Building of a Culture of Solidarity

Labor journalist and activist David Bacon writes in the October 29 edition of Foreign Policy in Focus that after the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 both the economies of the United States and Mexico have been integrated. Through this corporate-controlled integration, corporations maximized profits by pushing down wages to cut labor costs in both the United States and Mexico. The means that workers have to fight this is by building a culture of solidarity across borders.

For instance, Grupo Mexico, a giant Mexican mining corporation, uses profits from operations in Peru to pay the cost of breaking a strike in mines in Cananea, Mexico, and then consequently purchasing copper mines in Arizona where it forced U.S. workers out on strike as it pursues lowing their wages.

When the Mexican government weakened laws restricting electricity generation to the government, and shutting down Luz y Fuerza and laying-off members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union, San Diego Gas and Electric set up an energy maquiladora across the border to produce power for the U.S. market and pay lower wages.

The Gates and Broad foundations which are attacking teachers’ unions in the United States, are partnering with Mexicanos Primero, run by Claudio X. Gonzalez and Claudio Gonzalez Guajardo, from one of the wealthiest families in Mexico, to do the same thing there, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Tri-national Coalition to Defend Public Education was organized in 1993. During the 2006 strike by Mexican teachers, teachers from Oaxaca traveled to California to speak at the convention of the California Federation of Teachers.

Benedicto Martinez, general secretary of the Authentic Labor Front, with grassroots activists from both countries organized the Mexican Network Against Free Trade. Many unions in the United States found their counterparts across the border and formed the first solidarity network, the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.

When Plasticos Bajacal in Tijuana fired workers for organizing an independent union in 1992, union activists in San Diego raised money to pay their lost wages so they could keep organizing.

The Comite Fronterizo de Obreras organized workers at the Alcoa/Fujikura plant in Mexico in cooperation with the Mexican miners’ union (los Mineros) and the United Steelworkers in the United States.

The United Steel Workers provided support to the Mineros during their 12-year strike in Cananea. The miners in Cananea sent support to the U.S. mineworkers in Arizona and New Mexico on strike against the same corporation, Grupo Mexico.

The United Electrical Workers in the United States established a relationship with the Authentic Labor Front (Spanish acronym FAT) in Mexico based on equality. The Communications Workers of America established a close relationship with the Mexican Telephone Workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center assisted the formation of the Workers Support Center in Puebla, Mexico.

In the United States, the United Students Against Sweatshops protested garments sold in college stores produced at Kuk Dong’s plant in Puebla, where workers were beaten for trying to organize a union. Student support helped win a contract.

The United Farm Workers in the United States has developed a strategic relationship with the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB). Between 2013 and 2015, Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers from Oaxaca sent on strike in both Baja California and Burlington, Washington. They mounted an international boycott of Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, and won a contract in Washington and organized an independent union in Baja California.

Auto workers in assembly plants in Michigan told Ford and GM not to bring in parts from Johnson Controls unless it signed a contract with the Mineros in Mexico.

Workers went on strike for an independent union in Juarez in 2017 at some of the largest factories in North America. In Matamoros, more than 40,000 workers struck U.S. assembly plants when their workers refused to by the minimum wage ordered by President Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador when he took office in 2018.

Workers struck U.S.-owned plants that refused to obey the government’s order to stop production during the COVID crisis, event though 13 workers died from the virus at the Lear plant in Juarez. The U.S. State Department threatened the Mexican government if it did not allow those plants to resume production because they were essential services, not to the Mexican people but to the U.S. Pentagon and military industrial complex.

In conclusion, building a culture of solidarity means that workers will understand their welfare is linked to the welfare of others, and they should be ready to practice that accordingly. They should be ready to help each other in cases including workers’ strikes, hunger strikes, or in fights over the closure of factories.

by Jonathan Sarabia