The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


May 19, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


Fighting for the Joy of Doing Work ‘That Is Real’

In one of Marge Piercy’s most beloved poems, To Be of Use, she writes: “The pitcher cries for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.”  In a world where people labor for less and less to create more and more for those who already have too much, that real work remains elusive. “Work” has become instead a four-letter word, to be spat out with anger, disgust, and fear. For so many of us, work feels like a life sentence.


Some of us do find the real work we long for — in retirement, if we end up among the lucky ones who live that long and can afford to go without a paycheck. One factory worker friend of mine, relieved to reach retirement, confided that he was going to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and build houses for the poor. He had always wanted to use his skills to help others. In this past pandemic year, many other folks have found time to fill food bags and distribute them to needy families, as in the volunteer Vallarta program pictured above. We love to make things with — and for — others.


The key difference between these voluntary activities and the way we earn money? In this week’s interview, farmworker and organizer Rosalinda Guillen names one aspect of that difference: love of your trade, your craft, your profession. She’s seen the love of working in nature squeezed out of farmers forced to harm the earth — and themselves and others — using techniques they know will always be deeply wrong.


Workers like those at the Tridonex auto parts factory in Matamoros illustrate another difference between the work we cherish and the work we hate. “Work” becomes at best a necessary evil when our employers treat us like mechanical cogs on an assembly line rather than as human beings with intelligence, family lives, and the need to occasionally use the bathroom. Work becomes a heavy and horrible burden when we have no collective organization to help us regain our humanity.


The voluntary activities we do not call “work” both produce what we need and fulfill our human longing “to be of use.” Farmers and workers in México and worldwide are crying out against those who would deny this basic right this joy of doing “work that is real.”


Rosalinda Guillen, a veteran rural justice organizer born in Texas, spent her first decade in Coahuila, Mexico. Her family then emigrated to Washington state in 1960 where the ten-year-old Guillen began working in the fields of Skagit County. Guillen would later organize with Caesar Chavez’s UFW and go on to represent farmworkers on issues ranging from immigration to food sovereignty. The organization she founded, Community to Community, is now building broad support for rural people and sustainable agriculture policies that ensure equitable and healthy communities for farmworkers — and all of us who depend on them for our daily bread.


Your ancestors farmed their own land in Texas when Texas still belonged to México. How did they lose their land?


I come from generations of farmers. My father, Jesus Guillen, never talked about how we lost the land, so I don’t know. It must have been a painful story. He was a positive person, and once we settled in Washington state, he never looked back. But I was taught that I had to behave differently with white people, that you have to be careful until you know which ones can be trusted. That gave me a clue!


You picked strawberries, and you say that your father told you to sit with the earth before the sun comes up and work starts, to just feel it and smell it. That really speaks to his love of the land and farming.


Like so many of us who come from a farming tradition, I am a person of the land. I loved picking strawberries. In the fields, you can feel beauty everywhere.


In the 1960s as a kid, about the most unpleasant thing you could do would be to pick a berry before realizing there’s a slug on it! But then, in the 1970s and 1980s, pesticides came into use, more and more of them, huge storage tanks full. Workers got sick. But no one documented what was happening. If you went to a doctor, they didn’t say what caused the sickness, they didn’t collect data. Without data, a problem doesn’t exist! Farm work has become so dangerous and exploitative that workers now hate what they once loved. The agriculture industry has beaten the desire to connect to the land out of us. We get chewed up and spit out. Today farmworkers in the US have an average lifespan of just 49!


So you see working with the earth as vastly different from working on the earth. Would that difference explain why you organize not just for farmworker labor rights, but also for food and environmental justice? 


I don’t see these goals as separate. Yes, we fight sexual harassment on the job, lack of health care, retaliatory firings, overtime benefits and all that requires unionization. But we also want to give workers a taste of a completely different way to organize work, to use their skills doing what they love to do.


What would it feel like to make decisions about your work without a white boss over you? We started a 65-acre worker-owned coop to answer that question. On this farm, workers collectively decide how many baskets of fruit each worker should pick. But when to start working, when to take a break, how fast to pick that’s up to the worker. People brought into the co-op soon become amazed at how different the work feels. They can begin to imagine a whole society where power is distributed among the people and hard work becomes valued labor.


Farmworkers know we must respect Mother Earth. She must also be part of the decision making on what we grow upon her. Wine grapes, for example, do really well in the climate of California, but now theyre being grown in Washington state. That makes no sense! When you grow a non-native crop in an area simply because that crop could be profitable, you have to abuse the land to force it to produce. You have to add chemical “amendments” to the soil. That depletes the soil and requires even more chemicals.


Those of us who work the land feel environmental justice as a lived experience. We understand that the land’s health determines the health of all the living things on it, not just people. Not protecting innocent species on the lands we work will always be the greatest selfish act.


Food justice calls out inequities and racism in the food system. No one should have to feed themselves with food produced through the exploitation of humans, innocent creatures, or through the poisoning and abuse of Mother Earth.


You started Community to Community C2C to change rural living conditions. The organization has intentionally chosen women of color for leadership. Why?


As an organizer for the UFW, I got frustrated with the lack of gender equity. Then I went to the World Social Forum in 2001 and met people from Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movement. That opened my eyes to how we could achieve not just gender balance, but true gender equity in decision making. At C2C we use consensus, rather than hierarchical, decision making. People who take part in a decision will carry out the plan decided upon and produce results. When women lead, we succeed.


But you don’t call C2C a women’s empowerment project. Why not?


We don’t “develop” leaders, women are leaders. It’s just that they have always been behind the scenes, leading from behind. And they don’t need to be “empowered,” they have the power. We provide safe spaces for analysis and alternatives, so that together we find the openings that can help us channel that creative power into movement building. And with the evolving concept of eco-feminism, we also learn respect not just for women and men, but for trans, LGBTQ, gender fluidity. Staying connected to Mother Earth grounds us. We say we are making the road by walking together!


An Early Test for Labor Rights under the New Trade Pact

Last month, on May 10, SNITIS — an independent union of maquila workers in México — joined with the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch to file a complaint with the Biden administration against labor rights violations at a group of auto parts factories in México. Management at these factories, these groups charge, has violated the terms of the new labor provisions included in the USMCA, the United States-México-Canada Agreement that went into effect last year.


The complaint focuses on the Tridonex plants in the city of Matamoros, just across the Texas border. Tridonex operates as a subsidiary of a Philadelphia based company that moved 1,300 jobs from the United States to México in 2016. Tridonex has since then been harassing and firing workers organizing to replace the company-controlled union with the independent SNITIS, a union fighting for a 20 percent salary increase and an annual bonus of 32,000 peso bonus.


Many progressives in the US and México have criticized the AMLO administration for not doing enough to support independent union organizing. But these comments below, made last week by Tridonex workers in Facebook posts, show a different perspective. In any case, what the Biden and AMLO administrations choose to do next bears watching closely.


“If we are to be unionized workers, only 20/32 is an incorruptible union. Lawyer Susana Prieto, who is also union president, seeks the best future for the whole people. She already has changed our mentality, so we know better where it is possible to go, to not be afraid of change, only to be afraid we will not move forward…We are fighting until we achieve the well-being of all. And we will continue to vote for change and for 4T; we will not back down and as long as the party of our president doesn’t deceive us, we will continue to support them. UP WITH MORENA!”
Ismael Castellanos


“Never has any president ever cared about the working class, never has a politician turned his face to see us and look at our bad working conditions, we were only taken as a voter to be used as a stepping stone to achieve his own goals. None worried about giving us a better salary.  Today we have a president who helps us, a labor lawyer who supports us, and a union that has opened its doors. Take courage, comrades!”

Eliazar Hernandez


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Thomas Kaplan, Complaint Accuses Mexican Factories of Labor Abuses, Testing New Trade Pact, New York Times. Labor and other groups are seeking to make use of a new enforcement mechanism in the updated North American trade deal.


México orders new GM union vote after US lawmakers question abuses, México News Daily. México´s Labor Ministry has ordered the GM union in Silao to hold a new vote to ratify a collective bargaining agreement.


Jorge Gómez Naredo, Así batea AMLO o cómo México tiene a un presidente del pueblo, Polemón. Hoy en México tenemos a un presidente del pueblo, que viene desde abajo. Y eso es lo que más enoja a los conservadores.


Phyllis Ward, The forgotten massacre of the Chinese in Mexico, for which AMLO apologizes, Univision Latin America News. The mass killing took place 110 years ago in the border state of Coahuila.


Bishops urge Mexicans to vote in elections, but some see warning signs, Catholic Universe. The Mexican bishops’ conference has pledged to avoid promotion of any parties or candidates in the country’s upcoming June 6 midterm elections.


Christopher Lenton, With ‘Unobstructed Rule’ on the Line, Mexican Midterm Outlook Said Still Unclear, Natural Gas Intelligence. The fossil fuel industry is freaking out over the prospect that a major Morena victory June 6 would reverse the huge energy privatization enacted eight years ago.       


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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