‘Cancel NAFTA! Tear Down the Wall!’
Bi-National Conference brings together unions and workers from the United States and Mexico
“I arrived in this country when I was eight years old. My parents were peasants in Mexico. In 1994, when the NAFTA agreement privatized the lands [the ejidos] in Mexico, they had no choice but to migrate to the United States. The process of destruction of the Mexican peasantry is what’s responsible for the massive migration to the United States.
“In the U.S., my parents – like countless others in their situation – became cheap, easily exploitable labor. They were used to bring down the costs of labor for the entire workforce in this country – all to line the pockets of the transnational corporations and the super-rich.
“That is why we cannot talk about the struggle of the immigrant community without talking about the ‘free-trade’ agreements that destroyed their communities and the very fabric of their societies back home in Mexico and Central America.”
— Luis Angel Reyes Zavalza
Reyes, a young Dreamer and immigrant-rights organizer from the San Francisco Bay Area, was addressing the opening of the Bi-National Conference to Cancel NAFTA and Tear Down the Wall, held at California State University Dominguez Hills in Carson in early December and made possible by its faculty association’s support.
Impassioned, committed, united – the conference brought together more than 200 unionists, activists, and youth from the U.S. and Mexico. They included members of four California labor councils – San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, and Los Angeles – as well as the United Teachers of Los Angeles, California locals 1000 and 87 of SEIU, and UAW 551 from Chicago/Northern Indiana.
The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and Hermandad Mexicana played key roles in organizing the conference — including LCLAA chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. Among those issuing the call were the central labor councils of Sacramento and San Francisco, as well as the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, the most progressive Mexican union federation.
At the conference, Baldemar Valasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee announced that FLOC will begin a boycott of British-American Tobacco and its “Vuse” electronic cigarette. Representing largely Mexican farm-workers at work in North Carolina, Velasquez sits on the AFL-CIO executive board and can call on its many local unions for the transnational solidarity of workers in Mexico and the U.S.
The conference’s internationalism became especially clear when Carmen Mata Spoke for the 80,000 agricultural workers of San Quintin in Baja California, Mexico, urging recognition of their newly formed National Democratic Independent Union of Farmworkers (SINDJA). She called on Americans to boycott the berries grown in the United States and Mexico by Driscoll’s and its Mexican subsidiary BerryMex and other growers in the region.
Driscoll’s is the dominant United States transnational corporation in growing and brokering berries worldwide, Mata said. It maintains “slave labor conditions” — wages of less than $1 an hour, exposure to toxins, polluting the water supply, and retaliating against active unionists.
Mata was part of a delegation of unionists, workers, and students from the border cities of Mexicali, Tijuana, and Ciudad Juarez, including some from low-wage maquiladora factories owned by U.S. corporate investors.
But the United States denied visas to other union delegations, including those from oil, healthcare, and education in Chiapas and neighboring southern Mexican states. To ensure full participation, the next Bi-National Conference, March 17-18, will convene in Chiapas.
The conference’s presenters and panels also targeted the drive to privatize education and health care in the United States And it called for protection of DACA youth and the refugees from Haiti and Central America, who Washington is cutting off from “temporary protective status” and are now subject to deportation.
“This conference represents the embryonic development of transnational solidarity of workers in the United States and Mexico through boycotts of Driscoll’s and British-American Tobacco,” explained Harmandad Mexicana coordinator Nativo Lopez.
“We are challenging NAFTA, we are challenging the corporate assault upon labor and upon the people of both nations.”