar Chavez month (the time between Cesar’s March 31 birthday and April 23 passing) by marching for fair overtime pay in support of the bill we told you about, AB 2757 “The Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016.” The bill would phase in paying California’s farm workers overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week by the year 2020.

Starting this Sunday, April 3, more than 10,000 farm workers up and down the west coast will take to the streets and march in 5 key agricultural areas. To do this is very expensive, but it’s time for worker’s voices to be heard. As Cesar told us, “I’m not going to ask for anything unless the workers want it. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.” Well, the workers are asking now. Will you help? Continue reading

The End of China’s Labor Regime?

by Kevin Lin

Workers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine on a 2013 strike for higher pay.

Ed. note:  The New York Times Business Day section (10 March 2016) included a feature article entitled “Not the Chinese Dream” by Owen Guo, that highlighted the inability or unwillingness of China’s 257 million [internal] migrant workers to occupy the thousands of vacant urban apartments that are weighing down the Chinese economy.  Kevin Lin’s article poses the structural causes that underlie this socio-economic crisis.

A key ingredient of China’s Post-Mao economic “miracle” is a labour regime entrenched in the export-oriented consumer manufacturing sector and premised on despotic exploitation, institutional discrimination and political exclusion of labour. It is built on the back of massive rural-to-urban migration in the context of a stagnant agricultural sector and rising disparity in rural-urban incomes from the 1990s. The rural migrants are not only placed under exploitative labour relations under the Party-state’s market liberalisation, but also institutionally discriminated against by the urban household registration system that denies them of permanent urban residency and entrenches the transient nature of their labour migration, and politically excludes  them from organising autonomous labour unions and asserting as an organised social force. This combination, by no means unique in the history of capitalist development, produces an abundant and seemingly endless supply of not only cheap and disposable but disciplined, fragmented and atomised labour. However, having help propel China into a global economic power, the reproduction of this labour regime is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

Continue reading

Jobs, Justice and Climate Rally and March to Defend New England’s Future

by Paul Garver

jobsjusticeclimate

By 12th December the Paris climate talks will have ended.  Political leaders will have made promises to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions. Whether these promises are kept or not kept over the coming decades depends upon us.

We know what we need: real climate solutions that create secure union jobs and strengthen community power and resiliency.

To get there, we must build an unstoppable grassroots movement that unites workers and  labor unions with immigrant rights. racial justice and climate justice movements.

Representatives of these movements are calling for a rally and march in Boston on 12th December to Defend New England’s Future. Organizers include 350 Mass for a Better Future and Jobs with Justice.  Endorsers include labor unions [Vermont State AFL-CIO, SEIU Locals 1199 and 509, Mass. Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Boston Musicians, Local 3844 American Postal Workers Union], worker centers from Vermont, Southern Maine and New Bedford, and numerous community and social rights groups like City Life/Vida Urbana, the Migrant Center and Interfaith Workers Justice.

They will join with a broad network of climate justice and environmental groups including numerous 350 MA nodes, campus divestment groups, Mass Peace Action and the Sierra Club in rallying in Boston Common and in front of the Mass. State House.   The march will also take support for organizing low wage workers at McDonald’s and Primark.  Flyers are being prepared in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English to help reach out to immigrant communities.

Although social movements have been gathering momentum and winning specific legislative victories in Massachusetts and other New England states in the years since the Occupy movement, they have been somewhat isolated into separate “silos.”  Organizers of the 12th December Rally and March hope to help spark a more inclusive and unified grassroots’ movement that reaches broader mass constituencies beyond their organizational leaders.

For some background on how the 12th December actions being organized throughout the world relate to the Paris talks, see http://www.religioussocialism.org/global_climate_justice_a_new_great_awakening.

Undocumented Immigrants and the New Gilded Age

by Martin Kich

worker-on-a-scaffold-symbolfoto-for-building-construction-boom-labor-protection-144052165

An article written by David Chen and published in the New York Times  on 26th November included the following statistics on construction-related deaths and injuries in New York City:

“Seven workers have died on the job since July, including three in a nine-day stretch before Labor Day, according to records of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

“The city’s Buildings Department keeps its own count of construction deaths, injuries and accidents, offering a broader look at safety year over year. There were 10 construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year, from July 2014 to July 2015, according to city figures. In contrast, the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5.

“Meanwhile, 324 workers were injured in the last fiscal year, a jump of 53 percent, and the Buildings Department recorded 314 accidents over all, an increase of 52 percent from the year before. The total was more than two and a half times what the city tallied in 2011. In comparison, permits for new construction projects grew by only 11 percent in the last fiscal year and permits for renovation and other work by 6 percent.”

Because the city is experiencing another building boom, the number of workers employed in construction has increased; so, one might expect some increase in the number of fatalities and injuries on construction sites.

But, as Chen points out, when one examines the cases more closely, it is very clear that many, if not most, of the deaths and injuries are attributable to three easily addressed factors:

1. A very high percentage of those killed and injured have been undocumented immigrants.

2. A very high percentage of those undocumented immigrants have had no training in the building trades.

3. A very high percentage of the deaths and injuries have involved falls or falling objects in which the workers were not taking such basic precautions as wearing safety harnesses or hard hats.

Meanwhile, the fines and other penalties imposed on the construction companies that have employed these undocumented and untrained workers and that have ignored the most basic safety rules for building sites have been extremely minimal. Very clearly, reduced construction costs for the owners of the buildings and increased profits for those doing the building have had priority over enforcing workplace safety laws, requiring certification of even the most basic worker training, and enforcing laws meant to prevent the exploitation of workers who are undocumented immigrants.

And all of this is occurring in New York State, which still has the highest rate of unionization in the nation, with a quarter of the workforce being unionized.

For all of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Red states, imagine the level of exploitation of undocumented immigrants that is almost certainly occurring in states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona.

This is what deregulation means. This is what the evisceration of labor law means. This is what comes from the weakening and elimination of labor unions. This is what results from political hypocrisy and the broader failure of the media to perform its most basic function in exposing such hypocrisy.

David Chen’s article is more notable today than it might have been in the relatively recent past not only because labor unions were much stronger and helped to limit such abuses but also because the article represents a type of investigative journalism that is very rapidly disappearing. In July 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that, since 2003, there has been a 53% decline in the number of reporters assigned to cover our statehouses.

The increasing corporatization of American media has paralleled the increasing corporatization of American politics and, of course, the American workplace. The previously maintained, if often tenuous balance between not just the influence but also the values of the corporate world, organized labor, the major political parties, and the media has eroded to the point that corporate influence and values now predominate more than they have had at any time since the beginning of the Progressive Era. The “New Gilded Age” refers to much more than just the increase in income inequality. The phrase highlights a skewing of American values not seen for more than a century in favor of the unchecked creation of material wealth.

David Chen’s complete article is available at:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/nyregion/rise-in-new-york-construction-deaths-strikes-the-poor-and-undocumented.html?_r=0.

This post first appeared on the Academe Blog (AAUP).

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