On December 2-3, 2017, the Binational Conference to Cancel NAFTA, Tear Down the Wall of Shame / End All Deportations, Stop Privatizations, and Promote Labor Rights on Both Sides of the Border was held in Carson, Calif., with the participation of more than 200 unionists and activists from the United States and Mexico. The first all-day session was held at California State University-Dominguez Hills and was hosted by the university’s Modern Language Department and the CSUDH chapter of the California Faculty Association; the second half-day session was held at the hall of the United Steelworkers Local 675.
There was strong participation from important sectors of the U.S. labor movement. Representatives from four central labor councils in California — San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, and the 800,000-member Los Angeles Federation of Labor (and its Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Rusty Hicks) — addressed the gathering. Numerous union locals — including United Teachers of Los Angeles, SEIU Local 1000, SEIU 87, AFT 2279, and UAW Local 551 from Chicago/Northern Indiana — endorsed and participated in the discussions and deliberations. The California State Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and its local chapter in Sacramento were among the main sponsors and organizers of the conference, along with Hermandad Mexicana-La Original.
There was also a large delegation of students from CSU Fullerton and CSUDH, as well as activists from immigrant rights and other labor and social justice organizations, including the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the Labor Fightback Network, and the Workers Solidarity Action Network.
From Mexico there was a delegation of trade unionists, workers and students from Mexicali, Tijuana, and Ciudad Juarez — as well as a farmworker organizer from San Quintin (Baja California) who was able to obtain her visa. However, two sizable delegations from Mexico were not granted their visas. This included a six-person delegation of unionists from the healthcare, education, and oil sectors from the state of Chiapas and neighboring states.
Also unable to attend were five leaders of the Alianza de Organizaciones Sociales and the National Democratic Independent Union of Farmworkers (SINDJA) from San Quintin. Delegations from the Mexican Electrical Workers union SME), the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), and the Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT — all of whom endorsed the Conference Call – were unable to attend at the last minute because of pressing demands on the home front.
The Binational Conference also received messages of support from organizations across the Americas (Haiti, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Canada) and from the two-conveners of the International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International. [See Attachment No. 1: Messages to Binational Conference.]
The conference mandated the Organizing Committee to thank all the senders of these messages for their support and their reports. In those cases where the Binational Conference’s support was requested for specific campaigns in countries across the continent (as was the case, for example, with the request for solidarity with the struggle of the Mapuche indigenous people in Patagonia, Argentina), the Organizing Committee was entrusted with promoting these campaigns among the trade unions and community organizations in the United States and Mexico.
The conference, in particular, heard the message from the trade unionists and activists in Chiapas, Mexico, who invited participants to support and help promote the Second Session of the Binational Conference, to be held next March 17-18, 2018, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, around the same demands as the Carson conference. The Binational Conference welcomed this invitation, given the inability of so many trade unionists and activists from Mexico to get visas to the United States, and it agreed to support the Second Session of the Binational Conference in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, on March 17-18, 2018 (moved back from the initially proposed dates of February 3-4, 2018).
The conference also heard a Special Presentation on “Language, Culture and Work in the Era of NAFTA” by Professor Ivonne Heinze Balcazar, Director of the Department of Modern Languages at CSU-Dominguez Hills and Women’s Caucus representative of the Dominguez Hills chapter of the California Faculty Association. Sister Balcazar examined four questions involving language and culture: the growing Mexican influence in the United States over the 23 years of NAFTA, cultural usurpation, cultural assimilation, and cultural integration.
Sister Balcazar concluded by affirming that the defense of culture and language is and must be part of our trade union work. This includes the right to use our own languages (something that is under growing attack with the English-Only movement across the United States), and to defend our cultural objects and legacy.
The entire conference was video-taped and live-streamed by Pacifica Informativo / KPFK in Los Angeles. Videos of the many segments of the conference can be accessed at the following:
The full conference report will also be available in Spanish shortly.
One last word of presentation:
At the plenary session on Saturday evening (December 2), the moderator invoked the memory of Sister Gemma López Limon, a professor of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali who passed away in 2011. Sister Gemma was a dear friend and coalition partner in the struggles waged by LCLAA, Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior, Hermandad Mexicana, OTAC, Unión Cívica 1o. de mayo, and The Organizer, among others, to repeal NAFTA and advance the interests of working people and all the oppressed on both sides of the border.
Sister Gemma never wavered from the path of independent and united struggle. Her example is an inspiration to all of us. [See Attachment No. 1A: « Gemma Lopez Presente! »]
* * *
Following are the Conclusions and Action Proposals adopted by the workshops and the conference plenary session devoted to workshop report-backs. In a number of cases, the Conclusions / Action Proposals were adopted in Resolution format and can serve as Model Resolutions for wider submission to trade union bodies and community organizations nationwide.
* * *
On the Fight to Cancel NAFTA and CAFTA
Throughout the Binational Conference, speaker after speaker in the plenary sessions and in the workshops explained that NAFTA must be canceled. From beginning to end, they affirmed, NAFTA is a weapon of destruction of the labor force and its organizations, and of the environment, in all three signatory countries. [See Attachment No. 2: “NAFTA’s Bitter Legacy” and Attachment No. 3: “For United Action Against NAFTA,” and Attachment 3A: « Speech by Professor William I Robinson. »]
The Binational Conference concluded that NAFTA is not amendable and must be canceled, and resolved to forward for adoption by local unions, central labor councils, and state federations the San Francisco Labor Council resolution of August 14, 2017 titled, “Cancel NAFTA! Tear Down the Wall of Shame / Not One More Deportation! Support Workers’ Rights and Struggles in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada!” [Included in Attachment No. 4 listed below.]
The conference resolved to call on the governments covered under the NAFTA agreement to halt and reverse all the anti-working class measures — especially all the privatizations and deregulations of public services and enterprises — taken in the name of NAFTA. What is needed urgently in all three signatory countries, the conference asserted, are measures to renationalize and re-regulate everything that was privatized or deregulated under NAFTA over the past 23 years.
Noting that the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Citizen’s Trade Campaign were organizing a December 13 National Day of Action with the aim of « replacing NAFTA with a treaty that puts the interests of workers first, » the conference agreed to urge these four organizations to issue a Call for a Trinational Day of Mobilization around the above-stated demands early next year, at the time of the next round of NAFTA renegotiations. [See Attachment No. 4: “Open Letter to AFL-CIO and Progressive Trade Groups on the Need to Call for NAFTA Cancellation.”]
The conference also heard a report on the disastrous consequences of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) from a representative of Los Angeles CISPES and resolved that it is necessary to promote the broadest fightback within the labor movement to stop CAFTA. The workshop also resolved to promote the activities of CISPES in opposition to U.S. policy in Central America, including the fight to oppose the election fraud that just took place in Honduras — a fraud Made in the USA, just like the U.S.-backed coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was Made in the USA. [See Attachment No. 5: Appeal from the Honduras Solidarity Network.]
* * *
On the Fight to Tear Down the ‘Wall of Shame,’ End All Deportations, Enact a Clean DREAM Act, and Preserve / Improve TPS
In relation to Trump’s « Wall of Shame, » the conference concluded that the Wall of Shame and NAFTA represent an assault on the sovereignty and people of Mexico, but they also represent an assault on workers and entire communities in the United States, where full-time jobs with benefits have been destroyed and unions have been dismantled under the bosses’ threats to shut down and outsource the plants with lower wages south of the border.
Luis Angel Reyes Zavalza, a young Dreamer and immigrant rights organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area, addressed the opening plenary of the conference, where he recounted his personal history, which is the history of countless undocumented immigrants forced to migrate to the United States. He stated:
“I arrived in this country when I was 8 years old. My parents were peasants in Mexico. In 1994, when the NAFTA agreement privatized the lands [the ejidos] in Mexico, they had no choice but to migrate to the United States. The process of destruction of the Mexican peasantry is what’s responsible for the massive migration to the United States.
“In the U.S., my parents – like countless others in their situation – became cheap, easily exploitable labor; they were used to bring down the costs of labor for the entire workforce in this country – all to line the pockets of the transnational corporations and the super-rich.
“That is why we cannot talk about the struggle of the immigrant community without talking about the ‘free trade’ agreements that destroyed their communities and the very fabric of their societies back home in Mexico and Central America. We have to call for canceling NAFTA so that Mexico can implement policies that promote genuine industrial and agricultural development, which requires that it break with its ties of subordination to the Empire to the North. We have to have the right — and the necessary jobs and living conditions — to stay home, the right and the ability not to migrate.”
Regarding the announcement by the Trump administration on September 5 that it was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, over the next six months, the Binational Conference came out in support of the passage of a clean DREAM Act that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth, without harmful provisions such as border, or interior enforcement, or any form of border militarization that threatens the lives of the 11 million undocumented community members in this country.
DACA, which was enacted through Executive Order by then-President Obama in 2012, places a stay on the deportation of 800,000 immigrant youth who were brought to the United States when they were small children. DACA did not legalize the status of these immigrant youth; it merely gave them temporary (two-year) stays on deportation, renewable at the discretion of the president, along with temporary work permits.
With the action of youth in San Francisco at the Nancy Pelosi press conference in September, followed by the actions of United We Dream and every other major mainstream non-profit, undocumented youth have drawn a line in the sand: the DREAM Act cannot come at the expense of their parents and community members. This is what is meant by a Clean DREAM Act. “It is one that does not sell out our parents by capitulating to Trump’s militarization of the border and interior deportations,” stated one workshop participant.
In November and December, thousands of undocumented youth occupied the Capitol in Washington, D.C., as well as Congressional offices across the country, to demand that the Democrats vote down funding for the government in December if it does not include a Clean DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship to undocumented youth without sacrificing 11 million people in the process. Undocumented youth are calling for a shut-down of Capitol Hill on December 18, the seven-year anniversary of when five Democrats killed the Dream Act back in 2010.
The Binational Conference supported the refusal by the undocumented immigrant youth to be used as bargaining chips to advance Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, as all too many politicians in both major political parties are proposing. Undocumented youth have every reason to be highly skeptical of both political parties, which have jointly supported the deportation of almost 3 million people.
The conference agreed to call upon the labor movement and its allies to organize independent mass actions in the streets — at ICE detention centers and at the Congressional offices — to urge passage of a Clean DREAM Act, Not One More Deportation, and Papers For All undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
As Luis Angel Reyes Zavalza put it in his keynote address. “If we as undocumented immigrants are to prevail in winning our demands, we need to adopt an independent stance, particularly in relation to the Democratic Party. And we need to wage this struggle in the streets in alliance with the working class, with the trade unions, with the organizations of the oppressed, especially the Black activist organizations. »
At the same time, the conference supported the call to maintain and expand what is called TPS (Temporary Protective Status), which granted a stay on deportation to hundreds of thousands of “refugees” from Haiti and Central America that Trump wants to expel. The conference delegates agreed to support this campaign and to promote it in the trade unions and community organizations of which they are members.
The Binational Conference agreed to support the demands put forth in the message to the conference from Haiti Liberté editor Berthony Dupont, who wrote:
“The Trump administration is waging war on all immigrants to the U.S. constitute an assault not only against immigrants, but against the working class as a whole. One of its [Trump administration’s] principal targets are the 300,000 immigrants from 10 nations who enjoy Temporary Protected Status (TPS). …
“On November 20, Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke cut off TPS for 60,000 Haitians. … The conditions that led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate Haiti for TPS continue to exist. The country continues to be plagued by poverty and lack of infrastructure, with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 leaving vast destruction in its wake. …
“This is just one more proof of the racist, xenophobic, and repressive essence of the Trump regime. We must rise up to resist it.
“Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua are the victims not merely of natural catastrophes, but more fundamentally a century of oppression by U.S. imperialism, punctuated by American invasions and occupations, US-backed dictatorships and CIA-orchestrated civil wars and coups.
“Workers throughout the world must come forward in defense of immigrants, refugees and to support workers struggles in US & Mexico. No Trump, No Wall!”
Just as it did in relation to DACA, the Binational Conference took a strong stand for a Clean TPS — also with a path to citizenship for all the « refugees » displaced from wars and extreme hardships in Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other countries.
The conference affirmed the need to reverse Trump’s proposals — with NO deals with Democrats that would compromise or condition the continued TPS program. Instead, TPS needs to be improved, with a path to citizenship.
The conference also approved a resolution, submitted by the delegation from UAW Local 551 in Chicago, calling to oppose deportations and the building of detention centers, specifically the detention center in Elkhart County, Indiana. [See Attachment No. 6: “Resolution Opposing Deportations and Detention Centers.”]
* * *
On the Fight Against the Privatization of Education and Healthcare on Both Sides of the Border
In Mexico, NAFTA has been the main weapon of the U.S. transnational corporations to promote so-called “reforms” – in reality counter-reforms – aimed at privatizing railroads, Pemex (national oil corporation), telecommunications, electricity, mining, public education, and other public enterprises and services, including healthcare. In the United States, one of the main targets of the privatizers is also public education.
A concerted campaign needs to be waged throughout the labor movement on both sides of the border to stop and reverse the privatization onslaught. The natural resources and public services and enterprises must be returned to the people for their control. All that has been privatized or deregulated under NAFTA must be renationalized and re-regulated, under the control of Mexico’s working people and their organizations.
On November 28, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) adopted a Motion on NAFTA that endorses the Binational Conference and supports the call to cancel NAFTA. The motion explains the relationship between NAFTA and the assault on public education. It states, in part:
“The privatization of public education was kicked off under NAFTA in 1994, which defined public education as a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market. For the last 23 years we and other education unions and activists in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico have been fighting against the escalating corporate takeover of public education at all levels, including educators’ unions and civil rights, the implementation of standardized testing, scripted curricula, charter schools, increased class-size, cuts in services and special programs at our schools, flooding corporate money in our school board races and control of districts, a huge increase in tuition for higher education, the creation of incredible student debt, militarization of our schools and the attack on immigrant students and their families who were forced to come here when the trade agreements with Mexico forced them into destitution.”
One of the conference keynote speakers, Professor Dean Murakami, addressed the issue of defending higher public education against the predatory for-profit institutions and private corporations that are hell-bent on destroying the CSUs and community colleges to make profits by limiting themselves to meeting the education needs of the 1%. [See Attachment No. 7: Dean Murakami Speech to Binational Conference.]
Brother Murakami concluded his speech as follows:
“We have to realize the value immigrants contribute to our society, culture, and economy. The better we incorporate immigrants into the California culture the better it will be for everyone. That’s why the president’s racist policies are going to kill our America’s economy along with his plan to destroy public education, the middle class, and labor unions.
“That’s why we need to fight for a better America. We need to fight for a better Canada. And we need to fight for a better Mexico. We have a long road to travel before we get to a place where our economies are working for everyone.”
The Binational Conference held two workshops on the fight against privatizations: (1) a workshop in defense of public education, and (2) a workshop in defense of the national healthcare systems in Mexico (IMSS and ISSSTE, in particular), combined with the call to win Single Payer healthcare in the United States.
On the Fight to Stop Privatizations: Upon hearing the report-backs from these workshops, the Conference agreed to support the “Resolution on Public Education” submitted by Rosemary Lee of UTLA, based on the resolution adopted by the Trinational Coalition in Defense of Public Education. [See Attachment No. 8: “Resolution in Defense of Public Education.”]
The conference also agreed to support a resolution on the fight to defend public education in the San Francisco Bay area. [See Attachment No. 9: “Stop Privatization: Defend CCSF and Laney Community College.”]
In addition, the conference registered a proposal by the Mexican students at the conference to hold a Binational Conference in Defense of Public Education, on the Mexican side of the border, in the coming months. This proposal will be taken to educators, educators’ unions, and students on both sides of the border. With the escalated attacks against public education in Mexico, under the guise of « education reform, » and in the United States, with the stepped-up drive to promote « charter schools » and other steps toward privatization of public education, advancing this cross-border dialogue and fightback is an urgent task.
On the Fight for Healthcare: The conference agreed to publish an exchange of correspondence between Mexican and U.S. healthcare activists on how the fight for healthcare is posed both in Mexico and in the United States. In the United States, there is little knowledge about the destruction of healthcare that is occurring through the privatization of the two national healthcare systems: the IMSS and ISSSTE. In Mexico, conversely, there is little knowledge about the failure of the U.S. private-insurance healthcare model (which is touted loudly in the media) and the fight for Single-Payer healthcare.
The conference came out squarely in favor of Single-Payer healthcare in the United States and urged all participants and supporters to take up actively the fight to win Single-Payer. The conference affirmed that the financing mechanisms for Single-Payer are readily available and should not pose an obstacle to winning Single-Payer. Those politicians who erect this as a barrier very often do this to hide the fact they do not really support Single-Payer.
The commission also considered it important to highlight the example of the resistance struggle in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, where there was a strike by healthcare workers in Palenque to demand better wages for healthcare workers but also the stocking of more medicines and medical supplies to the state hospitals and outposts in the indigenous communities.
The strike lasted for months, with the full support of the community, and 156 workers were fired. But the resolve of the strikers and the powerful show of support from the community carried the day: the workers won their demands, the 156 fired workers were reinstated with back pay, and new impetus was given to the nationwide fight to stop the privatization of IMSS and ISSSTE.
The conference considered that it was important for a representative delegation of U.S. healthcare activists to travel to Chiapas for the Second Session of the Binational Conference to meet the Palenque activists and learn from their experience. It is also important for these activists in Mexico to learn, first-hand, about the fight for Single-Payer.
The conference also affirmed that the “free trade” agreements have provided the legal basis for destroying unions and collective-bargaining agreements, which – together with all the public enterprises and services – are characterized as “barriers to ‘free trade’.”
On this issue, the conference decided to promote campaigns for the defense of trade union rights on both sides of the border. These rights are being threatened in Mexico by President Peña Nieto’s Labor Law counter-reform. In the United States, they are threatened by the Trump-supported federal “Right to Work” bill now in Congress, and by the imminent Supreme Court decision, also backed by Trump, in the case Janus v. AFSCME, which would gut “agency fee” and the closed shop.
A specific resolution in support of the striking Henkel Aerospace workers in Bay Point, California, was adopted. [See Attachment No. 10.]
Also important, the conference denounced the privatization of the water and lands of indigenous peoples across Mexico. The struggles of the indigenous peoples to preserve and/or reclaim their lands and natural resources must be supported by the working class and its organizations in Mexico and the United States.
* * *
Driscoll’s and British American Tobacco Co. “Vuse” Boycott Campaigns
The conference also highlighted and agreed to promote widely two campaigns involving farmworkers and their right to full and unfettered trade union representation to enable them to secure collective-bargaining agreements that improve their wages and working conditions.
In Mexico, this concerns the 80,000 farmworkers in the Valley of San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico, who have been on a mobilization footing (including intermittent strikes) since March 2015 to win the recognition of their newly formed independent union – the National Democratic Independent Union of Farmworkers (SINDJA) – and a collective-bargaining agreement that increases their wages and improves their working conditions. The workers toil 12 hours per day; they receive only US$7.50 per day; and they are exposed, without protection, to toxics banned in the United States. The workers call it toiling in “slave labor conditions.”
Driscoll’s Co., a U.S. transnational corporation based in California, is the main grower and purchaser of strawberries and other farm produce from San Quintin, through its Mexican subsidiary: BerryMex. Driscoll’s refuses to recognize the independent union on the grounds that the workers are already represented by three unions — all of which, it should be stressed, are company unions.
The conference heard a heart-breaking account of daily life in the fields of San Quintin by Sister Carmen Mata, a farmworker who years ago had been able to secure a visa to travel to the United States. Sister Mata focused on the heinous conditions affecting women farmworkers in particular. [See Attachment 10A: « Carmen Mata Speech at Binational Conference ».]
But the leadership of the Alianza de Organizaciones and of SINDJA – who had been invited to the conference — were denied visas. The conference approved a campaign to urge the U.S. authorities to grant visas to these farmworker organizers so that their story could be told directly to U.S. workers, youth and activists. [See Attachment No. 11: Campaign for Visas for San Quintin.]
The rejection of visas, however, did not deter the conference from hearing the messages from San Quintin. A skype hook-up was established on the conference big screens, and a 30-minute special session was devoted to a back-and-forth dialogue with the leaders of San Quintin. For many participants, this was a highlight of the conference.
The conference heard a nuts-and-bolts report on Organizing and Expanding the Driscoll’s Boycott campaign by Al Rojas, a longtime farmworker leader and organizer in California. Transforming this campaign into a mass movement was a central concern of the conference. In that regard, delegates proposed that specific dates be targeted for common actions at Safeway and COSTCO stores, to maximize our collective power and visibility. These proposals were accepted. [See Attachment No. 12: Model San Quintin Driscroll’s Boycott Resolution.]
“Vuse” BAT Boycott:
In the United States, this campaign concerns the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC-AFL-CIO) and the fight of 100,000 farmworkers in North Carolina. FLOC President (and AFL-CIO national executive committee member) Baldemar Velasquez gave a keynote speech highlighting the dangerous situation facing his union and the workers in North Carolina.
Brother Velasquez began by denouncing the anti-immigrant and anti-worker North Carolina Farm Act of 2017, “which is a shameful abuse of power that takes aim at our union in a blatant attempt to stop farmworkers from achieving union collective-bargaining agreements that include wage increases, job security, benefits, and improved working conditions.”
The North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 has two parts, Brother Velasquez explained:
(1) It makes it illegal for farmers who have signed union agreements to deduct dues from union members who want to pay dues, thereby seeking to weaken FLOC. “It would be close to impossible for our union staff to go and collect dues from all the worksites in the back woods of North Carolina,” Brother Velasquez said.
(2) It makes it illegal for farmworkers to ask growers to sign an agreement with their union as part of settling wage or other legal violations. “With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism,” Brother Velasquez stated.
Brother Velasquez announced that FLOC has filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina. The lawsuit argues that the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 impedes farmworkers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions. The lawsuit asserts that the law is discriminatory, as more than 90 percent of the state’s agricultural workers are Latino. [See Attachments 13A: FLOC Lawsuit Against the State of North Carolina and 13B: FLOC Press Release.]
Brother Velasquez also reported that the delegates to FLOC’s national convention in September approved a proposal to launch a boycott of a British American Tobacco Co. product — the electronic cigarette “Vuse” — which is sold predominantly at 7-11, Circle K, Kangaroo, and WaWa convenience stores.
Brother Velasquez told the Binational Conference that the “Vuse” Boycott Campaign would be launched officially the week after Easter Sunday 2018. This launching will mark the 11th anniversary of the assassination of FLOC organizer Santiago Rafael Cruz in Monterrey, Mexico.
In the interim, supporters of this effort are asked to write a letter to British American Tobacco Co. — with a copy to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper – “taking issue with this unacceptable power play against one of the most exploited workforces in North Carolina.”
Support pledges to the boycott should be emailed to FLOC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to British American Tobacco Co. — the new parent corporation of R.J. Reynolds — should be emailed to http://www.bat.com/contactus. Snail-mail letters can be sent to British American Tobacco p.l.c., Globe House, 4 Temple Place, London, WC2R 2PG. Letters to Governor Roy Cooper should be emailed to: http://www.governor.nc.gov/contact-governor- cooper. Please send copies of your letters to FLOC.
* * *
• Campaign to Support the Maquiladora Workers of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
The Binational Conference heard an impassioned report from Susana Prieto, an attorney and organizer of the workers – mostly women workers — in the maquiladoras (pass-through sweatshops) in Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. Her report recounted the protracted struggle by the workers for improved working conditions and wages in the maquiladoras, and focused particular attention on the violence against these women on the job and on the severe health and safety hazards that they face in the factories.
Here are a few excerpts from her presentation:
“My name is Susana Prieto. I was a maquiladora operator in the 1980s in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The maquiladora industry at the time paid three minimum wages; now it pays a few cents above the minimum wage established by the Mexican government.
“Chains of slavery are what NAFTA and the maquiladora industry have generated. The workplaces of the maquiladora industry are like prisons. They are surrounded by bars, and booths with internal security guards every certain number of meters.
“The Lexmark workers are dying. The first to die was a worker they called ‘La Madre,’ a 59-year-old woman. She died of pulmonary effusion.
“Two months later María Durán died; she worked in the same production area as ‘La Madre.’ Toner contaminants are highly carcinogenic. The workers are not given safety masks. Many bleed routinely from the nose from so much toner that they inhale during their workday.
“The Mexican government does nothing about it, nor do the company unions (CTM and CROC) that they have imposed on the workers. The U.S. government also denies its responsibility, even though we are dealing here with a subsidiary of a U.S. corporation.
“We in our workers’ support committee do not have enough money to do tests on the Lexmark workers. We have multiple cases of cancer; we need your help in getting a doctor here to do these tests. I ask you to help us get to the truth about this alarming situation at Lexmark. The maquiladora workers are dying of cancer; there is growing panic among them. I ask that you embrace the struggle of the workers at Lexmark.”
Having heard this report, the Binational Conference resolved to:
1) assist the workers at Lexmark Corp., a U.S. transnational corporation based in Tennessee, by reaching out to our unions and community organizations in the United States to help procure a doctor (to diagnose the highly cancerous lung fibrosis affecting a number of workers who inhaled toner for printers manufactured at the plant without the proper masks and safety equipment), as well as an attorney (who can help the workers initiate a class-action suit against Lexmark and other U.S. corporations in the maquiladora corridor of Ciudad Juarez responsible for the severe health hazards on the job);
2) draft a statement requesting support from unions and community organizations on both sides of the border, and beyond, to demand that Lexmark be required to provide its workers with masks and equipment such as lenses and protective clothing and shoes that allow the workers to avoid direct contact with the toner; and
3) launch a permanent campaign to inform — and, where possible, mobilize working people in both countries through their organizations – about the medical consequences of workers having direct contact with toner without protection, and of the numerous registered cases of cancer of workers at Lexmark.
* * *
• Campaign Against Violence Against Women at Work
The “Women in Labor Workshop” adopted the following resolution, which, in turn, was read and approved by the Sunday plenary session of the conference. The resolution was developed as a result of the interaction held at the above conference workshop:
“Whereas: An injury to one is an injury to all.
“We call upon all Unions and Social/Community organizations to take a strong stand against sexual assault, abuse and harassment in all its forms.
“Furthermore, when women are assaulted, abused or harassed on the job, our brothers will stand with their sister/s and condemn and join them in seeking redress for the survivor.
“As recognition of sexual assault abuse and harassment in all its forms: All Unions and Social/Community organizations shall be required to take continuously (at least once a year) anti-sexual abuse and harassment classes.
“Furthermore, in recognition of the particular needs of all working women, every Union and Social/Community organization shall fight for the following contractual provisions:
- Lactation Room
- Paid Parental Leave
- A comprehensive and affordable child care program.
“Furthermore, we call on our International Allies as well as the U.S. Labor and Social/Community organizations to ensure that women are included in leadership roles and at the table where decisions are made.”
* * *
Taking a Stand Against Growing Repression and Militarization
The Binational Conference also underscored the fact that these “free trade” policies have gone hand in hand with treaties aimed at militarizing Mexico’s police force to repress all social protest, which has not abated despite the mass killings of students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, or teachers in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.
The message to the conference from Chiapas emphasized this point:
“It is in this brutal context of increased containment and repression of the growing resistance movements that [Mexican President] Enrique Peña Nieto’s government has assassinated more than 76,000 Mexican people, as the country becomes ever more the victim of a bloodbath under the pretext of combatting the drug trade. This is the meaning of the Plan Merida, which is similar to the Plan Colombia. It is a plan of war and extermination against the Mexican nation – primarily against the Mexican working class.”
The conference called for stepping up the campaigns to free all political prisoners in the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., the conference highlighted the specific campaigns to free Ramsey Muniz and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
* * *
Resolutions Adopted at Closing Session of Binational Conference
– On Health and Safety on the Job
Because of time constraints, the workshop on “NAFTA, the Environment & Workers’ Health and Safety” was not held. Two of the people slated to be presenters at this workshop did, however, submit their comments and proposed resolutions to the closing plenary session of the Binational Conference on Sunday, December 3.
* On the issue of Health and Safety, Brother Steve Zeltzer, a member of CWA Pacific Media Workers Alliance and chair of the Human Rights Committee, submitted two resolutions regarding OSHA. [See Attachments Nos. 14A, Resolution on OSHA and 14B, Resolution opposing Scott Mugno.] Brother Zeltzer also submitted a resolution on AIFLD and Mexico. [See Attachment No. 15.]
* On the issue of the defense of the environment:
Brother Roman Ortiz, an organizer in Tijuana (Mexico) with the Movimiento en Defensa del Parque Benito Juarez, submitted an extensive report on the proposed destruction of a major green space in Tijuana, the Benito Juarez Park, by land speculators seeking to build a huge shopping mall. A total of 1,300 trees are on the chopping block. It is one of the last green spaces left in the entire city.
Since May 2010, defenders of the Park have maintained their encampment in the park to prevent the authorities from tearing down the trees and destroying the park. Their movement is part of the larger resistance movement in the city against the government’s attacks on working people and their organizations through its multiple “reforms.”
Brother Ortiz was invited to open the Binational Conference by Nativo Lopez, one of the leaders of Hermandad Mexicana-La Original. Brother Ortiz told the gathering that many years earlier, when he was living and working in San Diego, he had been elected the first president of Hermandad Mexicana.
– No School, No Shopping, No Work on May Day 2018!
Brother Juan José Bocanegra, an organizer with El Comité in Seattle, Washington, urged support for the following statement and Action Proposal:
In 2008, the Longshore Caucus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) – the highest-ranking body in the union — called for shutting down 29 ports on the West Coast not only to protest but to resist the ongoing wars and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two years later, in 2010, in response to the police murder of Oscar Grant, the ILWU shut down five ports calling for jail to the killer cops and justice for Oscar Grant. It was the first time that labor had taken such action against police terror in the Black communities.
In 2011, when the Wisconsin workers were under attack, the ILWU shut down ports for 24 hours on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in response to the AFL-CIO’s call for “No Business As Usual.”
Early this year (2017), the ILWU voted to shut down the ports on the West Coast and have their 2018 union meeting on May 1, 2018. The union’s resolution reads, in part: “Racist and undemocratic attacks against immigrants and people of color, including Native Americans, have increased and will potentially intensify and broaden to other people in the future, and it has become even more necessary to live by our slogan ‘An Injury To One Is An Injury To All’ and unite with others to resist this aggression.”
The message from the ILWU to all working people and youth is this: On May Day 2018, we need No School, No Shopping, No Work!
The Binational Conference agreed to support this call.
– Support the Poor People’s Campaign
The Binational Conference agreed to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign in the United States, which is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality — and to join the movement to transform the political, economic and moral structures of the USA.
Additionally, it agreed to join the call for organizations and individuals to support and participate in the 30 days of civil disobedience, beginning on Mother’s Day, 2018, that will be taking place in 25 states and Washington DC.
– Support Puerto Rico and the Anti-NAFTA Platform
Resolution on Puerto Rico:
We support the Puerto Rican people who still face a life and death situation after the destruction of their economy by US bankers and corporations, massive destruction by hurricanes Irma and Maria and the colonial indifference of the Trump regime.
– Cancelation of the debt,
– Abolish the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA),
– Immediately open public schools!
– Anti-NAFTA Platform
- To ensure universal access, our fundamental needs must be under public control, not corporate control, and no longer a commodity or source of profit. Just as national and local power is being pre-empted by NAFTA and other neoliberal trade policies in the corporate interests, we must pre-empt corporate power in the interest of all humanity and indeed, the planet.
- The only way to achieve political power, the ability to marshal and direct resources and people, is to weld all those who have this common problem of increasing exclusion and dispossession of our rights, into a single political force, aimed to take power and to enact this platform;
- No one shall be denied education up to the highest level desired.
- Education is not for sale, nor is it for profit or investment; it is not a commodity.
- No one shall be denied or evicted from housing or land.
- No one shall be denied clean water.
- No one shall be denied adequate nutrition of high quality.
- No one shall be denied access to highest quality healthcare.
- No one shall be denied employment or the right to make his or her contribution to society.
- No one shall be denied control over his or her body and reproductive rights.
- The environment, including the air, earth, water, plants and animals shall be protected for present and future generations.
- Information and data shall be completely accessible to all with privacy for human individuals.
- Corporate and trade information shall be open sourced.
- No human necessities shall be commodified
We have a new world to win.
* * *
Conference Organizing Committee:
Nativo López, Ivonne Heinze Balcazar, Al Rojas, Fátima García, Alan Benjamin, Desirée Rojas, and Steve Zeltzer.
Special thanks to:
– Hermandad Mexicana-La Original;
– Modern Languages Department, CSUDH;
– CFA Chapter at CSUDH;
– California State Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA);
– Sacramento LCLAA;
– Sacramento Labor Council;
– San Francisco Labor Council
– Xel’ha López, Director, Hermandad Mexicana-La Original and the entire staff at Hermandad Mexicana-La Original;
– Luis Arritola, Editor, HermandadMX;
– The Translation Team that made the conference such a success;
– The drivers and conference staff; and
– Luis Carlos Haro, Coordinator of the Organizing Committee of the Binational Conference in Mexico.
Also thanks to the many individuals and organizations that donated to our conference fund.
* * *
Initial Conference Call issued by 100 prominent unionists & activists in Mexico and the U.S. (for full list, go to http://www.binationalcampaign.org)
Organizational endorsements (partial list):
Hermandad Mexicana-La Original; Sacramento LCLAA (AFL-CIO); Asociaciones de Organizaciones por la Justicia Social (San Quintin); Farm Labor Organizing Committee, (FLOC, AFL-CIO); Sindicato Nacional de Jornaleros Agrícolas (SINDJA), México; Sacramento Labor Council (AFL-CIO); San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO); Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME); Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT); Sindicato Nacional de Telefonistas de la República Mexicana; California Faculty Association CSU Dominguez Hills; Comité Promotor Mexicano de la Conferencia Binacional (sede Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas); Department of Modern Languages, CSU Dominguez Hills; UAW Local 551; Labor Fightback Network; OPT Tijuana; The Organizer; SEIU 1000; Fresno Central Labor Council; Haiti Liberté; Asociación de Padres por una Educación de Calidad, Tijuana; Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Noroeste de México; Workers Solidarity Action Network; Coordinadora Nacional de Petroleros Mexicanos, Villahermosa, Tabasco; Comisión Promotora de la Nueva Central de Trabajadores Sur Sureste de México; California State Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA-AFL-CIO).
* * *
(1) Messages to Binational Conference
(1A) Gemma Lopez Limon Presente!
(3) Resolution on United Action against NAFTA
(4) Open Letter to AFL-CIO on NAFTA
(6) Resolution Opposing Detention Centers
(8) Resolution on Public Education
(9) Hands Off CCSF – Laney College
(10) Defend Striking Henkel Workers
(11) Campaign for Visas For San Quintin
(12) Model Resolution for San Quintin
(14B) Resolution Opposing Scott Mugno(15) Resolution on AIFLD and Mexico
(15) Resolution on AIFLD and Mexico
(3A) Speech by Prof. William I Robinson
(10A) Carmen Mata Speech at Binational Conference