At a meeting Saturday in Chicago, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) assured Mexican-American political, labor, community and religious leaders that the U.S. labor movement will work to ensure that any new trade agreement raises the standards of living for all working people across North America.
“Any NAFTA agreement that leaves Mexican workers poor and vulnerable and American workers jobless is dead on arrival," Trumka said. And the U.S. and Mexican labor movement are in agreement that any new trade agreement must work for people not corporations.”
Mexican Sen. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who leads Los Mineros, one of Mexico's few independent unions, attended the meeting along with Mexican Congresswoman María Libier González-Anaya. Both agreed with Trumka that any new trade agreement must protect workers on both sides of the border.
Gómez Urrutia explained that while the recently passed Mexican labor law reform was an important step forward, there is still much work to do to protect independent unions, and workers' freedom to bargain for a fair contract.
“When NAFTA was passed 25 years ago, Mexico had the highest wages in Latin America," Gómez Urrutia said. "Today we have the lowest salary. This trade agreement created a model to exploit working people, through sham contracts written by corporations. Today in Mexico corporations set their own unions and enforce their own contracts."
The meeting took place a week after Trumka met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the presidential palace in Mexico City, where they had a frank conversation about the fundamental changes that must be at the heart of any North American trade deal.
“I am absolutely convinced that President López Obrador wants the new labor law to work," Trumka said. "If in fact the new labor law doesn’t work and we can’t get rid of those 700,000 contracts, then I am afraid that our brothers and sisters in Mexico will be forced to live in poverty for decades to come. This is a great opportunity to enforce that law."
While in Mexico, Trumka also met with the nation’s labor minister and leaders from independent unions, including Gómez Urrutia. He witnessed firsthand the obstacles Mexican working people face in freely negotiating a collective bargaining agreement:
My trip only served to confirm the disastrous impact of NAFTA. Forty percent of our brothers and sisters in Mexico are living in poverty. There are still hundreds of thousands of protectionist contracts. For years the Mexican government has kept wages artificially low for Mexican workers, and the tool that they used to do that are these sham contracts.
The AFL-CIO’s senior strategic adviser for state and local bodies and federations, Ramon Becerra, and AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold played active roles in organizing the meeting and engaging with political and community leaders from Mexican-American clubs, federations and worker centers, and labor and immigration activists.
In addition to trade, immigration was a top issue discussed during the meeting. González-Anaya highlighted the important role of labor unions in protecting immigrant rights.
In his address, Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter (IUOE) said, “At this time of history when Chicago is building on its legacy of being an immigrant city and fighting back against those who seek to divide us on economics and issues of race and ethnicity, when we should be coming together to lift up our core values and fight for economic and social justice.”
Trumka reminded attendees that we are a labor movement of immigrants and that our unions must provide sanctuary and our contracts must offer protections where our laws do not.
“Immigrants can find hope and a home in the labor movement,” he said. “Our nation is being poisoned by hateful rhetoric and divisive tactics that come from the highest level of our government. We are not going to rest until every aspiring American can live here and work here safely as a citizen of the United States.”