Allies Across the Border: Mexico's "Authentic Labor Front" and Global Solidarity

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by Dale Hathaway

South End Press

2000

SKU: 9780896086326

 

While Wall Street pundits praise the global economy, workers find their jobs more pressured and precarious. Americans and Canadians are told that Mexicans are stealing their jobs, but workers in Mexico find themselves in dangerous plants where they are barely paid their daily bread. This first book on Mexico's pioneer independent labor federation, the Authentic Labor Front (the FAT), shows how activists are gaining strength in coalition with their "allies across the border."

It offers both activists and scholars an understanding of the last 40 years of Mexican history, explaining how globalizing the Mexican economy undermined workers' wages and the authoritarian structures that had bound them to the PRI, the ruling party that had dominated Mexico until 2000. It celebrates the organizing tactics both within plants and across borders that have given new hope to workers throughout the continent.

A case study of how democracy-in workplaces and international structures-is the greatest source of power on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

Review by Dan La Botz:

Dale Hathaway, a community activist and professor of political science at Butler University in Indianapolis, has written a readable, useful account of Mexico's most politically important independent labor union federation the Authentic Labor Front or FAT. Hathaway sets his history of the FAT in the context of the new movement's fight against corporate globalization, a movement in which the FAT has played an enormously important role. Based on interviews with FAT leaders and activists, original documents, and a wide-array of secondary sources, this is both a good read and a reliable historical account.

The book opens with the Battle of Seattle in November 1999 and closes with a discussion of the importance of international solidarity in the era of globalization. Using that as the framework, Hathaway not only tells the story of the union, but also places it in the context of the Mexican labor and political system, of economic globalization, and of the new movements for international labor solidarity. In doing so, he has written a book that is essential reading for Canadian and U.S. labor union activists, and for all of those interested in the Mexican labor union movement.

The FAT was founded in October of 1960 as a Christian labor union, inspired by Roman Catholic social teachings. The union established itself in Leon, Guanajuato, then Mexico's shoe manufacturing center and soon spread to the garment shops in Irapuato. From there the union spread to Chihuahua in Northern Mexico, the home of several of its current leaders. The early FAT leaders such as Nicolas Medina and Antonio Velazquez found that they had to fight not only the employers but also the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the Mexican labor authorities, all of whom colluded to defeat the new independent labor union. During the late 1960s the combination of Liberation Theology, the student movement of 1968, and the working class upsurge known in Mexico as the "worker insurgence" transformed the FAT into a secular, militant labor union. In the 1970s the FAT fought for contracts in auto-parts plants such as Spicer, but also developed a radical syndicalist ideology based on the notions of workers' democracy and self-management (or autogestion as it is sometimes called).

During the economic crises of the 1980s, the FAT like other unions came under pressure to enter into productivity partnerships with employers like Sealed Power. While the FAT attempted to bargain from as democratic and strong a position as possible, still the union's experience with such programs was mixed at best.In the 1990s, the FAT became an important leader of forces fighting to develop an independent labor union movement and ties of international labor solidarity with unions in Canada and the United States. The FAT participated in the union forums of the early 1990s, and joined the independent labor federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT) where it played a leading role as a voice for workers' democracy.

In addition to organizing labor unions, the FAT also organized peasants and farmers in its campesino sector, organized cooperative ventures in the cooperative sector, and brought together low-income community people in its colonos, or neighborhood sector. In addition the FAT has been a leader in organizing and empowering women to take leading role in their communities, their workplaces and in their unions. Finally, the FAT has been pillar of the Mexican Network on Free Trade (RMALC), an alliance of labor and environmental groups that fought against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

When social struggles by Mayan peasants in Chiapas and bankrupt farmers in Zacatecas and Jalisco erupted in the 1990s, the FAT worked with both the Zapatistas and el Barzon (which grew to be a large, national organizational or debtors) in their movements for social justice for the rural producers. But more than any other Mexican labor organization, the FAT has sought out alliances with Canadian and Mexican workers. In particular, it created a strategic organizing alliance with the United Electrical Workers (UE) to support organizing efforts both in Mexico and the United States.

The mutual and reciprocal relations between those two unions have become a model for labor unionists in North America and around the world. Hathaway's book will be must reading for U.S. and Canadian unionists, and for all of those working for international solidarity as an alternative to corporate political domination and exploitation. Clearly and directly written, this book is readily accessible for all audiences. Professors of political science, economics, labor studies, and Latin American studies will want to use this book in classes with both undergraduate and graduate students.

About Dale Hathaway:

Dale Hathaway (1951-2002) was a man of compassion and conviction. In his professional life, he was a dedicated teacher, scholar, and activist. He was equally committed to his roles as husband, father, mentor, and friend. While searching always for ways to hasten the arrival of justice and the betterment of the community, Dale also found beauty and meaning in song, sufi dancing, yoga, and the shared silence of the Quaker and Buddhist traditions.