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November 15, 2023/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


Auto and Agriculture: Same or Different?

While up to his eyeballs during the strike, UAW president Shawn Fain still thought it important to meet with Israel Cervantes, a Mexican auto worker at the GM plant in Silao, México, who got fired for union organizing.


The North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and its successor the USMCA, blasted open the border for corporations while keeping it tightly shut for labor. The result? A captive low-wage Mexican labor force leading to corporations moving to México, declining US real wages, and skyrocketing profits. Both Fain and Cervantes understand that dynamic.


Now, for the first time since NAFTA, the UAW has halted the race to the bottom between US and Mexican workers. Two rarely mentioned facts played a role: auto workers are citizens and can’t be deported, and they have rights under the National Labor Relations Act.


Those rights are missing for agricultural workers. Most are not citizens, and farm labor is not covered by the National Labor Relations Board. But that’s not all. US policies, like the current H2A visa program, pit Mexican farmworkers against their fellow farmworkers, based on being assigned different legal statuses. These agricultural policies create a different race to the bottom from the auto sector. This one divides Mexican farmworkers who work side by side in the picking fields, and explains their failure to improve their conditions.


In this week’s interview, Carlos Marentes makes the case that the problem is not a worker crossing a border or their legal status. The real problem is worker exploitation.


The UAW convinced the public that workers produce value, and they deserve a fair share of the profits. The same logic applies to farmworkers. We ingest injustice with each bite we put into our mouths. We must engage in the debates on how to feed justice to those who feed us. 


MSP's Jose Luis Granados Ceja to tour the West Coast

This accomplished investigative journalist from México City spoke with hundreds of people on his East Coast tour, sparking much interest in México. He spoke about changes in México since AMLO’s election in 2018, and what they mean for México and US progressives. Walk, ride, fly — you won’t want to miss him when he comes to the West Coast, now scheduled for January/February. Stay tuned!!


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Mexican Farmworkers: A Class Perspective

Carlos Marentes has been a farm labor organizer and  advocate for many decades. Currently founder and director of the Border Agricultural Workers Project, he leads efforts to organize farm workers on both sides of the US-Mexico border, especially chile pickers. He is involved in issues of poverty, economic inequality, environment and climate, and coordinates the International Collective on Migrants and Rural Workers of La Vía Campesina.

Do you come from a family rooted in farming in México or in the US?

My parents moved from an indigenous peasant community in Central México to Ciudad Juarez in the 1940s because of economic hardship. The World Bank was just beginning its “green revolution,” which introduced large-scale chemically intensive farming methods to artificially speed up food production. This destroyed the peasant economy in México. My father crossed into El Paso every day to work on a farm, and my mother to her job as a restaurant cook.

Cyrus McCrimmon/Getty Images

When I myself crossed into Texas to live in 1977, I saw how farm workers were exploited. Yes, conditions in agribusiness are bad everywhere — but borderland workers are the most oppressed. Why? Because there’s a huge reserve labor force waiting right across the border! Workers from México have been imported as scabs to break up attempts to organize.


That dynamic must create conflicts among Mexican workers. 


There are three different categories working on farms in the US. The first is the legal workers who are already citizens. Remember that many became legal due to the 1986 amnesty and path to citizenship granted to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. Second is the contratados or temporary contract farm workers under the H2A program. Third is the undocumented workers who entered the US without papers. 

All three categories are farmworkers, but the ruling class creates divisions. Existing undocumented farmworkers see H2A workers as competitors, because the expansion of H2A visas has been combined with a harsh crackdown on the undocumented. 

It was a dark moment when Cesar Chavez denounced "wetbacks" and "illegal aliens."

Marentes talking with H2A workers/courtesy Carlos Marentes

Back in the day, the Texas Farmworkers Union recognized that undocumented and documented workers needed to be united under one organization based on working class identity — not on identity based on legal status. It’s obvious that we need a binational strategy. 


Do people in México decide to become “migrant workers?” No, migration is simply a consequence of how the agricultural industry works.


What has been the role of radicals and socialists in the farmworker movement? Unions fight for more crumbs; do we need a broader anti-capitalist vision? 


Agriculture workers have a radical history, just as industrial workers do. In John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, Wobblies, members of the Industrial Workers of the World, organized migrants from Oklahoma to California. Many radicals found their way to the US, due to the persecution of revolutionaries in Europe, and they organized in farm, factory, and field.

We need to educate workers that even with a union, we might gain five cents this year, but next year the company will speed up our work, cut back our benefits, threaten our organizers. For farmworkers, even after decades of organizing, conditions have worsened. During this year’s record-breaking heat, many farmworkers were denied water, and there were deaths from heat exhaustion. The struggle must not be for five cents, but against the cruel logic of capitalism.

Carlos Marentes counseling farm workers. Photo/Carlos Marentes

In the course of union organizing, we can raise revolutionary ideas. Workers must learn to disrupt capitalist structures, particularly the social relations of production. What’s the composition of US productive forces? Workers from non-European countries make up more than 50% of construction workers and nearly 70% of farm laborers; 50% of service sector workers are women. Our main struggle must be against patriarchy and racism.

We can encourage women to see that they play a critical role in their workplaces and in the capitalist system — to recognize that they have power. For example, in Ciudad Juarez, México, FoxConn tried to force women to accept a third shift. When they resisted, managers locked the doors to keep them in. So, the women burned the doors down! 


Theres a lot of juice in the US labor movement right now; how has the UAW fight affected worker consciousness? 


UAW president Shawn Fain did us a big service in recovering the concepts of “working class,” “solidarity” across race and gender, and “class struggle.” For some time, US workers haven’t had a class identity. After the 2008 financial crisis, many lost homes and incomes but still saw themselves as “middle class.” To be working class was something to be ashamed of. That’s changing. 


And the concept of class should be extended beyond borders. For the US maquiladora plants in Ciudad Juarez, it’s calculated that for every one dollar invested, the company gets two dollars back in profit. Shawn Fain has educated the public that the huge profits of auto companies were created by pushing wages down. Like auto, agriculture is one of the most important — and profitable — sectors of the US economy.  Five million Mexican workers created that wealth. Where’s their share?

You have called the present a moment of social transition. What do you see?


It’s easier to imagine the end of humanity than the end of capitalism! But there are encouraging signs.


We are seeing an intensified class struggle, a big increase in strikes. The UAW hammered home that workers are the ones who create wealth, and they demanded they get their fair share — and they won.

The pandemic produced a shift in consciousness; it ended loyalty to employers as workers realized that loyalty was a one-way street. People saw that the government can bail out unemployed workers if they want to, and not just big banks. Today, low-paying jobs are going unfilled. Did you ever wonder why check-in time at hotels have gotten later? They can’t hire enough housekeepers to get the rooms ready.

And January 6? The political class can’t even protect its own! The veil has been lifted in many ways.

The goals of reform struggles are often to change the laws, the rules of the game. But we don’t need the rules if we refuse to play the game. What matters is the actions of working people. Those are what disrupt capitalist structures and  shift the balance of power. As farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta once said in what has become a rallying cry for all workers — “Si, se puede!” Yes, we can!

UFW Photo: Courtesy United Farm Workers


Activist Vicky Hamlin, a retired tradeswoman, shop steward, and painter, shines the light — in her art and this column — on the lives of working people and the world they live in.

Daniela Garcia Hamilton: Ritual and Tradition

Daniela Garcia Hamilton (b.1995) is a first generation Mexican-American painter. Her family is from Guanajuato and she grew up in the suburbs of LA. She received her BFA in Drawing and Painting and her teaching credential from CSULB in 2018. She works in oil paint with mixed media and currently works full time as a high school art teacher in Thousand Oaks. From the bio on her website — “Her work revisits the rituals and traditions she experienced as a child of immigrant parents.”

She continues to exhibit widely.

People are complicated. We can all agree, I think, yes? For me, painting is a way of unraveling these complexities. I have never quite understood people, so I look and try to get clarity with paint.


Daniela Garcia Hamilton seeks both clarity and complexity, and finds both. If you are painting something as complicated as people, either portraits of faces or group relationships, the painting should have levels of complexity too.

Abuelito Victor is a portrait of Garcia Hamilton’s grandfather. Here she is not so much laying out a story as inviting us into this warm, loving relationship. This is a head shot — the colors of Mexico and the cowboy hat and shirt collar set this man in a very clear time and place, but I was so taken with the slight smile and the direct gaze that I didn’t need more detail. The colors are warm, the textures in his face lend him gravitas, her touch is confident. She knows this man well, I think.

So what about complexity? In SE LES AVISA, the story is less clear. What? A laughing boy and a cow and a rooster? And wait, there are words on the cow and a beautiful purple/rose/gold pattern behind them all? What could this mean? It’s like a kid’s song or a fairy tale — it doesn’t have to quite add up, you get that the story is composed of many different pieces and feelings. 

Mi Casa Nueva is not a painting, here she uses ballpoint pen and paint marker on paper. This piece is all about the experience of a young child in a new place —- the mysteries behind the QR square, a poster of maybe unknown musicians, unseen and maybe unknown faces. So there is no color to guide us, no expressive paint to help us understand —  just mystery about the possibilities, good and bad, of a new home. 

And one more thing. She is such a good painter and draftsman — she is way more sophisticated than her years (born in 1995!) that she adds more than a story line with her technique. It’s not easy to paint very slight gestures (El coyote de Alejandro), glances (Marisol y sus Potrillos), expressions (SE LES AVISA), or the turn of a head (Green Card) that says so much.

There is everything to love in the work of Daniela Garcia Hamilton. She is observant, warm, friendly, funny, gentle. She loves her family and, I’m guessing, the world. She helps us see into the best, most complex, side of people. Mystery solved!


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

Enrique Dussel in MemoriamFondation Frantz Fanon. The Argentinian-Mexican philosopher, considered one of the fathers of the Philosophy of Liberation and a key figure in the establishment of Morena’s Instituto Nacional de Formación Política, passed away at the age of 88 on November 5th.


Katya Colmenares Lizárraga, Enrique Dussel: filósofo de la liberación de los pueblos La Jornada. Con apenas 27 años tuvo claro cuál era ese lugar: “Deberí amos escribir una historia al revé s, desde los pobres, desde los oprimidos”. Ese esfuerzo constituyó no sólo una orientación histórica, sino un programa de investigación que se hizo método.


David Alire Garcia, Mexico's ruling party again picks woman to run for mayor of capital Reuters. Clara Brugada, the mayor of Iztapalapa, known for her Socialist Utopia community centers and transformational work in the working class area of Mexico City, will become Morena’s candidate in next year’s election.


Alma Muñoz y Néstor Jiménez, Brugada llama a la unidad en Morena; apoyaré a Clara, dice García Harfuch La Jornada. Clara Brugada, la alcaldesa de clase trabajadora de Iztapalapa, conocida por sus audaces proyectos de utopía socialista, es ahora la candidata de Morena a la jefatura de gobierno de la Ciudad de México.


Uriel J. García, Texas Legislature tries again with bills making illegal border crossings a state crime The Texas Tribune. Republicans will once again attempt to pass a sweeping immigration law that would allow state and local law enforcement to more easily arrest and prosecute people who cross the border from Mexico.


Jhonatan González, Echan ‘narcos’ a zapatistas de 59 caracoles y regiones autónomas Milenio. A punto de cumplir 30 años, el EZLN desmantela su base civil ante la violencia entre cárteles.


Edgar Sandoval, Scorching Heat Is Contributing to Migrant Deaths New York Times. Amid a relentless heat wave, some migrants are succumbing to heat exhaustion. More than 500 people have died of various causes this year while trying to cross from Mexico.


Reyna Haydee Ramirez, Buscan revivir a los trenes de pasajeros en México Pie de Página. Pensando en sus opositores, López Obrador dijo que no es una expropiación (wink wink), que su decisión se fundamenta en la Constitución Mexicana y hará válida una cláusula del convenio que hizo el ex presidente Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León en 1995 cuando cedió el sistema ferroviario de México.


José Luis Granados Ceja, Latin American Leaders Reject US-Imposed Migration Policies at Palenque SummitVenezuelanalysis. MSP’s José Luis Granados Ceja reports from the Palenque Summit in Mexico City, where Latin American leaders blamed coercive U.S. policies for the migration crisis.


Oliveira Mijarez, Firmé un decreto que prohíbe el uso industrial del agua en Baja California: AMLO Sentido Común. “Se cancela la posibilidad de entregar agua con propósito de uso industrial; la prioridad es el uso doméstico.”


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice. We 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, Agatha Hinman, Victoria Hamlin, Courtney Childs.  To give feedback or get involved yourself, please email us!

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