NEW YORK – “The global economy does not work for working people and that is why we are here in New York to challenge Enron economics at home and abroad,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the hundreds of anti-globalization activists gathered at the kick-off protest event during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), where corporate and civic leaders gather to discuss the direction of global capitalism.

“We are here to strengthen and deepen the spirit and solidarity that were born in Seattle and changed the direction of the debate over globalization,” he said, referring to the massive protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999.

The AFL-CIO hosted a panel, “Working Families Economic Forum,” Jan. 31. Workers from different countries discussed the effects of globalization on their lives.

U.S. workers talked about their growing understanding of the role that corporate globalization plays in other countries while struggling to save their own jobs here at home.

Russell Sheffler, from the United Steelworkers of America Local 1157 in Cleveland, Ohio, is currently fighting the shutdown of LTV Steel, which threatens the livelihood and retirements of thousands of steelworkers.

“I think Seattle opened a lot of eyes in this country. These were people [from around the world] fighting for social change, for worker rights, environmental standards,” Sheffler said.

“Some of our corporate leaders would rather leave this country, go to a different country, exploit that work force because they don’t have to spend that extra money. I think it’s a shame and a crime. I think some of these CEOs should be in jail.”

Sofia Sazo worked in one of the largest apparel assembly plants in Guatemala that does contract work for the Gap. Forced overtime, physical abuse and inhuman treatment for the sake of meeting production goals was the daily routine. “They would search us and touch us all over at the beginning and end of every day. We worked 12-15 hours a day,” she said. “I am here today to help my fellow workers have dignified work. And to remember that all of us are human beings.”

Agnes Wong, a garment worker in New York City, where 20-30 percent work in sweatshops, said, “I think workers want work and fair pay any place in this world. No matter what country they don’t want sweat shops to be continued.”

Marcos Santiago Perez Meza from Adlixco, Mexico is a union leader at a company that makes shoes for Nike. He said, “The victories that the union have achieved are not ours alone but yours as well,” he said.

“It’s true that globalization affects us all, but it seems to affect some countries harder. It seems to put some people in more misery than others. We can see that the wealth is poorly distributed. There are many more poor people than rich people,” he said. “We ask that you remember that it is not important one’s race or color or nationality … if we unite forces to struggle we can achieve victory against globalization.”

Uniting forces is just what the AFL-CIO did by taking the forum participants into the streets to a Global Justice Rally where 1,000 anti-sweatshop activists rallied outside the flagship store of the Gap on Fifth Avenue.

“Right now the only voice being heard is theirs,” Edison Severino, business agent for Laborers’ International Union Local 78, said. “The best way to get our message out is to protest.”

Severino’s local of 3,000 have been working at Ground Zero where the need for peaceful solution to terrorism is often expressed as “You can not right a wrong with another wrong.”

Sweeney captured the mood there. He said, “It may take years of unceasing efforts, but … as Dr King taught us, that the moral arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

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