Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

February 6, 1998

JOHN J. SWEENEY, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), made history last month by going to Mexico to foster solidarity between unions in the United States and those south of the border.

"We've come to Mexico to meet with leaders of Mexico's labor unions and democratic forces and to find practical ways to work together," Sweeney said in a speech to union leaders and students in Mexico City. "We want to work with our brothers and sisters in all parts of the Mexican labor movement and with freedom lovers throughout Mexican society," Sweeney added. "We seek to develop coordinated cross-border organizing and bargaining strategies."

Sweeney's two-day visit to Mexico was the first by a leader of the labor movement in the United States since 1924 when Samuel Gompers, president and founder of the AFL, traveled to Mexico City to represent American labor in a government ceremony there. He went to Mexico from El Paso, Tex., where he'd presided at an AFL convention. Gompers was ill when he made the trip and returned even sicker. He was hospitalized at San Antonio where he died Dec. 13, 1924 at the age of 74. Sweeney met with leaders of militant unions that are independent of the government-connected Confederation of Mexican Workers, known as CTM. The independent unions are seeking to organize workers at the maquiladora plants (golden mills) along the Mexican side of the U.S. -- Mexican border which are owned by American corporations.

"WE MAY LIVE in different nations, but we face the same adversaries and fight the same battles," Sweeney said. "We are at the very beginning of a renewed freedom struggle."

The New York Times reported that Sweeney had what he called a "positive" meeting with Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo, which had been arranged by the Clinton Administration. "Despite Mr. Zedillo's cordiality, his labor secretary, Javier Bonillo Garcia, did not disguise his irritation with Mr. Sweeney's initiative," the Times said.

The newspaper further reported:

"...Mr. Bonillo called in several leaders of independent unions scheduled to meet with Mr. Sweeney and warned them bluntly not to make any agreements that might violate Mexican sovereignty. In issuing that warning, Mr. Bonillo appeared to echo the opinion of many factory owners here, who view the new bi-national union ties that are developing among Mexican and American unions as a threat to Mexico's authoritarian labor system.

"FOR MANY DECADES, the AFL-CIO's most important ties in Mexico were with the main pro-government labor body...the CMT, and even those were limited."

The Times said Mexico's "fossilized labor system" has kept the minimum wage at $3 a day, adding that "the independent unions are more aggressive in pressing for higher wages and better conditions."

U.S. unions and Mexican independent unions have been working together for some time to organize low-paid workers in the maquiladora plants along the border and in factories owned by multinational corporations elsewhere in Mexico which have sprung up since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Solidarity between U.S. and Mexican unions to raise the pay scale of workers at maquiladoras and NAFTA-spawned factories will make it less profitable for American corporations to shift production south of the border.

Sweeney's initiative in Mexico should be the first step toward worldwide solidarity among free and independent labor unions in all nations.

"GLOBAL UNIONISM" is a term given widespread currency by Jack Henning, retired executive secretary-treasurer of the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. In a speech to the California federation's 1994 convention, Henning said: "Global unionism is the answer to global capitalism. There is no other answer.

"The AFL-CIO should issue a convention call to all of the unions in the now-prevailing free world. At that convention there could be chartered treaties and accords of defense to ban and abolish the cannibalism that becomes necessary when capital controls the respective societies of the nations of the world."

Solidarity among workers and unions around the globe would reduce the ability of social-conscienceless corporations to move jobs to ever-cheaper-wage countries in their greed-driven quest for higher and higher profits, and to hell with workers.


MORE CORPORATE WELFARE is being sought by those who want the United States to pump big bucks into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so that it can rescue the troubled economies of Asia. Chief among the bail-out proponents is the Clinton Administration's Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, a man who made millions on Wall Street.

Foes of the bail-out, including Republicans and Democrats, fear that the IMF will provide corporate welfare for the ill-advised banks and investors which have lost huge sums because of unsound investments in the Asian economy.

Meanwhile, existing corporate welfare already costs U.S. taxpayers billions. Common Cause, a government-reform citizens group, lists these examples:

Wineries and whiskey makers rake in millions every year for their foreign advertising. The Walt Disney corporation received $300,000 in federal assistance in 1995 to perfect its fireworks displays.

THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY receives millions from the taxpayers to run its price support program.

McDonald's, Pillsbury, Sunkist, ConAgra and Tyson Foods are just some of the giant food corporations and agribusiness powers that benefit from huge corporate welfare programs.

Common Cause calls Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) "the king of corporate welfare" and said it is "enjoying a bevy of federal subsidies and generous tax breaks. One enormous subsidy benefits producers of ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel. ADM controls about 50 percent of that market. And, in another taxpayer giveaway, analysts note that every dollar of ADM's profit from corn sweeteners ultimately costs taxpayers $10 in sugar subsidies."

Common Cause estimates ADM's subsidies and tax breaks at $3.2 billion a year.

OTHER BIG corporate welfare recipients, according to Common Cause, are oil, chemical and insurance interests, defense contractors, the high-tech industry, Wall Street investors, the Amway corporation and wealthy ship owners.

ADM is the corporation that retired TV journalist David Brinkley made commercials for, dimming the luster on his reputation. ADM's bossman Dwayne Andreas helped Brinkley, former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and other political and public affairs luminaries get Miami Beach condos at bargain prices.

BILL CLINTON has become the latest U.S. president to be accused of marital infidelity but the first one to be the target of a right-wing special persecutor who's nicked the taxpayers for $40 million-and-counting in mounting a never-ending witch-hunt against Democrat Clinton whose first major transgression was defeating incumbent Republican President George Bush in 1992. We're all staying tuned on this one.


Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.