In a rally outside the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa today, Unifor members, including two busloads of striking workers from the CAMI Ingersoll plant, expressed their solidarity with workers in Mexico that NAFTA has failed.
“When the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, we were told that it would lift up wages and bring Mexican workers out of poverty and that hasn’t happened,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.
The rally and march, which attracted about 150 Unifor members and allies, began with a moment of silence and an announcement that the union will donate $150,000 to the Mexican Red Cross to help with earthquake relief.
“We want to show our support, through this tragic time and to help them build a more prosperous future,” Dias said.
Unifor has played an active role in the renegotiation of NAFTA, calling for the agreement to put the needs of workers and their families first. Dias has attended each round of the talks as a member of the stakeholders group offering advice to Canadian negotiators.
Unifor Local 88 President Dan Borthwick, whose members at the CAMI auto plant are on strike seeking commitments that their work will not be moved to Mexico, brought two busloads of members to the rally. NAFTA has failed to lift Mexican workers out of poverty, as was promised.
“Our fight is not with the workers in any country, including the United States and Mexico,” Borthwick said. “Our fight is with the corporations and the governments that use NAFTA - a corporate trade agreement - as a tool for corporate greed and exploitation.”
In negotiations for a renewed collective agreement, Local 88 is seeking a commitment from General Motors to designate CAMI as the lead producer of the Equinox. The plant now only produces the Equinox, after the Terrain was moved to Mexico in July. The Equinox is also manufactured in Mexico.
Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President, was MC for the event, and led the crowd in chants expressing solidarity with Mexican workers.
“Workers’ rights don't stop at the border,” Fortier said.
During the rally, Dias said that while Canadian workers are able to live up to Henry Ford’s motto that workers should be able to buy the vehicles they make, the best a Mexican auto worker can do is buy the wheels and a steering wheel.
“We need to work with the workers in Mexico to raise the standard of living for all,” Dias said.
Messages of solidarity were also extended from workers in the U.S. and Mexico.
“When we say working conditions are getting worse, that‘s a problem across the continent,” said Celeste Drake, a representative of the AFL-CIO in Ottawa for the NAFTA talks.
Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Bob Orr, who was in Mexico to meet with workers there just before the earthquake, read a statement from Mexican unions thanking Unifor for its earthquake donation and saying they worry a new NAFTA will be even worse unless labour in all three countries stand together.
“We fight to prevent NAFTA from passing without guaranteeing decent employment conditions, as well as respecting the fundamental rights of workers, and the right to sustainable development in each nation,” Orr said, reading from the statement.
The statement was signed by the Workers’ National Union, the Union of Mexican Republic Operators, the Union of National Autonomous University Workers, the Workers of the New Central and the Union of Mexican Electricians.
Peter Knowlton, President United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, said Unifor has led the fight for a better NAFTA.
“Unifor is changing the labour movement, not just in Canada, but the U.S. too,“ he said.