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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011, 8:31 pm

Los Mineros and Steelworkers ‘Enhance’ Solidarity, Strategic Alliance

BY Mike Elk

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USW International President Leo Gerard with members of Los Mineros at USW's convention in Las Vegas this month.   (Image courtesy USW)

Two unions move closer to first NAFTA-wide union at USW convention

In June 2010, the United Steelworkers (USW) and the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico (aka Los Mineros) formed a joint commission to work toward a “unified North American organization” spanning Mexico, the United States and Canada and the Caribbean. This summer, In These Times Contributing Editor Kari Lydersen reported on how the United Steelworkers (USW) and the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico (aka Los Mineros) were moving closer to some type of unification proposal.

For some time, the unions have worked closer together to take on employers that both unions' members work for. USW has even helped the exiled leader of Los Mineros, Napoleon Gomez, continue to lead the union by providing him with an office and logistical support in Canada.

Last week, at the USW convention in Las Vegas, the two unions signed an enhanced solidarity agreement (PDF link) that brings them even closer together. For the time being, the two unions will remain separate organizations with separate legal structures; however, they will take steps to begin working much more closely together than they have in the past. The agreement will establish worker councils to represent employees at "major common employers." These councils will work together “to facilitate exchange information, strategic cooperation, solidarity support, and organizing initiatives,” the union announced.

(In an interesting sidenote, Mineros leader Gomez could not travel to the United States for the convention because of visa restrictions; he did address the convention via video, though (see below). According to USW Public Affairs Director Gary Hubbard, Los Mineros leader Juan Ramirez was initially granted a visa to travel the United States, but was physically removed from a plane by Mexican authorities who claimed his visa was not valid for travel to the United States.)

In addition to the establishment of the joint USW-Los Mineros worker councils, the two unions will begin integrating and familiarizing their staffs with one another. A non-voting observer from Los Mineros will sit on the executive board of the Steelworkers, and vice-versa. Exchange programs between staff of the two unions will begin so that each union’s staff can familiarize itself with how the other unions staff workers.

Also, Spanish programs for Steelworkers staff that wish to learn the language will be established and English programs for Los Mineros staffers who wish to learn English will be established.

The deepening connections between the two unions are needed as USW tries to encourage an independent trade union movement in Mexico, where such unions are extraordinarily rare.

“We are directly affected everyday by the low-wage competition from Mexico. The reason that competition is low-wage is because Mexican government keeps wages low by busting unions,” says USW International Affairs Director Ben Davis told me last month.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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