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Militant unionists from the Americas meet in Tijuana

Published Dec 8, 2010 9:39 PM

For the seventh consecutive year, union leaders, social movement activists and socialists from many countries in the Western Hemisphere came together in this dynamic border city on the first weekend in December for intense discussions. They focused on the global crisis of the imperialist system, its increasing belligerence and its devastating attacks on the living conditions of the international working class.

Mike Martinez, Daniel Montes, Ignacio Meneses,
Benjamin Prado and Teresa Gutierrez.
WW photo: Cheryl LaBash

In the face of this unprecedented crisis, conference speakers discussed fightback strategies, emphasizing the role of labor unions, the building of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and unity as important factors in the global struggle for workers’ power.

The delegation from Cuba was made up of five women, who detailed the process now underway to realign the Cuban workforce while maintaining the gains of socialism. They also raised projects to increase the unity of workers in the Americas.

Special panels elaborated on the conditions leading to workers’ struggle in Mexico, as well as the urgent fight for immigrant rights and May Day demonstrations in the U.S.

The conference adopted an action program that incorporated the Caracas Manifesto of the third Labor Meeting of Our America (ESNA), a proposal for a spring tour in the U.S. of Mexican union leaders and a workers’ school in Mexico. It supported the 16th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions, to be held in Greece, and the fourth ESNA, to be held in Nicaragua next July 17-19. It also endorsed May Day actions and concrete support to the struggle in Colombia, including a Coca-Cola boycott. Program chairs included Ignacio Meneses and Cheryl LaBash from the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange and Benjamin Prado from Union del Barrio.

Conference dedicated to freedom for the Cuban Five

Martín López Ortiz, representing the Broad Left Social Front of Michoacán, Mexico, welcomed conference attendees to Mexico and affirmed that the peoples of the world reject the injustices of the U.S. empire, such as the jailing of the Cuban Five, as confirmed at a recent international gathering in Holguín, Cuba. These five Cuban revolutionaries, who have been held prisoners in U.S. penitentiaries since 1998, are hailed worldwide for their efforts to expose anti-Cuban terrorist plots hatched in Miami.

Ailí Labañino Cardoso, the oldest daughter of Cuban Five prisoner Ramón Labañino, described in measured, but emotionally painful terms, the suffering of the Five and their families caused by their isolation and their separation from one another. Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez have been denied entry visas by the U.S. to visit their spouses, René González and Gerardo Hernández.

An eye-catching wall display premiered Hernández’s political cartoons. Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, introduced Silvia García Tabío, representing the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power, who discussed legal aspects of the cases of the Five in detail. García urged labor organizations to follow the example of several large Canadian unions that have sent letters to President Barack Obama demanding freedom for the Five. In a media breakthrough, Telemundo interviewed Labañino Cardoso, who also participated in a special lunchtime youth meeting on Saturday.

Global crisis of imperialism:

effects and responses

Ermela García Santiago focused on Cuba’s revolutionary approach to the problems caused by the present global economic crisis. Cuba is now in the process of making adjustments, beginning with a popular debate on what changes are necessary. The issues are being discussed openly and are displayed on the Internet for anyone interested in the details.

The need for change is prompted by the global economic crisis. Even Cuba is not immune from its negative effects. Cubans know that wealth comes from human labor and growth comes from good planning. Some sectors of the Cuban economy have excessive government subsidies and other sectors harbor excessive numbers of workers. The readjustments are being made over extended periods of time by the workers themselves.

What is indisputable is the support and involvement of the Cuban workers. They understand that these changes will strengthen the revolution and guarantee the basic social security of free education, health care and retirement.

José Humberto Montes de Oca Luna, representing the Mexican Electrical Workers union (SME), characterized the present capitalist crisis as generalized and global. In stark contrast to Cuba, he described the capitalist offensive unleashed against the workers in Mexico and elsewhere. The government has responded to the crisis with increasing efforts to privatize state enterprises. Montes de Oca described in detail the SME struggle against Mexican oligarchic efforts to destroy the union, including legislative and judicial attacks and the jailing of union leaders. The basic fightback strategy must be the class struggle, he emphasized, saying, “We need political independence. We have on our side thousands of retirees, our families and the rally of 70,000 in Aztec Stadium.” He urged conference attendees to write letters of support for the SME leadership to the Mexican president and to Mexican legislators. Finally, he called for a Mexican peoples’ assembly to demand that Mexico join ALBA.

Bail Out the People Movement leader Larry Holmes received a standing ovation following his presentation analyzing the capitalist crisis. The near collapse of the economic system two years ago, he said, ushered in a new reality on a worldwide basis. Although incredibly productive, the present system is no longer sustainable. Part of our job is to break through the ideological wall that prevents workers from demanding a new system, a system that works in their interests, Holmes urged. Whatever differences groups on the left had in the past, they are probably not important enough to prevent coming together now. The only question should be: Are you ready to fight the system? The workers must come before capital!

ALBA as a growing alternative

Fredy José Franco, general secretary of the Nicaraguan Federation of Teachers of Higher Education, spoke of the fundamental difference between ALBA and the so-called “free trade agreements” pushed by the U.S.

ALBA is based on solidarity among its nation members. Each nation’s particular strengths are used to complement the deficiencies of other member nations. He expressed confidence that, following the November 2011 elections, the Sandinista government will be able to deepen the socialist revolution there.

Magaly Batista Enríquez, a representative of the Department of International Relations of the Cuban Workers Central Union (CTC), affirmed that the spirit of ALBA is to share fuel, hydroelectricity and other energy sources, cattle raising, biodiversity, pharmaceuticals, knowledge of pre-Columbian cultures, minerals, help for disabled people, potable water, and so on. Concrete programs have so far included free eye care, literacy campaigns and the training of technicians, doctors and nurses. The popular governments in Latin America are also expanding the use of the sucre as an exchange currency.

Lucy Pagoada, representing the Popular National Resistance Front of Honduras, denounced the recent coup there, citing the connivance of the U.S., the Honduran military and the Catholic Church as well as the national oligarchy. She described it as a coup against ALBA since, in fact, the coup government has withdrawn Honduras from ALBA membership. She pointed out that the biggest military base in Central America is in Honduras and is controlled by the U.S. But the coup, she concluded, has awakened the people to political struggle.

Gilda Chacón Bravo, an international relations representative of the CTC, noted that the 70th anniversary of the World Federation of Trade Unions will be celebrated at its 16th congress next year in Greece. The WFTU is part of ESNA, an annual international gathering promoting unity of action of workers throughout the Americas.

Clarence Thomas, a third-generation longshore worker, organizer of the 2004 Million Worker March and a leader of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, presented two examples of the inherent power of the U.S. working class. Local 10 protested the Israeli slaughter of activists trying to break the genocidal siege of Gaza by joining dockworkers internationally in refusing to unload an Israeli ship. The union also closed down five West Coast ports for eight hours to protest the cold-blooded police killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland.

Other U.S. union panelists and delegations included Rosie Martínez of the SEIU 721 Latino Caucus; Cristina Vásquez, international vice president and regional manager of Workers United; and Martha Grevatt, a Chrysler autoworker.

New York May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights organizer Teresa Gutierrez highlighted the case of Victor Toro, detained and arrested for lack of documentation and now charged with terrorism for leading opposition to the 1973 fascist coup in Chile orchestrated by the CIA.

She pointed out that although the proposed DREAM Act legislation would offer citizenship to undocumented youth, it would also force many of them into U.S. military service.

Daniel Montes, an organizer for Unión del Barrio in Los Angeles, described the U.S. Southwest as Mexican territory occupied by the U.S. He noted that in the last 30 years, even more Mexicans have migrated to these lands. Today, the Obama administration is deporting more workers than Bush. Unión del Barrio has challenged the Democrats’ slogan of “Today we march, tomorrow we vote!” with “Today we march, tomorrow we organize!”

Benjamin Prado of Unión del Barrio in San Diego pointed out that the capitalists have never recognized the rights of the workers. Capitalism turns everything, including people, into merchandise. It’s important, he stressed, to unmask the truth that the U.S. is the biggest violator of human rights. We need to learn from the example of ALBA. The problems of immigration have no solution within the context of capitalism.

In addition to alternative media who covered the conference, several Tijuana media representatives, including Telemedia 33 and Radio La Republica, were present.