Today, you’re co-chairing the joint México Solidarity Project/Labor Notes México labor support committee, with a focus on auto. Why auto?
Auto has become the major industry and a key economic driver in all three USMCA countries. And in México auto ranks as the sector most on fire with independent union organizing, with five major recent rank-and-file victories and counting. The wage and benefit increases these new unions win can begin to reverse the race to the bottom.
Mexican workers also understand internationalism. Workers at the GM plant in Silao, before they won their own battle, engaged in support actions for striking John Deere UAW workers in the United States. We see real break-through possibilities in the auto sector.
Internationalism has largely disappeared from what we hear from labor. What can be done to change that?
We hear more about international labor issues from fair-trade folks than from our labor leaders. It’s great to address international trade issues as opportunities to push for labor rights around the globe. But we have no substitute for democratic worker-to-worker and democratic union-to-union relationships.
US labor unions too often confine their vision to their own shop, union, or country, rather than raising their eyes to see the big picture. Labor can’t stop the shedding of jobs through “protectionism” and blaming foreign workers. We can only improve our jobs here in the US by fighting to improve the jobs of workers overseas.
Solidarity must begin at the base. Many labor leaders talk like lawyers — and timid ones at that! To mobilize workers, we need the raw, unfiltered speech of conscious militants who come from the rank and file. This will always be crucial, for creating not a spontaneous movement, but one based on class consciousness and an understanding of capitalism. Democratic unionism will also be critical, but also always the floor and not the ceiling.
You emphasize worker-to-worker solidarity. What can we do?
Our Committee supported the Mexican independent union SINTTIA by asking local unions and other community groups to write to GM CEO Mary Barra to ensure fair contract and representation elections. Then Labor Notes brought one of SINTTIA’s rank-and-file organizers to speak to the thousands of rank-and-file workers at its 2022 national conference. We made sure that Mexican activist Israel Cervantes met the folks most important to SINTTIA’s struggle, particularly folks in the UAWD — the Unite All Workers for Democracy — the UAW’s progressive wing.
We pushed for the UAW to invite SINTTIA to speak at its convention, to no avail. That’s why we’re now working to get out the retiree vote, a huge bloc, for the Members United slate that will build international solidarity. Next steps? Worker-to-worker trips, political education, strengthening cross-border organization. México’s labor movement is sitting at a turning point. Can US labor match its progress?