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(en) US, WSA Louisville report-back

From Victor Chernov <wsany@hotmail.com>
Date Sun, 20 Mar 2005 07:17:57 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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Workers Solidarity Alliance members from NYC and Atlanta attended the Our
World, Our Rights Conference on Global Justice in Louisville on Friday,
March 11, the day before the Taco Bell victory rally. The conference,
which was sponsored by University of Louisville Students for Peace and
Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Student/Farmworker
Alliance, was well attended (about 300 by my rough count) and well
organized, with many opportunities for informal as well as organized
discussion. Particular complements go to the members of Seeds of Peace
who worked their tails off to provide excellent meals for the attendees.
The proceedings were almost entirely bilingual English and Spanish and
translation was readily available.

The breakout panel that we participated in was New Worker Organizing
Models (M. from NJ was WSA presenter), and there were about 80 people there.
The other groups presenting were Centro Campesino (Minnesota), the Coalition
of Immokalee Workers, Landless Workers Movement (Brazil), Make The Road by
Walking (Brooklyn), Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas
(CITA--Independent Agricultural Workers Center-Albany, NY), Mississippi
Workers Center and United Workers Association (Baltimore). Each group
started with a short (2 minute) presentation, then questions between the
panelists and then open discussion. The discussion was lively and
intelligent and I was struck with the variety and types of independent
worker organizing that is going on out there. One of the groups
participating from the audience was the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates
of Los Angeles, and we had some interesting discussion with them after the
panel comparing the garment industries (their main focus of activity) in LA
and NYC.

After the panel, there was a continuation discussion/focus group that was
comparing traditional worker organizing forms (trade unions) and alternative
organizing forms (workers centers, independent unions) and how the global
economy was impacting on what organizing worked best. The discussion was
led by members of the Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign (a
coalition of over 60 groups, including CIW) , and their study arm, the
University of the Poor/School of Labor. It was a worthwhile
discussion, and one theme that recurred was the need for independent worker
groups to continue their dialogue and exchange of ideas and information.
What also came out of the discussion was a clear rejection of the
hierarchical trade unions as being unresponsive to the needs of poor workers
in the service, agricultural and low-wage manufacturing sectors. The
issue of how to bring the direct democratic spirit and militant vibrancy of
alternative worker organizing into traditional trade union settings came up
as well. Many questions, needless to say, remained open, but I think that
all who participated came away feeling the event was worthwhile.

During the closing plenary there was a 1/2 hour breakout which we attended
for workers, which was primarily a discussion among the 30 or so Immokalee
workers who were there about what they learned from the Taco Bell struggle.
Themes that were sounded were that perseverance in the face of obstacles
was key, that the use of art and culture in the struggle made it both more
lively and more successful, that unity and solidarity were essential. The
farmworkers were eloquent in a very plain-spoken sort of way and it was
important for me to hear them speak about what the struggle had meant to
them. One thing that came out of the conference and the rally that
followed was the need to extend the struggle to other parts of the
produce/agricultural industry including the retail sector. One theme that
I found encouraging throughout the 2 days is that the CIW always referred
to the other groups who were there as allies and not merely supporters.
That spirit of partnership to us is critical to moving this dialogue and the
struggle itself to a next phase.

The conference ended with a big dinner with guest speaker Anne Braden, a 50
year veteran of the civil and worker rights movement in the South, and a
cultural event (although frankly I was too tired after having driven
through the night before to make it that far).

With the announcement of the settlement with Taco Bell earlier in the week,
the rally on Saturday, March 12 went from a solidarity rally to a victory
rally. The venue was changed from the Yum Brands corporate headquarters
to the Presbyterian Center in downtown Louisville (the Presbyterian Church was
a major supporter of the CIW and it appears helped broker the settlement
with Yum Brands). There were about 400 (by my estimate) people there at
the outset of the rally, including the folks from Make The Road and Jobs With
Justice who came down by bus on Friday night. The presentation of the
CIW members there was very stirring, and there was a chance for each of the
allies of the struggle to give a short greeting to the crowd (M. spoke
for WSA), which I thought was a really important gesture of respect and
solidarity. There was an excellent street theatre piece about the
history of the struggle with some fine puppets (and much respect to WSA
member D. and the others for working their rear-ends off late into the
night to make this happen). Unfortunately (to my thinking) the rally went
on a bit long and the crowd tailed off significantly toward the end.

The event, overall, was well worth the many hours of driving, and left us
inspired to continue the dialogue and developing greater solidarity with
independent worker organizing efforts and groups seeking to move forward
with alternative models for worker organizing.

Solidarity and best wishes,

Steve R.
for Workers Solidarity Alliance NY-NJ Area Group

339 Lafayette Street - Room 202
New York, New York 10012

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