UE Young Activists meet with members of the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo

UE Plans Return to In-Person International Exchanges in 2023

Pittsburgh

In a “Giving Tuesday” email to supporters of UE’s international solidarity work this morning, UE Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson announced that “In 2023, we are planning to return to in-person member exchanges with workers in other countries, if health conditions continue to allow.”

Specifically, Thompson said, UE is making plans for a worker-to-worker exchange with UE’s close allies in Mexico, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo. UE’s rank-and-file approach to international solidarity, where union members visit with their counterparts in other countries, has become a model for other organizations over the last few decades.

“On these trips, UE members meet with other workers to learn about their experiences under different labor laws, but sometimes with the very same multinational bosses,” explained Thompson.

UE’s last worker-to-worker exchange was a Young Activist delegation to Mexico City in 2017. Four UE Young Activists — Matthew Braddon, Local 222, Daniel Campos, Local 1123, Bailey Kelley, Local 896, and Emma Paradis, Local 255 — spent a week hosted by the FAT’s National Coordinators — Rosalba Calva Flores, Eladio Abundiz Gudian, Jose Ezequiel Garcia Vargas, and Benedicto Martinez Orozco. The jam-packed agenda included an orientation to Mexico’s economy, labor law, and organizing struggles; a discussion of the FAT’s work to stop violence against women, including disappearances and murders; meetings with FAT members, including a tour of an auto part plant; and meeting a group of workers still struggling to organize their independent union.

“Hearing the stories of the workers we met was informative and helped create real relationships and a way to remember what we learned,” said Braddon. “I liked seeing how struggles in Mexico were similar to ones at home.”

“Worker-to-worker exchanges are one of the best ways to help our members embrace our core principle of international solidarity in a direct way,” concluded Thompson

Learn more about the importance of international solidarity, and UE’s rank-and-file approach, on this website. Retired UE Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander, who was the key architect of UE’s international solidarity program in the 1990s and 2000s, has written an e-book about UE’s relationship with the FAT. The e-book, published by UE earlier this year, is available for download at InternationalSolidarityInAction.org. Donations to support UE’s international solidarity work in 2023 can be made at ueref.org/give.

Unifor National President Lana Payne at a CUPE press conference with placard reading Respect Charter Rights Repeat Bill 28

Ontario Workers Defeat Anti-Strike Legislation

Toronto

Earlier this week, workers in Ontario won an inspiring victory against their right-wing government. Premiere Doug Ford attempted use legislation to impose a contract on 55,000 education workers and revoke their right to strike. Those workers went on strike anyway, receiving support from the rest of the province’s labor movement (including important support from UE’s close Canadian ally Unifor), and on Monday Ford’s government announced it would withdraw the bill.

The 55,000 education assistants, early childhood educators, custodians and administrative assistants represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had authorized a strike in an attempt to regain some of the ground they had lost over the past ten years, when their wages increased at only half the rate of inflation. CUPE members, who make on average $39,000 (Canadian) per year, are the lowest-paid workers in Ontario’s schools.

Ford’s legislation not only declared the strike illegal, including fines of $4,000 per day for each individual striker, it imposed a four-year contract with annual wage increases of 2.5 percent for the lowest-paid workers and 1.5 percent for all others — well below the current rate of inflation.

As CUPE members began their strike on Friday, Unifor National President Lana Payne declared that “This is an unprecedented attack against workers’ rights and trade union freedoms, and what you’re going to see is an unprecedented response.” On Sunday, Unifor’s Automotive Council and Independent Parts Suppliers Council, which represent 40,000 autoworkers throughout the province, wrote to Premier Ford demanding a repeal of the bill, and announcing that they “will be exploring all options in the coming days to respond to these actions.”

After the provincial government committed in writing to repealing the bill and resuming negotiations, CUPE announced on Monday they would suspend their strike action. Mark Hancock, the union’s national president, told the CBC that CUPE members “took on the Ford government, and the government blinked. We’ve shown that when under attack, our movement is strong and we will stand up for each other.”

Canadian workers (including public-sector workers) are guaranteed the right to strike by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a part of their constitution. In order to pass their anti-strike legislation, the Ford government invoked the so-called “notwithstanding clause,” which allows provincial governments to suspend rights guaranteed by the charter, with no judicial review, for up to five years. It is a provision designed to be used “only in most unusual and extenuating circumstances,” according to Wally Oppal, a justice in British Columbia.

“If fundamental rights can be taken away from public-sector workers without recourse, no one’s rights are safe,” said Payne following the announcement of the bill’s withdrawal. “Workers made it clear that they will not tolerate the weaponizing of the notwithstanding clause to strip away our Charter rights. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

Brazilian Election a Victory for Working Class, Democracy

On October 30, Brazilian voters elected former metalworkers’ union leader (and former two-term president) Luiz Inácio da Silva, popularly known simply as “Lula,” as president. Lula defeated incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, a close Trump ally who during his four years in office attacked unions, encouraged violence against opponents, and oversaw massive deforestation of the Amazon rainforests — hastening climate change and putting the entire world at risk.

In a statement released after the victory, the union federation Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) called the election a “victory of hope” over “fear, coercion and corporate electoral harassment,” and over those who tolerate and encourage “violence as a method of doing politics.” In a congratulatory letter to the CUT, who have been a close UE ally for decades, UE’s officers wrote that “This is a huge victory for the working class in Brazil and around the world. Indeed it is a success for retaining our democracies and any chance of mitigating climate change.”

In his victory speech, Lula declared that “the majority of the Brazilian people made it clear that they want more democracy, not less. … [I]t is this democracy that we will seek to build every day of our government. With economic growth distributed among the entire population, because this is how the economy should work — as an instrument to improve the lives of all, and not to perpetuate inequalities.”

Coup Fears

The election — during which Lula consistently led in the polls — was marked by fears that Bolsonaro, who during his presidency regularly expressed nostalgia for the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship, would refuse to accept the results and engineer a coup.

These fears were exacerbated by the violent actions of Bolsonaro’s supporters. Leading up to the election, a personal friend of Bolsonaro’s threw grenades and opened fire on police, and an allied congresswoman pulled a gun near a Lula rally.

Perhaps more ominous were the actions of employers and the federal highway police. Over 2,500 complaints of bosses trying to coerce their workers into voting for Bolsonaro were filed with the Public Ministry of Labor. In areas where Lula was known to have widespread support, the federal highway police blocked roads and conducted vehicle searches in what many international observers considered to be a clear attempt to suppress the vote.

Following the election, Bolsonaro’s supporters began violent blockades of highways and, in some cases, calling for a military coup.

As of Tuesday, Bolsonaro has begun the process of transferring power to his successor, but notably, he did not concede defeat, saying that the blockades were the fruits of “indignation and a sense of injustice.” Political risk analyst Andre Cesar told Reuters that Bolsonaro “is keeping his more extremist followers mobilized,” and analyst Leonardo Barreto predicted that Bolsonaro will seek to copy Trump’s playbook, repeating false claims that the election was stolen.

On October 30, Brazilian voters elected former metalworkers’ union leader (and former two-term president) Luiz Inácio da Silva, popularly known simply as “Lula,” as president. Lula defeated incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, a close Trump ally who during his four years in office attacked unions, encouraged violence against opponents, and oversaw massive deforestation of the Amazon rainforests — hastening climate change and putting the entire world at risk.

In a statement released after the victory, the union federation Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) called the election a “victory of hope” over “fear, coercion and corporate electoral harassment,” and over those who tolerate and encourage “violence as a method of doing politics.” In a congratulatory letter to the CUT, who have been a close UE ally for decades, UE’s officers wrote that “This is a huge victory for the working class in Brazil and around the world. Indeed it is a success for retaining our democracies and any chance of mitigating climate change.”

In his victory speech, Lula declared that “the majority of the Brazilian people made it clear that they want more democracy, not less. … [I]t is this democracy that we will seek to build every day of our government. With economic growth distributed among the entire population, because this is how the economy should work — as an instrument to improve the lives of all, and not to perpetuate inequalities.”

Coup Fears

The election — during which Lula consistently led in the polls — was marked by fears that Bolsonaro, who during his presidency regularly expressed nostalgia for the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship, would refuse to accept the results and engineer a coup.

These fears were exacerbated by the violent actions of Bolsonaro’s supporters. Leading up to the election, a personal friend of Bolsonaro’s threw grenades and opened fire on police, and an allied congresswoman pulled a gun near a Lula rally.

Perhaps more ominous were the actions of employers and the federal highway police. Over 2,500 complaints of bosses trying to coerce their workers into voting for Bolsonaro were filed with the Public Ministry of Labor. In areas where Lula was known to have widespread support, the federal highway police blocked roads and conducted vehicle searches in what many international observers considered to be a clear attempt to suppress the vote.

Following the election, Bolsonaro’s supporters began violent blockades of highways and, in some cases, calling for a military coup.

As of Tuesday, Bolsonaro has begun the process of transferring power to his successor, but notably, he did not concede defeat, saying that the blockades were the fruits of “indignation and a sense of injustice.” Political risk analyst Andre Cesar told Reuters that Bolsonaro “is keeping his more extremist followers mobilized,” and analyst Leonardo Barreto predicted that Bolsonaro will seek to copy Trump’s playbook, repeating false claims that the election was stolen.

Lula’s Legacy of Struggle

By contrast, the 77-year-old Lula has spent his entire life fighting for the working class, as a union and political leader.

In the 1980s, Brazilian workers played a key role in bringing down the military dictatorship that had ruled the country since 1964. They built one of the world’s strongest and most dynamic labor movements, the CUT, and organized an independent, working-class party, the Workers’ Party (known by its Portuguese initials, “PT”).

Lula emerged as one of the most important leaders of this struggle, leading strikes in defiance of the dictatorship and spending time in jail as a consequence. He led the PT during Brazil’s transition to democracy in the 80s, ensuring that strong worker protections were written into the country’s new democratic constitution.

In 2002, Lula was elected President of Brazil. During his two terms (2003-2010), his pro-worker economic policies helped significantly raise living standards for working people throughout the country. The PT administration re-industrialized the country, creating 15 million jobs and turning the country into an economic powerhouse. They also reduced child labor, empowered women, raised the minimum wage, increased real wages by 53 percent, and reduced unemployment.

In order to address Brazil’s high levels of hunger, poverty and inequality, Lula’s administration created an innovative social-welfare program – the Bolsa Familia – which provided 47 million Brazilians with assistance meeting basic health and educational needs. In 2010, the Washington Post reported that “[u]nder Lula … more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty.”

Brazil’s economy under Lula was much less susceptible to the 2008 economic crash caused by Wall Street speculation than the “casino capitalist” economy of the U.S. under George W. Bush, and Lula pursued an ambitious foreign policy program based on diplomacy and economic cooperation. By the end of his second term he was one of the most popular politicians in the world.

Legislative Coup and Imprisonment on False Charges

Brazil’s constitution prohibits a sitting president from running for a third consecutive term, and in 2010 Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff became Brazil’s first woman president, with Lula’s backing. Rousseff was re-elected in 2014, but at the end of 2015 Brazil’s corporate and military elite saw an opportunity to reverse the gains working people had made over the past decade and a half by impeaching Rousseff, in a questionable move that UE’s General Executive Board condemned as a coup. (The newly-installed president, Michel Temer, was later revealed to be a U.S. “intelligence asset”; not surprisingly, his government was immediately recognized by the Obama administration. After the coup he pushed through a series of changes to Brazilian labor law that weakened unions, encouraged outsourcing and weakened protections on working hours.)

In the 2018 elections, Lula was leading in the polls when he was convicted and jailed on corruption charges (which he denied, and of which he was cleared in 2019). UE’s officers pointed out at the time that “In all of the judicial proceedings concerning his alleged illegal acts there was no evidence that he acted unlawfully or that he or his family profited from his position as President.” Private messages leaked in June of 2019 documented that Lula’s prosecution and conviction were politically motivated and that the judge who convicted him worked closely with prosecutors to help them obtain a conviction.

Nonetheless, the conviction made him ineligible to run for office, and he spent 19 months in prison until it was annulled by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

With the still-popular Lula out of the way, Bolsonaro — a right-wing populist who promised to combat corruption — swept into office. (While there is no evidence that Lula or Rousseff were personally corrupt, according to a nonprofit called Transparência Brasil, 60 percent of Brazil’s federal legislators at the time of Rousseff’s impeachment had been convicted or were under investigation for corruption at the time. Not surprisingly, once in office Bolsonaro made little attempt to challenge corruption.)

Challenges Ahead

In their statement, the CUT notes that “In this new period … we will have enormous challenges ahead.” Reaffirming their independence and autonomy from the government, the labor federation pledged to be in the forefront of struggles to reclaim rights taken away under the Bolsonaro government, end discrimination and expand democracy.

In their letter to the CUT, UE’s officers express their “hope that the next few weeks remain peaceful in your country and you can have a smooth transition of power. As we know in the U.S., that is not a foregone conclusion.”

They conclude, “We offer our continued solidarity as you begin the work of rebuilding after the tumultuous last several years. We look forward to standing alongside you to fight against our bosses for a better world for workers.”

UE and Unite UK members meeting over Zoom

UE Members Offer Solidarity to Unite Members in the UK in Their Fight with Wabtec

UE leaders from Local 506 in Erie, PA and Local 610 in Wilmerding, PA met via Zoom in July with their counterparts in Unite the Union in the United Kingdom, who are in a fight with their mutual employer Wabtec.

The UE and Unite members discussed their current fights with Wabtec.

UE Local 610 President Antwon Gibson told the Unite members about his local’s recent contract fight with Wabtec and the company’s announced plans to close the historic Wilmerding plant within the next two years.

The Unite members, who work at the Wabtec’s facility in Doncaster and at the Faiveley Transport plant in Birkenhead, have been in fights with Wabtec since the company took over their facilities. Wabtec merged with Faiveley prior to its merger with GE Transportation in 2019. The Unite members have accused Wabtec of engaging in the notorious “fire and rehire” strategy in an attempt to impose worse terms and conditions on their members.

Under UK labor law, companies are free to impose new terms and conditions on their workers. At the Doncaster plant, Unite and RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) represent the Wabtec workers and negotiate general wage increases and decide on joint actions, but the workers must sign individual contracts.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, quoted in local Doncaster press, said: “Wabtec’s abhorrent fire and rehire plans seek to make Doncaster’s workers worse off, working longer for less, for a company that has billions in the bank.”

The Unite members at the Birkenhead plant voted to strike earlier this year over Wabtec’s actions and the company backed off their “fire and rehire” scheme there.

Nearly 99 percent of Doncaster workers signed their individual contracts, but have been engaging in intermittent strike actions over the company’s new terms and condition, which included taking away two of their breaks and wash-up times. The workers also rejected the company’s wage offer that doesn’t keep up with inflation (which is over 11 percent in the UK).

Prior to the Zoom meeting with UE, the Unite members at the Doncaster plant had voted to engage in an all-out strike, starting on July 19, but Wabtec rescinded it plans to eliminate the workers’ break times and wash-up times. The company also offered the workers a $1,000 bonus in addition to its wage offer. The workers were voting on the company’s latest offer, but the union leadership had recommended a no vote.

While their members were voting on the company’s latest offer, the Unite leaders at the Doncaster plant said the company was trying to soften their members up by giving them ice cream during the current heatwave which was inundating the UK and most of Europe. But they didn’t think it would work and that they expected their members to reject the company’s offer.

The UE leaders offered their solidarity and told the Unite leaders that they would do whatever they could to support their members if they go on strike.

UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson suggested that the two unions continue to work together whether the Unite members at the Doncaster plant strike or not. Slawson said the unions at Wabtec need to build international solidarity among their members in order to take on Wabtec, which has plants located around the world.

UE General President Carl Rosen presenting a copy of the UE-Zenroren scrapbook to Zenroren Secretary General Koichi Kurosawa

New UE Publication Celebrates Three Decades of Japan-U.S. Solidarity

When UE General President Carl Rosen, Director of Organization Mark Meinster, and Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson met with a high-level delegation from our Japanese ally Zenroren in June in Chicago, they presented them with a new UE publication celebrating “three decades of Japan-U.S. working-class solidarity.”

The Zenroren delegation consisted of Secretary General Koichi Kurosawa, Deputy Secretary General Keisuke FuseYasuko Sasamoto from Zenkyo, the All Japan Teachers’ Union, and Yumi Yamamoto, a professor of education.

The 24-page, full-color “scrapbook” tells the story of UE’s relationship with Zenroren in photos, clippings from the UE NEWS, and text in both English and Japanese.

As the opening sentence of the booklet notes, “Zenroren and UE are born from the same spirit of militant, class-struggle unionism.” The UE NEWS reported on Zenroren’s founding on November 21, 1989, and within two years then UE Director of Organization Ed Bruno traveled to Japan to participate in an international conference organized by Zenroren.

The booklet tells the story of how “For three decades, the bond between UE and Zenroren has grown stronger through exchanges, sharing of experience and analysis, support for each other’s struggles and joint efforts to win justice for working people and a peaceful world.”

UE’s relationship with Zenroren has encompassed exchanges of information through delegations, written materials and participation in each other’s gatherings; taking direct action in support of each other’s struggles; a series of public-sector workers “convergences” in the late 2000s bringing together workers from the U.S., Mexico, Quebec and Japan; providing moral and material support as Zenroren members dealt with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan; and working together to end war and eliminate the impacts of war and militarism on the working class.

Pages from the scrapbook depicting the history of UE and Zenroren taking action to support each others’ struggles.

The booklet concludes, “For more than 30 years, UE has been proud to count Zenroren as one of our closest allies. Through exchanges of information and analysis, concrete acts of solidarity, and a shared vision of militant trade unionism, we have worked together to struggle for a just, peaceful world for all working people. We look forward to continuing our relationship, and our joint struggle, for many more decades to come.”

UE President Carl Rosen and Zenroren delegation at Haymarket Monument

Delegation from Japan Renews UE-Zenroren Ties

Chicago

In June, following the conclusion of the Labor Notes Conference, UE hosted a delegation of trade unionists from Zenroren, Japan’s militant labor federation and a long-time UE ally.

Zenroren Secretary General Koichi Kurosawa and Deputy Secretary General Keisuke Fuse led the group, which included Yasuko Sasamoto from Zenkyo, the All Japan Teachers’ Union, and Yumi Yamamoto, a professor of education. The group met with General President Carl Rosen, Director of Organization Mark Meinster, and Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson.

Zenroren delegation meeting with UE Director of Organization Mark Meinster (right) and General President Carl Rosen (not visible).

A meeting at UE Hall offered the opportunity to reflect on thirty years of collaboration together, commemorated in a new scrapbook UE produced. The booklet describes numerous exchanges in both countries, as well as in Mexico and Quebec, discussing challenges for public sector workers, teachers, and workers at multinational corporations, in addition to our shared struggle for peace and an end to nuclear weapons.

The Japanese comrades had many questions about the labor movement right now in the U.S., ranging from how to balance competing wage demands from those at the low and high ends of a pay scale, to how to engage more members in educational programs, and how to interact with surging interest in new organizing. UE highlighted our collaboration on the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a project that greatly interested Zenroren. The group also discussed the political landscape in the two countries, where the electoral opportunities are bleak for workers in both places.

UE General President Carl Rosen (right) gives Zenroren members a tour of the murals at the UE hall in Chicago.

Rosen and Thompson also escorted the delegation on a tour of important labor history sites across the city, including the Haymarket Martyrs Monument at Forest Park Cemetery and the Haymarket Memorial in downtown Chicago, where Zenroren had previously dedicated a plaque in honor of the struggle for the eight-hour work day. They also visited a sculpture at the University of Chicago campus commemorating the first successful nuclear technology experiment. It offered a somber, reflective moment with visitors from the only country to experience first-hand the devastation of nuclear weapon detonation.

Following the exchange, Rosen commented, “It was an important opportunity for UE and Zenroren to renew our ties face-to-face and to continue the struggle together to advance the needs of the working class.”

Italian Metalworkers’ Union Joins UE to Celebrate May Day

Chicago

A UE delegation joined guests from Italy and hundreds of immigrant rights activists for May Day in Chicago this year. UE hosted representatives of Federazioni Impiegati Operai Metallurgici (Federation of Metalworkers, FIOM-CGIL) to commemorate International Workers’ Day with a new plaque on the Haymarket Square monument.

Scipioni speaking at immigrant rights rally.

The day’s festivities kicked off in Union Park, where Marcello Scipioni, Head of FIOM’s International Department and Head of the Health, Environment and Safety Office, addressed the rally. He noted that the immigration struggles in the US mirrored challenges for immigrants in Italy, and that in both places, it’s important to struggle for immigrants’ rights to work to be recognized so that they are not exploited and can be reunited with their families. “Millions of workers came here from Europe and all over the world to win the bread, and they found themselves fighting for the roses too, and gaining dignity,” he said. “To me it’s very important to be here on May Day in Chicago because the symbol of May 1st is an international struggle for workers to have equal rights.” Scipioni was joined on the trip by Daniele Calosi, General Secretary of FIOM-CGIL Florence, and his wife Alida Magherini.

The UE delegation was led by General President Carl Rosen, and included retired Secretary-Treasurer Amy Newell, retired International Representative Terry Davis, International Representative J Burger, Field Organizer Sean Fulkerson, Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson, and Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee Organizer Tristan Brock-Hughes. The UE and FIOM delegations marched from the park to the monument at Haymarket Square, where they met leaders of the Illinois Labor History Society and other trade unionists who were there to honor the memory of those who died calling for an eight hour day for all workers. While there, the group met Congressman Jesus Chuy Garcia, who has been a strong UE ally in congress.

Later that afternoon, Rosen and Thompson brought the FIOM delegation to a birthday party for Mother Jones at the Irish American Cultural Center, where they heard beautiful music from local musicians and rousing remarks from Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. (Nelson addressed UE’s most recent convention by video message.)

Left to right: UE General President Carl Rosen, Daniele Calosi and Marcello Scipioni of FIOM, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson, and Mother Jones (Brigid Duffy Gerace of the Working Women’s History Project).

On Monday, the Italian trade unionists met Rosen at UE Hall in Chicago for a tour of the mural by John Pitman Weber and Jose Guerrero. Thereafter they had a discussion with Rosen and Director of Organization Mark Meinster about the challenges and opportunities in the US and Italian labor movements. In the afternoon, Scipioni and Calosi saw more of Chicago’s labor history on a tour around the city, including stops at the Haymarket Martyrs monument in Forest Park Cemetery, and the recently restored mural “The History of the Packinghouse Worker” by William Walker.

Scipioni (left) talking with UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles (right) at the New Era Windows Cooperative factory.

On Tuesday, Scipioni joined Thompson for a tour of New Era Windows with Armando Robles, president of Local 1110. The plant is a worker-owned cooperative that emerged from the 2008 occupation of Republic Windows and Doors. Scipioni expressed his admiration for the operation, and suggested that perhaps there could be a future exchange with similar worker efforts in Italy.

At the conclusion of his remarks to the May Day rally, Scipioni noted that “We must struggle together” for a world in which workers do not compete against each other. “Happy May Day to you. Let’s struggle together.”

UE Visitor to Cuba Finds Culture of Solidarity

On a recent delegation to Cuba, UE Project Staff Chris Hollis asked local union leaders at an electronics plant in Havana how workers in Cuba would go about organizing a union.

“They didn’t understand my question,” Hollis told the UE NEWS. After several attempts to rephrase his question — “How do you go about building unions in these plants?” — the source of the workers’ confusion became clear: in Cuba, “every job has a union.” Workers are not forced to go through the same difficult process as workers in the U.S. in order to exercise the right of collective bargaining.

Hollis, who first joined UE as a founder of the Blue Collar Workers Organizing Committee at the Valley Proteins rendering plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is currently working for UE organizing municipal workers in Virginia Beach and Newport News, Virginia. In November, he took part in a “Friendshipment caravan” organized by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace. Since 1992, IFCO/Pastors for Peace has worked to bring an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba through such caravans, which provide humanitarian aid to the Cuban people in defiance of the blockade.

Before he received the opportunity to join the caravan, Hollis said, “All I knew [about Cuba] was what I was educated to believe coming up in school” — that Cuba was an island full of terrorists. Leading up to his departure, he said he took time to read about Cuba, because “I wanted to not take that mindset with me.”

In Cuba, Hollis chose to visit the electronics factory, because “I really needed to learn and see how the trade unions operated in Cuba.”

He described an “electrifying atmosphere” when he arrived at the plant, being greeted warmly by the union members. “These weren’t people that were just put in place to put on a show,” Hollis emphasized, “these were workers.”

Following up on his question about organizing, Hollis asked whether anyone was laid off during the pandemic. He learned that, although workers’ hours changed because the factory changed to one shift, “nobody lost their jobs during the pandemic.” In fact, when production later picked up dramatically and the plant’s profits increased, “They would take that extra money and distribute it to the employees as bonuses.”

“I thought that was amazing,” said Hollis, “because they actually looked out for the workers.”

“This is a socialist society, we all help each other,” explained the union president.

In the U.S., Hollis noted, “You are going to have capitalist companies that are always going to be at odds with unions,” but in Cuba “company people work hand in hand with labor unions to make sure workers are treated fairly.”

“Their collective bargaining agreements are very detailed,” Hollis reported, including guarantees of workers’ rights to concerted activity and disciplinary action towards management for any violation of the agreement.

The delegation also met with the President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel. During the meeting, in response to a question from Hollis, Diaz-Canel said that the Cuban government supports trade unions in ensuring that workers are treated fairly and have adequate wages and safe working conditions.

Hollis said that because of Cubans’ culture of working together and taking care of each other “in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of a 60-year blockade, they are able to be successful, and the workers are living good lives.” He did point out that “They could live better if it was not for the sanctions” imposed by the U.S.

UE Policy passed by delegates to the most recent UE convention states, “Our government has no justification for the economic blockade of Cuba, which makes it more difficult for Cubans to access medicine, food, and essential life-giving supplies. The blockade hurts workers in both countries. Jobs are lost, while U.S. manufacturers are denied a major market just 90 miles offshore.”

Hollis reported that “A lot of businesses opened up and flourished” in Cuba during the Obama administration, when the blockade was eased somewhat, and people were “able to live better because trade became a lot more available.” After Trump re-imposed full sanctions, however, “those businesses tanked.”

Hollis told the UE NEWS he believes that the culture of solidarity he experienced in Cuba should be a model for unions and working people in the U.S. “If we only had this kind of culture,” he said, we would have more ability “to bring workers together, to give workers a seat at the table.”

Photo, left to right: UE Project Staff Charles Brown, interpreter Rosbel Lazaro, and UE Project Staff Chris Hollis.

New E-Book Documents UE-FAT Cross-Border Alliance

International Solidarity in Action, a new e-book written by UE’s retired Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander and published by UE, was released today. It provides an in-depth look at the decades-long relationship between the UE and the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), an independent Mexican labor federation.

“Corporate globalization has destroyed millions of good jobs in the U.S. through trade deals like NAFTA. Robin Alexander’s book demonstrates that the most effective way for workers to fight back is by building links with workers in other countries,” said UE General President Carl Rosen. “Her account of our union’s alliance with the FAT shows how worker-to-worker exchanges can transform attitudes and lives, and how international solidarity can win real victories for working people.”

The book details the origins of UE’s relationship with the FAT in the fight against NAFTA, joint UE-FAT campaigns at companies including General Electric, Echlin, and DMI/Metaldyne, and exchanges between public-sector and co-op workers in the U.S. and Mexico. It describes the development of the International Worker Justice Campaign, which brought international attention to North Carolina’s denial of collective bargaining rights to public-sector workers. It ends with a description of the historic labor law reform enacted in Mexico in 2019, and the role of international solidarity in winning this critical victory for Mexican workers.

Throughout, Alexander highlights the role played by rank-and-file UE members in building solidarity with their counterparts in Mexico, and the pages are full of the names of local UE leaders from across the country.

International Solidarity in Action has also drawn praise from others around the labor movement.

“At a time when we need global unions perhaps more than we have ever before, the story of the UE-FAT cross-border relationship provides just the inspiration and model needed,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, the Director of Labor Education Research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

“Robin Alexander has written what is a political memoir, an analysis of the struggle for militant, democratic unionism in Mexico, and a strong argument for international working class solidarity,” said Bill Fletcher, Jr., who addressed UE’s 1999 convention. Fletcher is a long-time labor activist and author and former president of the TransAfrica Forum.

“This timely e-book builds up to the story of labor law reform in Mexico, getting there via micro-histories of some of the struggles to win against the corrupt charro unions, worker-to-worker exchanges among UE and FAT members, and cross-border cultural projects,” added Ashwini Sukthankar, former coordinator of the International Commission for Labor Rights and former director of global campaigns for UNITE HERE. “Consequently, the reform process really does come across as the culmination of real workers’ struggles, and not as an imposition from above, or the technical fiddling of lawyers.”International Solidarity in Action can be downloaded at internationalsolidarityinaction.org. There is little to no cost*, but UE is asking those who download the book to make a donation to support ongoing solidarity work with the FAT. (*Kindle users will need to pay a 99 cent fee to download the book from Amazon.)

Triumph for Independent Mexican Union

In the early morning of Thursday, February 3, workers at a General Motors factory in Silao, Mexico, learned the results of a union election that was held at their plant earlier in the week: the independent union led by workers won by a wide margin. This is a huge victory not only for these workers, but for all Mexican workers who have been struggling to improve their labor laws for decades.

For more than two decades, the workers at this factory had been covered by a collective bargaining agreement under the union Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), but the workers received little benefit from this contract and had no rights to elect their leaders or to be involved in the contract negotiations. Their contract was known as a “protection contract” because it protected the company from having to negotiate with a real union. The CTM is one of many Mexican unions that cuts deals with employers, often before workers have been hired at a new facility. They are known as charro unions.

Under Mexican labor law reforms passed in 2019, this kind of corrupt union practice is no longer legal, and workers have a clear path for getting rid of these protection contracts. However the Silao factory is the first large plant to go through the whole process. That is one reason why this election is so important.

The independent workers’ union, known as SINTTIA (​​Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores de la Industria Automotriz, or National Auto Workers Union), has been organizing at the shop since 2019. Last year, they moved forward with the first step in this process.

In order to get rid of the CTM, they had to hold a vote to dissolve their old contract. They did so in August. Under the new laws, the company had to keep all the terms of the contract in place until the workers had the opportunity to elect new representatives.

The union election was scheduled at the plant on February 1 and 2, but SINTTIA was not the only union on the ballot. In addition to the CTM, two other unions registered themselves: one that was known to have an affiliation with the CTM, and another that sprang up out of nowhere, but had a name similar to SINTTIA. Activists suspected they were added to the ballot to confuse the workers.

Leading up to the election, there were reports that the company and the CTM were trying to disrupt the secret ballot election. The company fired a union activist, and the CTM was trying to bribe workers to vote for them. However, during the election itself, independent observers were there to make sure things moved forward smoothly. These observers included UE allies from Unifor in Canada and the CUT in Brazil.

When the results were announced Thursday morning, SINTTIA leaders claimed a clear victory, receiving 4,192 votes of the 5,389 valid ballots cast, about 78 percent of the votes.

“​​The workers are fed up with the charro unions and seek to have freedom and democracy through another type of union,” said Eladio Abundiz Gaudian, a co-coordinator of UE’s Mexican ally Authentic Labor Front (FAT), who has addressed several UE conventions. “In this victory, it was a great job by all the national and international organizations that always showed their support for SINTTIA. I remain convinced that thanks to the 2019 labor reform and the impartiality of the labor authorities, there are great possibilities for other workers, women and men, to have labor justice. It is important at this time to publicize the changes to the labor law, through training workshops and forums.”

“I am excited to see this victory for an independent union in Mexico, especially one with an American employer,” said UE General President Carl Rosen. “UE has been a strong advocate for reform of Mexico’s labor laws so that workers have a say over their own working conditions. We cannot improve working conditions in the U.S. when corporations can run off to Mexico or another country to take advantage of workers who are forcibly denied basic labor rights. We look forward to SINTTIA putting forward a strong contract campaign to fight for the needs of the workers at this shop.”

Under the new labor laws, all Mexican union contracts will have to be voted on by secret ballot of the workers by May 1, 2023. The process in Silao will be an important example for workers across the country over the next year.

Photo: Unifor