(reprinted from IWC Newsletter No. 66, December 15, 2017)
Tear Down Trump’s Wall of Shame, Cancel the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement
A binational conference met on the 2nd and 3rd of December in Carson (California). It was convened around two main demands: “Tear Down Trump’s Wall of Shame” and “Cancel NAFTA (1)”. More than 200 delegates attended, most of them trade union delegates from several states in the U.S. and Mexico.
We interviewed Alan Benjamin, one of the organisers of the conference, member of the Continuations Committee of the International Workers Committee, editor of the The Organizer newspaper and trade union activist in San Francisco, and we asked him to report on the conference.
Who participated in this conference?
From the United States, there were representatives from four central labour councils in California — San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, and the 800,000-member Los Angeles Federation of Labor attended. Numerous union locals also participated — including United Teachers of Los Angeles, SEIU 1000, SEIU 87, AFT 2279, and UAW 551 from Chicago/Northern Indiana. The “Latino” sector of the California labour movement was also present, with the participation of the California State Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). There were delegations of young people (over 60 students from the metropolitan area of Los Angeles), women workers and trade unionists from the Midwest (six delegates from UAW Local 551 from Chicago/Northern Indiana) where, with the offshoring to Mexico, several auto plants have closed, with a massive loss of jobs.
From Mexico, an important delegation of young people, trade unionists and workers were able to come from Mexicali, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. However, two sizable delegations from Mexico were not granted their visas. These included a six-person delegation of unionists from the healthcare, education, and oil sectors from Chiapas and neighbouring states, and the San Quintin (Baja California) farmworkers, with whom we were able to do a live Skype hook-up, enabling their participation.
We also received messages from across the continent from organisations linked to or participating in the campaigns of the International Workers Committee, as well as its two coordinators.
What discussions took place at the conference and what initiatives were proposed?
Concerning NAFTA: For all those who took the floor, this “free trade” agreement is not amendable, it is a weapon to destroy nations, workers, jobs, natural resources, and the trade unions themselves.
In its conclusions, the conference backed the resolution adopted by the San Francisco Labor Council calling for the cancellation of NAFTA, and it proposed that this resolution be submitted for adoption everywhere in the trade union movement. The conference proposed that the conference conclusions be sent to the national leadership of the AFL-CIO, which is organising a national day of action on 13 December to “replace NAFTA with a treaty that puts workers’ interests first” — but does so based on proposed amendments to the existing treaty.
On the contrary, the conference decided to explain in what ways this treaty is not amendable. The only solution that could answer to the interests of the workers is its cancellation and, concerning Mexico and the United States, this meant the re-nationalisation of everything that has been privatised under NAFTA over these last twenty-three years.
Concerning Trump’s “Wall of Shame”: The conference obviously came out for tearing down the wall – but it also called for tearing down the wall that already exists and that has been expanded all along the border by all the U.S. administrations since the signing of NAFTA in 1994. The conference also supported the call for “Not One More Deportation!” It called for maintaining the stay on deportation — unconditionally — for the 800,000 “Dreamers” (2) who were brought to the U.S. as children and who Trump seeks to deport, and it insisted that all Dreamers should be granted a path to citizenship. The conference came out for maintaining and broadening the TPS (Temporary Protective Status) that defers deportation for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Haiti and Central America who Trump wants to expel. The conference delegates decided to support this campaign and to promote it in the trade union movement.
And what about the class struggle in Mexico and the United States?
One of the major issues was the discussion on a campaign against privatisations on both sides of the border. In Mexico, this involves the fight to defend Pemex (the State-run oil company), which is threatened by a NAFTA re-negotiation that seeks to “enshrine” the total privatisation of Pemex, and the fight to defend the public healthcare and education systems. In the United States, the main focus is the struggle in defence of public education, and to win a healthcare system known as “single payer”. The conference took note of the growing privatisation offensive over the past twenty-three years of NAFTA, a treaty that considers that public services and public companies are “obstacles to the free circulation of capital and trade”.
The conference also highlighted two campaigns regarding farmworkers — in San Quintin in Mexico and in North Carolina, in the United States. Concerning Mexico, 80,000 farm workers have been waging an uninterrupted struggle for more than two years to win recognition of their independent union in the San Quintin Valley and to obtain a collective-bargaining agreement, against the California-based Driscoll’s Corporation. They are demanding their trade union and a contract because the working conditions are inhumane: children work in the fields and don’t go to school; toxic products that are banned in the United States are used, causing many cancers and other serious diseases, including deaths in the fields due to these working conditions. The conference decided to promote broadly the campaign in support of the San Quintin union’s demands.
Baldemar Velázquez, president of FLOC (the AFL-CIO union representing farmworkers in the Midwest and East Coast of the United States) proposed that the conference support the campaign in defence of FLOC, which today is threatened with destruction by Trump’s directives – directives that are supported by the governor of the state of North Carolina.
The conference also decided to organise campaigns for the defence 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 of Janus v. AFSCME, which would gut “agency fee” and the closed shop.(3)
The conference came out against State repression, and proposed that the delegates campaign against the repression that is targeting all those who resist the Mexican government’s relentless offensive of destruction in the name of the “war on drugs” – in reality a fight against all those who don’t accept the violence against the workers and the dismantling of their gains. Not only have 76,000 people been killed during the six years of Peña Nieto’s presidency, but also thousands of political prisoners are still in jail.
In the United States, this takes the form of attacks against Black people and Black youth in particular, who are also resisting. And the repression is also targeting the young Latinos who are mobilising against deportation. There are many political prisoners in the United States.
Were the problems that the labour movement is confronted with in your two countries brought up?
Absolutely. The conference decided to support any and all initiatives aimed at promoting the fight for the defence and the broadening of trade union rights. There was a discussion among the delegates on the need to deepen the discussion within the trade unions around independent mass action, for the union officials to organise the fightback against this unprecedented offensive, as much in the United States as in Mexico. The delegates felt that the initiative to convene this binational conference in Los Angeles represented a step forward in the effort by the workers to reclaim their trade unions for struggle to advance the interests of the workers and of all the exploited and oppressed, asserting their independence in relation to the two main political parties.
In the United States, the delegates affirmed that it is necessary for the trade unions to take an independent stance in relation to NAFTA because Trump has been able to claim, demagogically, that he is opposed to this anti-worker treaty (and that he opposes the leaders of the Democratic Party, who have relentlessly supported NAFTA) with the goal of preserving jobs in the United States. But what Trump is proposing, in reality, is to intensify the attacks against the trade unions, the workers and all the oppressed in all signatory countries. The fact that the AFL-CIO, because of its subordination to the Democratic Party, has not fought for the cancellation of NAFTA has left Trump the political space to claim that he represent the workers’ interests.
(1) The free-trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
(2) “Dreamers”: young undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States.
(3) A legal battle aimed at challenging the trade union closed shop
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International Inquiry on the Situation of Working Women
The question of working women was discussed fully, bringing forth some first elements for the international inquiry launched by the International Workers Committee (the IWC). A representative of the working women of the maquiladora Lexmark Corporation, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, reported on the organised violence against women at work, as well as the deplorable conditions in the sweatshop factories, where the women are not provided with masks, nor with overalls and goggles to protect them from the toner used in the printers, which is the cause of a soaring rise in cancer and death among the women workers.
The conference decided to launch a campaign to inform workers of this situation, and to urge the trade unions and labour organisations to embrace this campaign. We also heard a report on the situation of women employed in the fields of the San Quintin Valley. They work twelve hours a day, are victims of abuse by the employers and foremen, and victims of continuous rape, while their children do not go to school. It was decided to organise a specific campaign on the situation of the women in this region.
A workshop on working women met during the conference and drew up a short declaration proposing that the trade unions take up this timely campaign against the sexual abuse and harassment of women at work.