Labor lawyers and union leaders from across the Americas resume international cooperation for workers' rights at ALAL/ANAD conference in Mexico City by Dean Hubbard
Close to two hundred labor lawyers, judges and trade unionists from Mexico, Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala), the US, Canada and Spain participated in the joint ANAD (Mexican National Association of Democratic Lawyers) and ALAL (Association of Latin American Labor Lawyers) Congress in Mexico City from November 5-9, 2015. Proceedings took place at the Law School at UNAM (the Autonomous National University of Mexico) and the Mineros (Miners) Union Hall. This was the first major international gathering of workers' rights advocates in Mexico since the International Tribunal on Trade Union Freedom of Association in May 2012.
The National Lawyers Guild was represented by Labor and Employment Committee Chair Dean Hubbard. CALL-ALAL was represented by David Brown, former Executive Director of the Canadian Nurses Union. Also present were the entire leadership of ALAL (President Luiz Ramirez of Argentina, Secretary General Lidia Guevara of Cuba,* Vice President Luiz Salvador of Brazil, as well as the Executive Committee) and ANAD (Leader Oscar Alzaga, attorney for the Steelworkers-allied Mineros and previously many other independent unions, as well as the three women who co-founded ALAL, including María Estela Rios and María Luisa Campos ), along with long-time Guild allies and friends such as Hector de la Cueva , the Executive Director of CILAS (the NGO that organized the International Tribunals), and Patricia Juan Piñeda, lawyer extraordinaire for independent unions in Mexico. In addition, luminaries such as Argentinean Appellate Judge Roberto Pompa (also a member of the Latin American Labor Judges Executive Board), author and lawyer for unions and "desaparecidos" Jaime Nuguer (Argentina), whose brother was kidnapped by soldiers during the "dirty war," and Maximiliano Garcéz (labor law advisor to Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Senate and President) actively participated in the event.
The primary thematic focus of the event was ALAL's Carta Socio-Laboral (Latin American Labor-Social Charter) as an instrument for establishing a set of workers' rights applicable to all workers in the Americas. ALAL officers offered the carta as a basis for a counter-narrative to the global power of neoliberal capital to undermine workers' human rights through both violence and the "soft power" trinity of what the Latin Americans call flexibilization (irregular work hours, frequent layoffs, and deskilling of work), tercerization (subcontracting and outsourcing) and precarization (contingent work). Luiz Ramirez articulated the vision of establishing the carta as an enforceable treaty to be signed by the governments of the region, as a step towards the long-held dream of Latin American integration on egalitarian terms.
The Mexican lawyers and trade unionists expressed to a person that the crisis for independent unions in their country has only deepened in the three years since the International Tribunal issued its last and most detailed investigative report and condemnation of the systematic attacks on workers' Freedom of Association there. ANAD co-founder María Estela Rios, not untypically, expressed to Dean Hubbard that Mexico is in a state of war, begun by Felipe Calderón of PAN when he was elected in 2006 and now led by Enrique Peña Nieto of the resurrected PRI, using the drug cartels as the pretext to unleash the army and police on workers organizing independent unions, independent journalists, women, students, and indigenous people. 85,000 have been killed and 22,000 declared missing in this war over the last 9 years. PRI has overseen the dismantling of the public ownership of the country's oil resources, required by the Constitution, via the sale of a controlling stake in state oil giant PEMEX to foreign oil companies, including Shell. Under public ownership, 40% of PEMEX's resources went to social programs. The political corruption and violence is not limited to PRI and PAN; for example, the police kidnapping and "disappearance" of 43 protesting students in Guerrero in 2014 was carried out under a PRD Governor.
The single bright spot is that brave workers and advocates continue to resist, even with little to no hope in the near future of shifting national power in favor of the progressive movement. Mineros Union President Napoleon Gomez Urrutia remains in exile in Canada, under the protection of the Steelworkers. SME, the electric utility workers' union that was crushed by the army, has formed a left political grouping called OPT (Workers' and Peoples' Organization), in the aftermath of the discrediting and downfall of the Lopez Obrador-led PRD. However, the UNT, an important federation of independent unions, has not joined this grouping.
Dean used his presentation on labor and the climate crisis to argue for the necessity of progressive forces, while continuing to work on our core issues, to prioritize identifying and strategically working at the intersections of our respective movements, as none of us has the power to prevail alone. He also argued for the primacy of youth leadership, with respectful mentoring by their grey haired progenitors.
An important concrete proposal for a project of collaboration between ANAD, the NLG and CALL emerged from the meeting. ANAD co-founder Rios conceived and facilitated a proposal by ANAD's Monterrey-based representative Ernesto Villareal to resurrect the tripartite collaboration reflected in past work of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras to investigate, publicize and prevent abuses of workers in the borderlands. Ernesto will be sending a proposal for a meeting in San Antonio, Texas to re-launch this project to David Brown and Dean Hubbard, who will vet it with their respective organizations.
ALAL officers reminded the NLG and CALL reps of the proposal that we translate the full Carta (150 pages) into English. David and Dean promised to move this proposal within our organizations. David and Dean discussed two possibilities-that we raise the funds to hire a single professional translator, or recruit several volunteers to translate one chapter each.
ALAL Steering Committee member Guillermo Ferriol (Cuba) informed attendees of the collaboration agreement that was proposed by ALAL to the NLG and CALL at the NLG Convention in Oakland, which the NLG and CALL are currently considering. Our mutual goal is to finalize and sign this agreement at the ALAL/UNJC/NLG international conference in Havana in March.
*ALAL held its officer elections on Sunday, November 8th: Guillermo Ferriol was elected Secretary General. The other officers remained the same.
Among the resolutions agreed to by the body at the close of the plenary on Saturday November 7 was one proposed by Dean, calling on the government of the United States to end the illegal blockade of Cuba, which the Obama Administration continues to enforce despite the announced moves towards normalization.
In lesser matters, independent oil worker union activist Gala Barraza thanked Dean and the Guild for our intervention with the UN against anti-worker activities by Mexican oil monopoly PEMEX. Pati Juan Piñeda sought and received information from Dean about the Alien Tort Statute for possible use in a case on behalf of a union client in Mexico.