October 30th Day of Action

North America Is a War Zone!

It may be premature to be speaking of the labor movement in the past tense, but if the 1% succeed in crushing the life out of it, this article, published in New Ground 61, November — December, 1998, is another bit of evidence demonstrating that we haven’t gone down without a fight.

October 30th Day of Action: North America Is a War Zone!

by Amy Traub, Dan Graff and Bob Roman

If the recent media blitz about globalization has taught us anything, it is that the entire world is now tremendously interconnected, that what happens abroad can profoundly affect conditions here and vice-versa. The Youth Section of the Democratic Socialists of America, both nationally and here in Chicago, are currently working on an international campaign in support of the labor rights of factory workers in Tijuana, Mexico.

In this particular case, the hundred some workers at the Han Young factory in Tijuana weld truck chassis exclusively for Hyundai Motors, a Korean corporation. Due primarily to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions – including absence of ventilation, faulty equipment, and lack of protective gear – workers at Han Young decided in June of 1997 to form a union so they could collectively bargain for better conditions.

After the overwhelming majority of workers voted to join an independent union, the government labor board declared that the election was invalid since the workers were already represented by a union. This union, the CROC (Confederacion Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos) was one of the corrupt organizations closely tied to the PRI, the political party which has ruled Mexico for the last 70 years. Without the knowledge of the people working there, the Han Young management had negotiated a “protection contract” with the CROC in which the company paid off union leaders in exchange for labor peace.

“The CROC collects money directly from the employers and holds no meetings,” explained one worker, “its representatives only come to the factory when there is trouble, to tell the workers to go back to work.”

It is understandable that workers would want to exercise their rights (guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution and, theoretically, by NAFTA) to organize an independent union that would actually represent their interests. Yet results of three separate labor board supervised elections, all in favor of independent unionization, have not resulted in recognition of the union. Workers have been bribed, threatened, fired, beaten, menaced with arrest, mislead, defamed, and victimized by suspicious “accidents”.

Thousands of other workers in Mexico’s northern maquiladora (export-oriented manufacturing) sector face similar conditions when they try to claim their legal rights. They are exploited as cheap labor by transnational corporations under the rubric of “free trade” even as their own basic freedoms to organize amongst themselves and speak out about their working conditions are violated with impunity.

The international solidarity efforts that Han Young workers have explicitly called for (including marches, boycotts, demonstrations, letters from prominent religious leaders and organizations, speaking tours by Han Young workers, hunger strikes and even solidarity actions by Hyundai workers in the corporation’s home country of Korea) have already had some success. Because of international pressure, workers who had been illegally fired were reinstated with back pay. But the independent union, democratically elected by the plant workers on several occasions, has still not been officially recognized. Without recognition, they cannot legally negotiate a contract or go on strike. That’s why international efforts continue, and youth members of the Democratic Socialists of America in the U.S., the New Democratic Party in Canada, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Mexico planned simultaneous demonstrations in cities across the continent on October 30th.

Forum on Han Young Workers
On Thursday, Oct. 29, on the University of Chicago DSA sponsored a forum on the striking Han Young workers. Nearly thirty students and community members attended the forum, a very good turnout in the face of horribly stormy weather that evening. Panelists included David Moberg, a senior editor at In These Times and journalist specializing in labor issues, Amy Traub, a student at the University of Chicago and coordinator of the Han Young support work on campus, and Dan Graff, a representative the Labor Rights Task Force of the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, which has been helping coordinate Han Young solidarity support in the Chicago area.

The panelists provided an update on the situation at Han Young, where workers have been on strike for union recognition since May 1998, and analyzed the crisis in light of the impact of NAFTA, economic globalization, and the potential internationalization of the labor movement.

The forum also served as the lead-in for a protest of a local Hyundai dealership, scheduled for the next day as part of an International Day of Action to support the Han Young strikers. The DSA Youth Section (as part of the International Union of Socialist Youth) held events in New York, Boston, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Chicago.

Hyundai Protest on Chicago’s South Side
On Friday, October 30, thirty folks, mostly from the University of Chicago, picketed Quality Hyundai at 92nd St. and Western Ave. in Chicago. Chanting “Hyundai, Hyundai, respect labor rights!” and “Hyundai Motors, we’ll cut you down to size, unless you respect the right to unionize!”, the protesters received support from honking motorists during rush hour traffic.

The dealerships’ management was clearly irritated, and one staffer informed us he would definitely notify Hyundai headquarters of the action. The highlight of the day: a prospective car buyer talked with protesters and then opted not to shop at Hyundai. “Keep up the good work,” he shouted as he drove away.

September 19th Day of Action
The October 30th National Day of Action in support of Han Young workers was not the first this fall. On Saturday, September 19th, the Campaign for Labor Rights coordinated a similar effort. The DSA Youth Section planned its day of action on October 30th because a number of its chapters, including the University of Chicago, did not begin their academic year until after September 19th.

The Chicago action was coordinated by the Chicago Jobs with Justice Cross Border Organizing Committee and the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee Labor Rights Task Force. Some 40 people, including 9 DSA members mostly from the UofC Youth Section and Greater Oak Park DSA, turned out for a picket line outside of New Rogers Pontiac-Hyundai at 27th and Michigan in Chicago. The management there was more than irritated, but after a Donald Duck tantrum, the afternoon passed peaceably.

North America Is a War Zone
In other cross border action, the Dana Workers Alliance, along with the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress and the National Union of Workers in Mexico, has filed complaints under the side agreements to NAFTA against the Dana Corporation for firing union supporters and brutalizing employees at its Echlin brake plant in Itapsa, Mexico. In the States, the UAW, Steelworkers and Paperworkers represent some 12,000 Dana workers. Other members of the Dana Workers Alliance include the Teamsters, Canadian Auto Workers, UNITE and UE.

The railroad industry has become increasingly international as well. As a consequence, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Maintenance of Way Employees, and STFRM (the Mexican rail union) have formed an alliance to share information and coordinate action.

U.S. and Canadian railroads have long owned lines across the northern border, but Mexico has recently privatized its railroads. Organized into several regional monopolies, the privatization law requires majority ownership by Mexican investors; however, all but one of the regional lines are dominated by U.S. railroads. U.S. staffing practices are spreading south of the border, resulting in layoffs.

The internationalization of the U.S. rail industry has spread beyond Mexico. The Kansas City Southern, for example, not only has a 49% stake in Mexico’s northeastern railway, TFM, but also runs Panama’s railway. The Wisconsin Central also runs the freight service in New Zealand and Britain.

Author: rmichaelroman

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