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Workers Voice Fears, Frustrations during Labor Forum

November 20, 2003

By Arnie Alpert
Coordinator, AFSC New Hampshire Program

“Our mission, very simply, is either to radically rewrite the Bush Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement—or stop it cold,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told thousands of union members at the beginning of an international workers forum at the Gusman Theater in Miami Wednesday.

Workers at the event denounced the FTAA, the disappearance of good manufacturing jobs, and the privatization of services. They came from Nicaragua, Mexico, and Colombia, among other nations, and the U.S. contingent included Latin American and Haitian immigrants.

Dave Bevard, of Galesburg, Illinois, described how 1,600 workers will lose jobs when Maytag ships their jobs to Reynosa, Mexico, where the company has built two shiny new factories.

Meanwhile, workers in Reynosa risk getting fired when they stand up for their rights, said Francisca Acuña Hernández, a former employee at a Delphi factory in Reynosa and a member of the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (an AFSC partner organization). Acuña Hernandez likened work in the foreign-owned assembly factories to slavery, and said the FTAA would only make conditions worse.

Other speakers at the forum included a nurse from Nicaragua, steelworkers from the United States and Brazil, a Haitian immigrant nurse’s aide living in Florida, and a laid-off textile worker from North Carolina.

Speaking later at a forum sponsored by the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA), Sweeney said the FTAA raises moral issues. Praising the work of the HSA, he said it is important to not just be against the FTAA, but also to build something better to “protect workers from profit-hungry multinationals and repressive governments.”

Outside the HSA meeting, Sweeney noted the presence of service and public sector unions, like AFSCME and SWIU, who are joining the industrial unions in their understanding of the potentially devastating effects of FTAA. He also said that earlier in the day he had visited the “Welcome Center,” where mostly young activists were preparing for “direct action” protests Thursday.

Sweeney praised the enthusiasm of the young protesters, and said their actions would complement the tens of thousands of union members expected to join Thursday’s permitted march.

“I worry for the world when I think we’re still trying to export the deregulation, privatization, and austerity policies that are threatening perhaps the most dynamic and competitive economy and the largest middle class ever created,” Sweeney said.

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