DENVER, Colo. – While leaders of the International Chamber of Commerce and other advocates touted the benefits of capitalist globalization here May 6, 500 demonstrators made a counterpoint: not everyone benefits as businesses rack up huge profits on the backs of workers when corporation move factories to less-developed countries in order to avoid high wages or taxes.

Before the demonstration, the Denver Area Labor Federation held a press conference on Metro State campus. Panel participants included workers from El Salvador, Mexico and Colorado.

Ana Carmelina Contreras, a communications worker in San Salvador, tried three times to organize a union in her workplace. The company (CTE) fought this tooth and nail, so much so that she and her fellow workers were forced to sue the Labor Ministry itself for failure to recognize their right to organize.

The workers did win recognition, and Carmelina is now the only woman Executive Board member of the SUTTEL telecommunications union of El Salvador. But the fight for workplace justice isn’t over.

Carmelina said that due to employer harassment, only 3,200 workers remain of the original 7,100 who were employed before the labor organizing effort. She said pointedly to the crowd, ‘I want to express to you that we are still marginalized, yelled at and insulted every day on the job.’

Bruno Melendez from Coahila, Mexico, had similar experiences working for a maquiladora plant. He said, ‘They [the bosses] treat us like animals. But we are not asking for them to reach beyond the moon … just to respect our rights.’ Bruno and his fellow workers manufacture wire harnesses for the automotive industry, including GM, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Subaru and Harley Davidson.

Because of his labor activism, Bruno was recently injured when thugs hired by the ‘yellow’ company union tried to intimidate him. The company owns two plants; plant number one was entirely shut down when the workers tried to organize, and all the workers from that plant were fired on the spot.

When asked how he felt about being in Colorado for the ICC conference, Bruno responded, ‘Just for being here, my fellow workers in Mexico could suffer repercussions. But we must not give up. We are all God’s children and we deserve a livable wage, education for our kids, and enough food to eat.’

Mitch Ackerman, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105 in Denver, spoke of the need to organize globally, just as companies ‘are going international, the labor movement must be international too.’

The need for ‘cross-border’ solidarity was the general theme of the press conference, and the participants from Central America were visibly moved by the support of the American labor movement and its allies.

But the most stirring moment at the worker’s forum came when Maria Luz Panameno (also from El Salvador) responded to a question about why she continued to organize in the face of such hostile global forces. Maria declared, ‘Companies like to paint unions as the bogeyman, but really, let’s be honest here, unions are the mirror of truth.’

The author can be reachedat redflagdan@aol.com

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