By Sergio España
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 print edition of the Paper Heart (Issue #1).
On October 5th, Ernesto Lizcano of the TRW Workers Coalition and Israel Monroy of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) made a stop in Baltimore during their month-long tour of the United States focused on educating labor groups on the struggles and tactics of CJM. Their talk, sponsored in part by the Baltimore IWW branch, captivated participants with its nuanced focus on the current situation facing so many workers in Mexico due to the continuing ramifications of NAFTA.
Ernesto Lizcano shared the story of the TRW Auto Plant workers. The plant, located in Reynosa, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, only a few miles from Texas, is one of the largest automotive plants in the region, manufacturing parts for shipment to the United States and abroad through the NAFTA highways found only a few miles from the production center. In March of this year, in retaliation for deciding to organize their own bargaining voice rather than join the corrupt and only official union in the country, 1000 TRW employees were fired. 800 of the fired workers were members of the coalition. These fired workers have since been blacklisted, unable to find steady employment, with several of them forced to sell simple trinkets on the street for mere coins. And yet, their voice still remains strong, as they have been organizing demonstrations outside their former employer’s factory and throughout Tamaulipas.
Tamaulipas is seen as central to international capitalism within the NAFTA zone. The northern part of the state hosts countless maquiladoras owned by U.S. and Canadian companies exploiting the wealth of cheap labor which is found in northern Mexico. Many of the workers in these factories hail from southern Mexico and other Central American countries and have decided to stay in Tamaulipas for some time in order to save money before they attempt to cross the border in an effort to forge a living within the U.S.
The CJM members’ talk also focused on the need to connect the struggles from below on an
international level. Their argument is sound. While multinational corporations and conglomerates strategize their efforts across cities, nations, and continents, we cannot continue to believe that fragmented actions will lead to substantial rights. Indeed, such solidarity is being forged. Several hours before Ernesto and Israel’s talk, members from UAW Local 174 in Michigan and IWW members from the Rio Grande Valley converged at the international
bridge in Hidalgo/Mcallen Texas to show their support for TRW workers. Across the bridge, over 200 TRW workers staged a rally in conjunction with the Americans, with both gatherings speaking together about the horrendous tolls NAFTA has taken on workers across countries over the past decade and a half. George Hardy, First Vice-president of the UAW Local 174, made it clear, “We want jobs. We need to feed our families, but NAFTA wiped away all our jobs in Michigan and in America. We are demonstrating with TRW workers because NAFTA pits workers against one another, but now we want to tell all corporations that workers are
Internally, Mexico’s labor movement continues to grow against the oppression of both the Mexican state and foreign investors. As part of the effort to build national solidarity, several TRW employees and CJM members have begun participating in an exchange program between Zapatistas & labor organizers in Northern Mexico, creating bonds and educational channels between Mexico’s urban and rural working class.
Just as Ernesto, Israel, and the work of the CJM have inspired so many across the U.S., their work and achievements have also been inspired by international movements, namely the women of Morocco and Argentina and Brazil’s growing landless peasant movement. As they inspire us, fellow workers of the world are also turning to their brothers and sisters in the U.S. for inspiration and solidarity. As always, the time for hard work and dedication is upon us.