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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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