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Fri, 30 Jul 2010 23:26:27 -0400
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United Steel Workers and Mineros Explore Merger

by Dan La Botz

Date published: July, 2010


UE International

The merger would create an international union of one
million metal workers and miners.

The United Steelworkers (USW), which represents 850,000
workers in Canada, the Caribbean, and the United States,
and the National Union of Miners and Metal Workers
(SNTMMSRM), known as the Mineros, which represents
180,000 workers in Mexico, have announced plans to
explore uniting into one international union. The
agreement to begin exploration of a merger was signed on
June 21.

This new step in the creation of a global union -- as
opposed to a global federation of unions -- represents a
significant new development for labor in the Americas
with implications for workers around the world. Building
on the 2008 trans-Atlantic relationship between Unite in
the United Kingdom and the USW, now the USW and the
Mineros are working to build a worldwide labor union
with the power to confront the concentrated capital of
the mining and metal working industries.

USW President Leo W. Gerard and Minero general secretary
Napoleon Gomez Urrutia together asserted the two unions
continued "common commitment to democracy, equality, and
solidarity for working men and women throughout North
America and throughout the world." The two unions have
had a strategic alliance since 2005. Now a commission
made up of five members from each of the unions will
create a joint commission to propose "immediate measures
to increase strategic cooperation between our
organizations as well as the steps required to form a
unified organization." Several Years of Close

The attempt to create an international union by these
two unions arises within the context of the 16-year-old
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since NAFTA
took effect on January 1, 1994, several Canadian,
Mexican, and U.S. unions have sought greater cooperation
as they faced transnational corporations with new reach
and power. This is, however, the first attempt to create
a new international union in response to the greater
mobility and power of international capital since NAFTA
and what has been called the neoliberal era of
privatization and free trade.

This new development also comes as a result of several
years of intense and intimate collaboration between the
Steelworkers and the Mineros at many different levels.
The two unions have joined together in campaigns against
common employers and in mutual support on issues facing
them. Most notably, the USW has helped the Mineros as it
came under a brutal attack by Grupo Mexico, that
country's largest mining company, and by the
administration of Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president. "

When the Mexican government repeatedly filed charges
against the Mineros' general secretary, Napoleon Gomez
Urrutia, threatening to jail him, the USW played a
central role in helping him find safety in Vancouver,
B.C. For three years with the aid of the USW, he has
been leading the Mineros through a series of difficult
strikes and other confrontations from that city. History
of U.s.-mexico International Solidarity

This is by no means the first time that unions in the
three countries have attempted to build more powerful
labor organizations through international solidarity.
The path to solidarity has been fraught with problems
and strewn with the wreckage of failures, while at the
same time filled with inspiring examples and some
significant successes. While today's situation poses
altogether new challenges, the past history holds some
lessons too.

With the development of modern industrial capitalism in
all three nations in the late nineteenth century, there
developed a complex exchange of organizational methods,
union strategies and tactics, and social and political
programs. At the center of the process was the
construction of the railroad networks first in the
United States and Canada and then in Mexico.

In general, the influence spread from the more advanced
and industrialized United States with a long history of
trade unionism to Mexico. Those railroad lines, built by
U.S. and British capital, employed British, Canadian,
and mostly U.S. railroad workers. The American railroad
workers carried with them their 16 railroad craft
unions, and their practice of striking the employer over
grievances, structures, and strategies were soon
imitated by the Mexican workers. Mexican workers who
went to work in the mining industry in the United States
joined the American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions or
more frequently the Western Federation of Miners or the
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), adopting their
militant strategies and revolutionary syndicalist
politics. The influence was not all one way. The Mexican
Liberal Party, actually a revolutionary anarchist group,
came to organize workers in Mexico and sometimes in the
Southwest of the United States.

After the discovery of oil in the Mexican states along
the Gulf of Mexico around 1900, accompanied by the
growth of oil storage and shipping facilities at the
docks, the IWW became established there among the oil
workers. At the same time, Spanish revolutionary
syndicalists won a strong base among seamen, and their
influence spread into the ports of Mexico, while Spanish
anarchists came to organize department store clerks,
restaurant workers, and factory workers in central
Mexico. Their influence became pervasive. By the time of
the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, the
anarchist House of the World Worker with branches in
many major Mexican cities had become the dominant labor
movement. the Mexican Revolution and Samuel Gompers

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the
Constitutionalists -- founders of what would eventually
evolve into the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
and rule Mexico for decades -- reached an agreement with
a faction of the House of the World Worker to provide
troops for that wing of the revolution in exchange for
support for the union's organizing efforts. So thousands
of workers organized in Red Battalions rode off to fight
Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, leaders of the
plebeian and peasant left wing of the revolution. Thus
the Mexican state came to control the formerly anarchist
labor movement.

In those years, as the new state was being established
first under Venustiano Carranza and then under Alvaro
Obregon, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation
of Labor, moved into Mexico. The new Mexican government
welcomed Gompers as an aid in helping to create the
state-sponsored Regional Confederation of Mexican
Workers (CROM) which with the government was fighting to
destroy the anarchist General Confederation of Workers
(CGT). So between 1920 and 1925, anarchist unions with
an internationalist perspective battled the business
unions with a nationalist vision backed by the Mexican
government, a war ultimately won by the
government-backed unions with the breaking of the Mexico
City streetcar workers' union in 1924.

Gompers principal aim, however, was to expand the reach
of his Pan-American Federation of Labor (PAFL), an
international union confederation that had already
established branches in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto
Rico. As U.S. capital and the U.S. State Department
spread their power and influence throughout Latin
America, Gompers expected to see the PAFL spread the
model of his so-called "pure-and-simple" trade unionism,
sweeping aside the Red unions of anarchists and
Communists. Gompers' death in 1924, followed by the
crash in 1929, and the Great Depression for the next
decade meant that his dream was never realized. The
1930s Upsurge and the Post-war Right Turn

The worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s led to a
working-class upsurge in Canada, Mexico, and the United
States, initially under a variety of political
leaderships: Socialist and Communist, Catholic and
conservative, but all independent of the employers and
their respective governments. The brief period 1929 to
1939 saw powerful unions and new labor federations grow
up in all three countries.

In the United States and Canada, the Congress of
Industrial Organizations (CIO) organized industrial
workers, while in Mexico the new Confederation of
Mexican Workers (CTM) organized a broad spectrum of
workers in industries of all sorts. The CIO and the CTM
and some of their industrial unions established strong
fraternal relations during this period. The CIO-CTM
alliance evolved and was transformed during the course
of the U.S.-Mexico alliance against the Axis Powers
during World War II. Both the CIO and the CTM emerged
from the war having been drawn into closer relations of
partnership with the corporations and with their
respective governments.

With the outbreak of the Cold War in 1948, the
governments of both the United States and Mexico,
working closely with the employers, forced a purge of
leftists from the unions, while in the U.S. the
Taft-Hartley Law further hamstrung the unions. In Mexico
the purge was particularly violent and brutal, as the
Mexican government sent police and gangsters into the
industrial unions to conduct a transfer of leadership at
gunpoint. In every location, the independent elected
union leaders were turned out in favor of men who were
loyal to the government.

So by the 1950s, while ties still existed between the
CIO and the CTM, they were now relations between U.S.
labor officials working closely with the U.S. State
Department and American corporations and Mexican
officials subservient to their government. Meanwhile,
around the world, labor unions became divided between
the Communist-led and pro-Soviet World Federation of
Trade Unions and the International Confederation of Free
Trade Unions led by U.S. and European unions under the
tutelage of the U.S. State Department. Within this
context, real working-class solidarity virtually
disappeared, as the U.S. and Mexican unions' tasks on
the international scene became working to stop
Communist, nationalist, and other radical unions
throughout the Americas. By the end of the cold war,
most of the left wing of the labor movements in both the
US and Mexico and been destroyed.

For a hundred years, attempts to build international
worker solidarity have been disrupted by the imperial
power of U.S. corporations and the U.S. State Department
and by the Mexican nationalist government, as well as by
conservative business unions loyal either to government
or employers. Genuine international worker solidarity
was greatest during periods of working-class upsurge in
the 1910s and 1930s within the context of worldwide
labor mobilizations. The opening of the era of
globalization raised new challenges. Nafta Changes the

Such was the state of labor solidarity in North America
in the 1990s when the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) was being negotiated. NAFTA, opening
up the borders to capital (while keeping the movement of
labor restricted), suddenly changed the rules. While the
U.S. and Mexican union bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO and
the CTM had been able to cooperate within the context of
the Cold War, they suddenly found themselves at odds in
the age of neoliberalism and free trade.

Based on the impact of the US-Canada Fair Trade
Agreement,U.S. labor unions opposed NAFTA, fearing that
it would lead to the importation of products produced
with cheap labor, commodities which would undermine
their employers' market share and therefore their jobs.
Mexico's "official" or government-controlled unions such
as the CTM had no choice but to follow the government's
directives and support the agreement. With U.S. unions
opposed to NAFTA and Mexico's "official" unions
supporting it, the pact between the AFL-CIO and the
"official" CTM practically dissolved under the impact of
NAFTA, forcing U.S. unions to look for other
relationships. At the same time, independent unions in
Mexico which were critical of NAFTA also looked for
other relationships abroad.

The United Electrical Workers (UE) which represented
workers in the United States, and which was not part of
the AFL-CIO and the independent Authentic Labor Front
(FAT) of Mexico discovered eachother in the early NAFTA
period. Those two unions formed a model strategic
alliance, and many other U.S. and Mexican unions began
to establish ties of various sorts in the 1990s and
2000s. The Communications Workers of America (CWA), for
example, established a relationship with the Mexican
Telephone Workers Union (STRM). At times there were
attempts to establish broader organizations around
specific industries or problems, such as the Coalition
for Justice in the Maquiladoras. Steelworkers and
Mineros: Toward Unity

All of this forms the long and complicated background to
the events taking place today, at the center of which is
the fight against the mining companies. The USW just
settled the 11-month strike of 3,500 of its members
against Vale Inco, a huge Brazilian mining company in
Sudbury, Canada, while the Mineros, after three years on
strike at Cananea, Sonora, face the military occupation
of their town to break the strike. The USW and Mineros
plan to build the power to stop such assaults on miners
and metal workers in the Americas.

The Minero-Steelworker agreement to begin exploration of
unity represents an exciting new development in
international labor solidarity. With such unity, workers
might have greater power in confronting the
transnational mining and metal companies and could
respond to challenges more rapidly and with more
flexibility than a federation or union usually can.
Still, the challenges to this process will be enormous.
No doubt both the employers and the governments will
work to sabotage any arrangement which threatens to
empower workers, and the unions themselves which have
worked together so well for the last few years will face
new challenges in developing a common leadership,
organizational structure, philosophy, strategy, and

Dan La Botz is a  labor union activist, academic,
journalist, and author in the United States. He was a
co-founder of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and
writes the invaluable monthly Mexican News and Analysis.

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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