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Mexican factory workers speak out on NAFTA, labor abuses

By Mike Pesa

Mexican factory workers from the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) are on an IWW-cosponsored truth-telling tour through North America, sharing their first-hand perspective on the effects of NAFTA and their struggle for justice in the factories and slums of northern Mexico. The tour is focused around a March 13 day of action in Detroit against automotive parts manufacturer Key Safety Systems and its corporate customers, including Ford, General Motors, and Hyundai. The tour kicked off in Philadelphia on March 4th where the IWW hosted worker-organizers Israel Monroy and Perla Cruz. In February, Cruz was illegally fired from Key Safety Systems' plant in Valle Hermoso, Mexico (near the Texas border) for organizing a workers' committee.

On Wednesday, March 5th Monroy and Cruz went to New York City for a day to meet with IWW members and allies there. While in New York they participated in the NYC branch's protest of Panera Bread, which is being targeted for its unfair labor practices and union busting. They were accompanied by Justin Vitiello of the Philadelphia branch, who acted as their translator throughout the week. Returning to Philadelphia, the visitors attended an IWW-sponsored protest at Springfield Hyundai, where the manager accepted a letter urging Hyundai to put pressure on Key Safety Systems. The protest was joined by Irish activist Andrew Flood who was on a speaking tour of his own. Following the protest, Monroy and Cruz spoke to a class at Temple University. Interest was so great that students' questions had to be cut off at one point.

Thursday night Monroy and Cruz gave a presentation to about fifty people at Studio 34, near the IWW office in West Philly. Using a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate their testimony, they spoke for two hours about the poverty, repression, and environmental health disasters that NAFTA is causing in Mexico's industrial belt. Photos of poverty-stricken "colonias" (slums), polluted waterways, deformed animals and dangerous factory conditions demonstrated the dire situation that Mexican workers and their families face on a daily basis. The corporations responsible for causing and perpetuating these conditions have names and addresses, and the speakers did not hesitate to name them. Chief among them was Michigan-based Key Safety Systems, global leader in the production of airbags, seatbelts and other automotive safety equipment. Ironically, conditions in and around their factories are among the most dangerous in Mexico. "We make thousands of seat belts every day," explained Cruz. "That means every day we save thousands of lives. Yet we are sacrificing our own lives to the factory. They are killing us." Monroy corroborated this declaration with evidence that chemicals admitted to have caused cancer, miscarriages and children born with brains outside their heads, continue to be used without adequate safety equipment. Air filters that have turned solid black from paint vapor are simply "shook out" instead of replaced. Meanwhile workers paid poverty wages ("salarios de hambre") that require a factory worker to spend three hours to earn what an undocumented immigrant worker in Los Angeles makes in twelve minutes. The speakers explained how these conditions make massive immigration across the border to the United States inevitable. All of the claims Monroy and Cruz made were meticulously documented. "The research is all there", said Monroy. "The laws are just not being enforced."

The next morning, Monroy and Cruz spoke to 200 volunteers from Americorps City Year Program at a seminar on environmental justice and consumerism. Friday evening they gave another presentation at Robin's Bookstore in downtown Philadelphia where they promoted the CJM's book, "NAFTA from Below", a collection of first-hand statements from Mexican factory workers. Despite a downpour of rain, the event still attracted a decent audience and sparked an interesting discussion about solutions and the role of media and communication.

From March 8th-10th, the Israel Monroy and Perla Cruz are in Chicago and Milwaukee. They will travel to Detroit on the 12th, where they will be joined by CJM director Martha Ojeda. (Ojeda had planned to be on the entire tour, but more firings and a new boss at Key Safety Systems' plant in Valle Hermoso required her to stay behind.) After the big protests in Detroit, the speakers will head to Toronto, where they will again be hosted by the IWW. From Toronto, they will fly to Los Angeles and then finally to the San Francisco Bay Area (hosted by the IWW) before returning to Mexico. There schedule can be viewed at: this site . For information on the IWW's involvement in these events, contact Mike Pesa of the IWW's International Solidarity Commission by emailing solidarity [at] iww.org

The CJM is urging all supporters to write letters and emails, send faxes, and make phone calls to Key Safety Systems and its corporate customers, especially Ford and GM. Updates, background information, and sample letters are available at: http://www.coalitionforjustice.info/CJM_Website/Alerts/5th%20Key.html