Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Labor Tour Features Trade Unionists From Cuba and Mexico

Labor Tour Features Trade Unionists From Cuba and Mexico

The struggle against neo-liberalism spans the world

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

DETROIT--A national tour of two trade union leaders from Cuba and Mexico is underway now in the United States. Gilda Chacon Bravo of the Federacion Sindical Mundial (SME), The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) region of the Americas from Cuba and Pipino Cuevas Velazques of the Sindicato Mexicano De Electrucistas, The Mexican Electrical Workers Union, spoke at the largest United Auto Workers (UAW) local in the United States, Local 600, on March 20 in Dearborn, right outside Detroit.

The event was sponsored by the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange which promotes travel, education and activism that fosters peace and friendship between the peoples of the United States and Cuba, Union del Barrio and the International Action Center. The presence of Gilda Chacon Bravo represented the first time that a trade union leader from Cuba had been granted a visa to enter the U.S. since 2000.

Pipino Cuevas Velazques of the SME talked about the struggle of workers in Mexico within the context of the broader challenges of neo-liberalism. Cuevas said that 44,000 electrical workers were thrown out of their jobs.

The SME leader said that the government claimed that they were lazy and unproductive. There are only 16,000 electrical workers left that are represented by the union and they are continuing to resist pay and benefit cuts.

Chacon from Cuba, who is here representing the WFTU, discussed the history of the organization that was formed in the aftermath of World War II in 1945 when there was the emergence of several new socialist states in Europe and Asia. Even after the collapse of the Eastern European socialist countries and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the late 1980s through 1991, the WFTU would continue to function at a reduced level.

Nonetheless in 2005 the 15th Congress was held in Cuba reviving the labor organization. The 16th WFTU Congress is scheduled to take place in April in Greece.

According to Chacon, the WFTU supports ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America, that is seeking to foster economic and political cooperation among South American, Central American and Caribbean nations that is independent of the dominant influence of the United States. It was this group of nations that drafted a peace proposal to end the civil war in Libya but was dismissed by the U.S., France and the rebels fighting the Gaddafi government with the assistance of numerous imperialist states.

Chacon pointed out several advancements made in the region over the last few years. She highlighted the national literacy project in Bolivia that abolished illiteracy inside this South American state within a relatively short period of time.

In addition, Chacon noted that the Latin American School of Medicine (LASM) has made a tremendous contribution to the educational and health needs of countries throughout the southern region as well as the United States. “Already 150 students from the U.S. have graduated from the LASM,” the WFTU official said.

Also the Cuban trade unionist told the audience that the WFTU had helped launch an international labor forum for the Americas where unionists could gather and discuss pertinent issues irrespective of their political orientation. These encounters involved trade unionists from the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The WFTU and International Affairs

The WFTU is not only a trade union organization but also speaks out against the burning political issues involving conditions throughout the international community. The organization has issued statements opposing U.S. and European intervention in the North African state of Libya.

In response to the bombing of Libya carried out by several imperialist countries including the U.S., beginning on March 19, 2011, the labor organization said that “THE WFTU condemns the military aggression of the imperialists against Libya and that The World Federation of Trade Unions condemns the military aggression of the imperialists against Libya.”

The statement continued noting that “In the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa these dangerous developments, the conflicts and the competition between the various imperialist compounds, are targeting the petroleum of Libya, the natural gas of the countries in North Africa and the control of strategic points rich in raw materials. This competition leads to economic and spy wars or in warfare like nowadays in Libya.”

This same statement stresses that “The European Union, the USA, France, England and their allies argue that they are attacking Libya to implement the decisions of the UN. They are hypocrites and liars!”

The WFTU asks several questions in regard to the current round of imperialist aggression: “Why are they not doing the same for the resolution about the Cyprus issue? Why are they not doing the same to implement dozens of the UN resolutions for Palestine? Why are they not doing the same to implement the resolutions of the UN to stop the embargo against Cuba?”

In the concluding paragraph, the WFTU says that “We demand the immediate ceasing of the military aggression against Libya. We express our internationalist solidarity to the people of Libya.”

In addition to the trade unionists from Cuba and Mexico, a representative of the striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians attended the event at Local 600. Susan Barna Ayoub, the secretary-treasurer of the union representing the striking DSO musicians expressed solidarity with the workers in Latin America and gave some background information on the musician’s strike that has lasted for nearly six months.

While in Detroit, Chacon and Cuevas attended other events that included a social gathering held on March 19 at the home of members of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice on the eastside of the city. On March 20, after the speaking engagement at Local 600, the trade unionists meet with U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. of Detroit who welcomed the visitors to the city.

The city of Detroit has been a center of solidarity activities with Cuba and the people of Mexico. Every year trade unionists and community activists participate in delegations to Cuba as well as Mexico. The Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan always stops in Detroit every summer and there are trade unionists who attend the International labor conference that is held in Tijuana, Mexico every December.

Both trade union officials also spoke in Cleveland and Chicago and were scheduled to travel to New York and California for additional meetings with labor leaders and community people.

Labor Tour from San Diego

The labor union activists from Cuba and Mexico arrived in San Diego on the evening of March 23. The following morning they spoke to a Chicano Studies class at San Diego City College. The students were attentive and a lively discussion followed the presentations. Evidence of the students' enthusiastic support for the goals of the tour and the work of these union leaders were the unsolicited monetary donations that these working-class students offered to the labor delegation. That evening's informal social gathering organized by Unión del Barrio attracted more youth and many Barrio Logan community members.

The next morning the tour members met at the American Friends Service Committee office with Pedro Ríos and Adriana Jasso, leaders of that organization's U.S.-Mexico Border Program, and exchanged information and ideas about the struggles of immigrant workers and other issues. The next stop was the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council office, where the tour delegation met with council head, Lorena Gonzalez. One of the topics discussed with her was the struggle of the Mexican electrical workers. Following a detailed description of the background and current situation by Pipino Cuevas Velásquez, Gonzalez indicated that the San Diego Electrical Workers local had previously passed a resolution supporting the struggle of the Mexican "electricistas." Gilda Chacón Bravo spoke about the role of the World Federation of Trade Unions, the significance of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), and important upcoming international labor meetings in Athens, Greece, and Managua, Nicaragua. She also addressed common misconceptions about conditions in Cuba. Gonzalez expressed an interest in visiting Cuba and acknowledged that unions in the U.S. must reorient with a more struggle-based approach to confront the new and dangerous attacks on unions and the U.S. working class in general.

At the Friday evening public meeting at the World Beat Center in San Diego's Balboa Park, banners announcing "¡La Batalla de los Obreros No Tiene Fronteras! No Borders in the Workers' Struggle!" and "¡Unidos Venceremos!" [United we will win!] greeted attendees. Gloria Verdieu of the San Diego International Action Center called for a minute of silence for Leonard Weinglass, who recently died, in recognition of his long and dedicated career as a people's lawyer. Weinglass was counsel for Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five, and had successfully defended the Five before the U.S Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a victory that was subsequently overturned by the full bench of the 11th Circuit. Following an introduction by Unión del Barrio leader Benjamín Prado and presentations by Chacón Bravo and Cuevas Velásquez, there was discussion from the floor, including an announcement about the exhibit of paintings and poetry by Cuban Five member Antonio Guerrero scheduled to open soon in San Diego at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, a nearby park building. In addition to Unión del Barrio and the International Action Center, San Diego Friends of Cuba and local jornalero [day laborer] organizers voiced their support for the goals of the tour.