Sunday, May 15, 2016


A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border - can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border.  Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common. 

What's more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources. 

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they've made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts - this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plásticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union. Lic. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he declare which union he's voting for, as company officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, a representative of the independent union. The maquiladora organizing drive at Plásticos Bajacal in 1993 first highlighted for U.S. unions the reality of public union representation elections and the lack of the secret ballot. The San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers raised enough money to pay lost time for fired workers, so they could continue organizing the factory.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a "beauty contest" at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.

LÁZARO CÁRDENAS, MICHOACÁN, MEXICO - 1995 - As the Mexican government moved to privatize the ports along the Pacific coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union sent a delegation to talk with Mexican dockworkers and their union.  In Lázaro Cárdenas workers had a long history of insurgent unionism in the Sicartsa steel mill. Some later came to Los Angeles, where they organized among immigrant workers there. In the port, workers tried to preserve their contract and wages, and U.S. dockworkers offered to support them.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1997 - Workers vote for an independent union in the first union election at Han Young, an auto parts manufacturing company Workers are voting by open ballot in the office of the state labor board. Surrounding them are Benedicto Martinez, general secretary of the Authentic Workers Front, and activists from the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, including videographer Fred Lonidier.

TORREÓN, COAHUILA, MEXICO - 2002 - When the wave of murders of young women began in Ciudad Juárez, activists on both sides of the border organized demonstrations to make the crisis a public political issue. In Torreón, one organization of the mothers of disappeared women, "Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a la Casa," organized a march with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. Fermina, a mother of one of the women murdered and disappeared in Juárez, marched with other mothers to call on Mexican authorities to investigate the cases.

MATAMOROS, COAHUILA, MEXICO - 2006 - Supporters of APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca -- the Popular Assembly of Oaxacan People) demonstrated at the US-Mexico border crossing in Matamoros during the teachers' strike and subsequent insurrection in Oaxaca. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz and demanded that the Mexican government withdraw federal forces from that state. Martha Ojeda, director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, was an organizer of the demonstration, and Rosemary Hennesey, a teacher at Rice University, carried a sign announcing support for the teachers by the Kansas City Cross Border Network.

NUEVO LAREDO, TAMAULIPAS, MEXICO - 2009 - The settlement of Blanca Navidad, on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo, just south of the U.S. border. Blanca Navidad was created by workers looking for land to build a place to live. It is part of a network of radical communities on the border, and throughout Mexico, sympathetic with the Zapatista movement. Most residents work in the maquiladoras. When the community came under attack by state authorities, who threatened to bulldoze their homes, activists came from Texas to defend it.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2010 - A striking teacher from Michoacán demonstrates on the Reforma, in front of a line of police. Teachers came from states where the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), the leftwing organization within the Mexican teachers' union, leads the teachers' organization. They protested proposals by the Mexican government to reform the educational system by introducing standardized testing and removing job protections for teachers. U.S. and Canadian teachers have supported their efforts to defeat these proposals, which have come from U.S. AID and private foundations promoting corporate education reform. Together they've organized a TriNational Coalition to Defend Public Education.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2011 - Trade union activists and other popular organizations protest in Mexico City's main square, the Zócalo, on the day Mexican President Felipe Calderón gave his annual speech about the state of the country. The protest, called the Day of the Indignant, was organized by unions including the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) because the Mexican government fired 44,000 electrical workers and dissolved the state-owned company they worked for, in an effort to smash their union.  Protestors also demanded jobs, labor rights, and an end to the repression of political dissidents. SME members had been camped out in the square, and several mounted a months-long hunger strike. Many U.S. activists came to the protest and visited the encampment during the hunger strike.

MEXICO CITY, DF, MEXICO - 2014 - Members of the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE) and the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) marched with U.S. and Canadian labor activists to Mexico City's main square, the Zócalo, on the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The marchers protested the educational, economic, and political reforms passed over the last year by the Mexican government and the ruling Party of the Institutionalized Revolution. These reforms set the stage for the privatization of the oil and electrical industry, the implementation of corporate education reform and social benefit policies, and changes to the country's labor law. Activists also protested the negotiation of a new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 2015 - Striking farm workers from the San Quintin Valley marched to the U.S.-Mexico border to draw attention to the fact that the tomatoes and strawberries they pick are exported to the U.S.  The workers are almost all indigenous Mixtec and Triqui migrants from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. At the border they were met by delegations of activists, who rallied on the other side in support.

BURLINGTON, WA - 2015 - Farm workers and their supporters march to the office of Sakuma Farms, a large berry grower, where they went on strike in 2013.  The workers are demanding that the company bargain a contract with their union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. They organized a boycott of Driscoll's, the giant berry distributor, accusing it of being responsible for the violation of their labor rights at Sakuma, since the company buys all the Sakuma blueberries the workers pick. The workers are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca.. They also demonstrated in support of the indigenous Oaxacan farm workers in Baja California, who were on strike against growers who also distribute their berries through Driscoll's.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 2015 - Two students of the Ayotzinapa teachers training school in Guerrero, Mexico, and the parents of two others, marched with supporters in San Francisco to protest the disappearance of 43 students from the school in September 2014, and the murder by the Mexican police of three others. The four individuals were part of three caravans traveling simultaneously through U.S. cities to publicize the cases.

Photographs of Longshoremen by Frank Silva
Photographs of Farm and Recycling Workers by David Bacon

Photocentral Gallery
1099 E St.
Hayward, CA
6/4 to 8/6/16
Reception:  Saturday, June 4, 2-5PM

Homelessness and the struggle for housing
in urban and rural California
Photographs by David Bacon

Asian Resource Gallery
317 Ninth St at Harrison
Oakland, CA
May - June, 2016
Reception: Tuesday, May 24, 6PM

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