In the early spring, activists across the nation started preparing for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride that began on Sept. 23 and peaks in New York City on Oct. 4. The powerful nationwide coalition they built is a natural incubator for an even more powerful international coalition against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Our wealthy class enemies are gathering Nov. 19-23 in Miami for their FTAA Ministerial meeting. Their World Trade Organization suffered a big setback in Cancun, Mexico, just a few days before the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride buses set off. The eyes of the world will thus focus on the Miami FTAA meetings as a test of the viability of corporate “globalization” (gobble-ization) schemes. A big turnout at the scheduled protests in Miami and a worldwide plethora of supporting demonstrations will go far toward setting back the transnational corporations’ plans.
Activists knew that FTAA would follow closely after the Freedom Ride. They built Freedom Ride coalitions with FTAA in mind. The connection between these two important causes goes far beyond their closeness on the calendar.
Gobble-ization agreements such as NAFTA and the proposed FTAA actually cause the immigration problems being experienced in the industrialized world. Africans and Middle Easterners flock to England and the rest of Europe for the same reason that Central and South Americans pour into the United States: economic conditions at home are horrible and getting worse as big corporations from the industrialized countries extend their reach and the intensity of their exploitation.
“Trade” agreements like NAFTA have lowered living standards on both sides of every border. The secret agreements actually benefit no one except the transnational corporations and the petty bureaucrats from every nation who receive bribes for their signatures.
Another close relationship between the FTAA fight and the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is that the same people are involved. Many unions came late to the immigrants’ rights movement, but they are making up for lost time. The Hotel and Restaurant Employees union started the Freedom Ride, and they were quickly joined by far-thinking leaders of the Needle and Textile workers (UNITE!), Food and Commercial Workers, Service Employees, Laborers, and United Farm Workers unions. AFL-CIO leaders pushed the Freedom Ride mightily. President John Sweeney, Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka joined immigrants on the picket line.
Civil rights and community organizations have long fought for immigrants’ rights, and they eagerly embraced the unions’ Freedom Ride initiative. America’s powerful environmental movement was less involved, but they have been working with the labor movement since the Seattle demonstrations against WTO in 1999.
A third important connection between the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride and the fight against FTAA grows from the immigrants themselves, who are throwing themselves into the Freedom Ride rallies at every stop. Freedom Ride organizers were careful to include every immigrant, “legal” or undocumented, from every part of the globe. These immigrant activists are the most internationalist of all Americans. They understand the role of transnational corporations in destroying the world’s economy just as they understand the humiliation and exploitation of everyday work.
Hail to the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride rally in New York! On to the FTAA protest in Miami next month!
Jim Lane is a World correspondent and labor activist from North Texas. He can be reached ator via the web site tx.cpusa.org