Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Costa Rican union leader, others tour U.S., with stops in Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit

La Presna

By Arooj Ashraf, LaPrensa Newspaper

“I just have one question: ‘How can the richest country in the world; that spends $500 million dollars a day in two wars to end lives, they do not have a right to take, claim it cannot afford to provide healthcare for its own people?” asked Ronal Quesada Zamora, a member of Public Health Workers Union (UNDECA).

He addressed 50 union members at the United Auto Workers UAW Local 1005, Parma OH, and shared the struggles and triumphs of Union workers in his native Costa Rica. Zamora was only one of four union leaders granted permission to enter the U.S. and tour the nation, meeting with union groups in 16 cities including Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit.

Other Latin American union leaders on the tour included: Gilda Chacón Bravo of Cuba (National Labor Federation, or CTC, and America’s Representative to the World Federation of Trade Unions) and Efrain Valentín Yepez Concha of Perú (National Labor Federation, or CGTP).

Tito Boneta, president of UAW Local 1005, said the chapter is active in local struggles of job and wage equality. He said the young generation of workers must understand unions play an important role in government as well as corporations. He said hosting Zamora was ‘right up his alley’.

Martha Grevatt, of the UAW Local 1222, expressed frustration that the State Department refused to grant visas, or hindered the invited speakers from coming and sharing ways and ideas. The union penned a letter of protest addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Our government does not want us to know about labor unions from other countries,” she said, adding solidarity among unions is essential at a time when wages are being reduced, benefits revoked and jobs eliminated.

Zamora emphasized that Costa Rica’s universal healthcare, that also covers Nicaraguan neighbors and visitors, was a struggle that workers fought for through prolonged strikes.

Betty Klein of Job and Justice Labor Faith and Community Organization, said U.S. unions also need to stand together and strike for such causes; “It is the only way our Congressional leaders are going to listen to us.”

Herald Wilson, UAW 420, emphasized the importance of unity and letting each elected representative know what the masses want. “Let’s pray by the time we leave here we have healthcare reform, or else let each member that voted no, know that we do not need to vote for them,” said Wilson. He added the average person that desperately needs healthcare benefits cannot afford to lobby in Washington, D.C.

“To gamble on healthcare is to gamble on lives of people, it is to demean human beings as merchandise,” said Zamora; adding it is a right that should be extended to all workers including those who are undocumented.

He said solidarity among Latin American unions is spreading across borders and strengthening the region, because counties pool their assets. He pointed to Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA).

ALBA was led by President Hugo Chávez, of Venezuela, as an alternative to Free Trade Area of the Americas. It aims to improve social welfare, economics, and political integration among member Latin American countries. ALBA is also seeking to introduce a regional currency, similar to the Euro.

Zamora said capitalism and the drive to maximize profits has depleted Costa Rica of its natural resources, over-worked its labor. In return, Zamora said, his nation has been left with pollution, deteriorating conditions. Referencing the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Zamora said it is unacceptable that only 20 nations decide the environmental policy for the entire world, when they-the developed nations- have contributed most to the current ecological and energy crisis.

On March 22, 2010, the tour stopped at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in Toledo. According to FLOC’s Beatriz Maya, “This exchange of stories, ideas, and working class solidarity between workers of the Américas is very much needed in today’s Global economy.”

The tour continues to San Diego CA at Teamster’s Union Hall, on March 26, 2010.

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