[imc-st.louis] The Mexican Labor Movement - A Force for Social Change?

Don Fitz fitzdon at aol.com
Fri Apr 2 06:40:43 PDT 2010

John Ross will be the featured speaker at the April 7 Black & Green Wed 

Black & Green Wednesday

FORUM: The Mexican Labor Movement - A Force for Social Change?

WHEN: 7 pm, Wednesday April 7, 2010

WHERE: Legacy Books and Café, 5249 Delmar (near Union)

A panel discussion will include:

* *John Ross*, author of /El Monstruo: Dread & Redemption in Mexico City/

* *Rita Mauchenheimer*, Interfaith Committee on Latin America

* *Harold Compere*, Concerned Haitians and Friends

* *Perry Molens*, former Plant Chairman, International Union of 
Electrical Workers

* *David May*, Hands Off Venezuela

* *Don Fitz*, Green Party of St. Louis [moderator]

2010 will mark the bicentennial of Mexico's war of liberation from Spain 
and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. As the country 
plunges into the most severe economic collapse since the Great 
Depression, President Felipe Calderon will spend billions of pesos to 
celebrate the twin centennials, a mistake dictator Porfirio Diaz made a 
century ago.

Keynote speaker John Ross will discuss Mexican labor, especially the 
dismissal of 42,000 members of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricista 
(Mexican Electrical Workers Union), the second oldest union in the 
country and the impending privatization of electricity. John Ross has 
written 10 books of fiction and non-fiction and regularly contributes to 
the /Progressive/, the /Nation/, /CounterPunch/ and the Mexican Left 
daily, /La Jornada/.

Panelists will relate conflicts in Mexico to other struggles in this 

Sponsored by Gateway Green Alliance and Universal African Peoples 
Organization. For more information call 314-727-8554 or visit:


Weekend Edition
April 2 - 4, 2010

  /Loose in Obamalandia/

  Frozen Heartland to Spring Thaw



As I deplaned the Southwest Shuttle from Denver wrapped in my blue 
igloo, a puffed up garment that doubles my skeletal girth, a sudden 
spasm of panic punched me in the gut. Had I slept through my stop and 
disembarked in Fargo, North Dakota instead? Minneapolis might just as 
well have been Fargo. The dead winter landscape lay frozen under 
week-old snowdrifts and the Twin Cities shivered in negative wind chill 
numbers beneath a leaden sky from which a cold hard rain would pelt down 
for a week. Fargo or Minneapolis? It didn’t much matter where I had 
landed - just don't toss me into the wood chipper.

On my first evening in this desolate region, I was invited to dialogue 
with the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network at a community center in 
St, Paul. About 15 transplanted Mexicans, many of them related by 
marriage or friendship, pulled together in a circle in the gymnasium 
while the kids romped in the other room. Each called out his or hers' 
"patria chica", their home state or region or town. I talked about 
Mexico down on the ground today in the cheerless winter of 2010, the 
100th anniversary of a distant revolution. How four out of every ten 
heads of households are out of work. 10,000 farmers and their families 
forced to abandon their milpas as millions of tons of NAFTA corn 
inundate the country. 19,000 dead in Felipe Calderon's disastrous 
attempt to beat down the drug cartels. Who will be next?

Those in the circle leaned forward on their folding chairs, bending into 
my words as if I was a messenger bringing bad news from home. One woman 
began to weep and another rose to comfort her.

Later, I pulled out my book, "El Monstruo - Dread & Redemption in Mexico 
City" to show them what I had written. Families who would probably not 
eat meat for a week if they bought one snapped up three Monsters and 
asked me to sign them for their children - Alejandra, Yesica, Jeni, 
Alfonso, Jonaton - so that they could learn about the country they had 
been forced to abandon, in their new language.

As the session wound down, Mariano (not his real name) invited the 
families to a Jewish Seder the next week at a progressive Minneapolis 
schul. Then they would get on the buses and head for Washington D.C., a 
150 hour round trip, to march for immigration reform on March 21st, the 
first day of spring. In the nooks and crannies of Obama's America, 
Mexicans were beginning to come out of four years of social hibernation 
to rally for immigration reform, not a hot button issue in this 
economically strewn landscape.

I hung up with my old camarada Tomas Johnson, one of the apostles of 
fair trade Zapatista coffee - similar dispensaries like Just Coffee in 
Madison and Higher Grounds in Michigan are sprinkled over the frigid 
Midwest. Café has played a diminished role in the slender Zapatista 
economy ever since 
a Tzotzil Indian cooperative, imploded when coffee prices soared - 
"coyotes", bottom-feeder speculators, started showing up on the members' 
doorsteps offering a few pesos more than the fair trade price.

Coffee is not an ideal resource upon which to build Zapatista autonomy - 
the price is set far away on commodity exchanges in London and New York 
and the product itself is destined for the jaded palettes of the 
connoisseur class in the cities of the north. Moreover, the coffee crop 
soaks up corn land and adds nothing to indigenous nutrition.

I marked my journey into my 73rd year at a house fiesta hosted by 
Tomas's steady squeeze, an audiologist who gifted me with a hearing aid 
so that I might be able to decipher that questions hurled at me from the 
small audiences I address. This time last year, I was being wheeled into 
a green, antiseptic operating room for a round of chemotherapy that 
would k.o. the tumor that had taken over my liver. This birthday is the 
real gift.

I entertained privileged white students at several universities during 
my stay in the Twin Cities, got hopelessly lost in a frigid wasteland 
trying to find a Lutheran college, told tall tales to a handful of Raza 
at the U. of Minn, and attended a showing of the Benny More bio-pic at a 
jam-packed local theater. Benny's scintillating calor radiating from the 
screen in waves of tropical heat juxtaposed oddly against the backdrop 
of the frozen north. Minneapolis-St Paul, with their new populations of 
color - Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Hmung, and Latinos - spice up 
this staid old state with exotic flavors. The music has changed: 
Reggaeton and Rancheros have replaced Spider John Koerner. I drink in 
the Albert Ayler-like contortions of a longhaired white boy at a jam 
session downstairs at the Clown Lounge.

Politics too are not as usual in this once-upon-a-time farmer-labor 
socialist paradise: Keith Ellison is the nation's first Muslim congress 
person and a middle-of-the-road Democrat comedian stands small in the 
shoes of Paul Wellstone. In the other corner, the pit viper Michelle 
Bachman spits her venom into the black lagoons of Obamalandia.


I'm back on the Big Dog - there are plenty of Mexicans here but no 
Mexican bus. On the jump over to Madison, I chat with a well-seasoned 
black man during a smoke break. He wants to know where I'm headed. I'm 
on a low-rent book tour, I explain, I move from city to city to sell my 
books. "I'm on a book tour myself," he laughs, "I get off where I want 
to and see if I like it or not. Hung up in Oswego for eight days but 
wasn't anything there for me…"

There is a down-at-the-heels traveling class - the evicted and 
foreclosed, laid off and uprooted - rolling around the underbelly of 
this damaged country with no fixed destination in mind, looking for a 
place to light, some place that feels like home.

Norm Stockwell, who keeps WORT-FM, the Voice of Madison's Voiceless, 
choogling, picks me up at the Greyhound depot, a furniture-less 
warehouse that resembles an immigrant detention center on the outskirts 
of town, and drives me over to the once-a-month Socialist Pot-luck but 
only scraps and few stained paper plates are left. A few hours earlier, 
the Madison P.D. visited the premises at the behest of the Wisconsin 
Socialist Party to remove a truculent member who had been abruptly 
expelled from its ranks, an astonishingly unpolitical resolution to a 
political dispute.

Madison is a city that doesn't leave much up to chance. Cops are ever at 
the ready to surveil radical meetings. One cannot post a hand-scrawled 
street sign protesting injustice without first obtaining a permit from 
the city. No household is allowed to house more than three chickens (no 
roosters), a law that necessitates chicken inspectors and has given 
birth to the Chicken Liberation Front.

The State Capitol, a knock-off the Nation's, is forever on the eyeline 
in Madison to remind one of the power of the State, I expect. The city 
is laid out on a grid so that all avenues spoke off from its monstrous 
dome - you have to move out of town to escape the radiation.

On Saturday, March 20th, a fistful of eternal protestors gathered at the 
foot of this granite beast to mark the start of the eighth year of the 
illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq and the decimation of millions 
of its people. As I trudged up State Street towards the Capitol, I 
flashed back to our feverish days as Human Shields in Baghdad in March 
2003 and thought about Sasha for whom the war never goes home, climbing 
the hills of Amman, delivering collateral repair from dawn to dusk to 
the million Iraqi refugees that forgotten war has exiled to the 
Jordanian capitol.

Our presidents invade so many foreign countries that they can't even 
remember the name of the last one they destroyed. Iraq has been erased 
from the North American mind screen in favor of Afghanistan, the Good 
War on Obama's agenda. Last month, Sasha and Mary's Collateral Repair 
Project took in just $50 in donations and CRP is in danger of folding. 
Send them some Yanqui shekels at (www.collateralrepairproject.org 

The annual commemoration of the Iraqi genocide draws smaller and smaller 
knots of humanity each year - 80 or so souls in Madison, 500 in San 
Francisco, not 10,000 in Washington. But the next day, as Baracko's Dems 
braved the racist jibes and hard fruit of the Teabaggers to enter the 
hallowed halls of Congress and narrowly vote up a phony health care 
"reform" bill that excludes immigrants from coverage and leaves the 
insurance congloms on top, 200,000 assembled outside to back up a 
proposed immigration reform that smells just as cheesy as Obamacare.

The rally proved to be the largest confluence of immigrant workers since 
that miraculous May 1st four years ago when millions came out of the 
shadows to shout "aqui estamos y no nos vamos." After that milestone 
moment, the immigrant rights movement was driven into the underground by 
Bush's ICE raids, Lou Dobbs, the Minutemen, real-time Mexico bashing 
with knives and bottles, Sheriff Joe's Arizona storm troopers, good ol' 
American-as-apple-pie racism, and the squeamish response of the official 
Latino leadership.

Now the indocumentados are taking their first baby steps back into the 
maelstrom of U.S. politics. Hundreds of grassroots groups like the 
Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network rented buses and drove off to 
Washington on the first day of spring and May 1st, the day on which 
immigrant workers first took to the streets of America 124 years ago in 
the battle for the eight hour day, now looms large on the calendar of 

Lester Dore is a graphic artist who operates under the influence of the 
king of the calaveras Jose Guadalupe Posada, the brothers Flores Magon, 
and the breathtaking explosion of popular art that detonated on the 
walls of Oaxaca during the 2006 uprising in that southern city. Lester 
whips up a pair of prints to celebrate the publication of "El Monstruo" 
and the life after death of Praxides G. Guerrero, the first anarchist to 
fall in the 100 year-old-this-year Mexican revolution. He serves up a 
big pot of Mole de Guajalote (Turkey) and invites us over. Three compas 
from Toluca in Mexico State share the sumptuous repast and the 
conversation quickly slides into Mexican. I learn the origin of the 
Chilango-ismo "teparocha" ('falling down drunk') but eschew the vino 
(the liver lives on.)


Driving the long route around Lake Superior into northern Michigan, the 
first tentative fingers of spring have brought a thawing to the land. 
The cherries that draw thousands of migrant workers to the Lower 
Peninsula are threatening to burst into bud. Gladys Munoz (her real 
name) directs Migrant Health Services for seven northern Michigan 
counties. She is based in Traverse City, a comfortable upper crust 
enclave - the billion buck mansions out on the peninsula are in the El 
Chapo Guzman category of ostentation (Michael Moore is rumored to be in 
residence in the environs ensconced in a lavish log cabin roughly the 
size of downtown Flint.)

Gladys knows where the bodies are buried. We ply the backroads to the 
labor camps hidden away down in the dank gullies. Guatemalans and 
Mexicans stream into this region each spring to do the stoop labor no 
gringo will do and pick the Maraschinos that top off the parfaits of the 
few upwardly mobile Americans left in the wake of the ravaged economy 
(Michigan unemployment clocks in around 15%.) Gladys tells me about 
three babies born without brains - she suspects pesticides. She speaks 
about a man from Chiapas who hung himself when he found out that he had 
contacted AIDS - a priest was called upon to perform an exorcism at the 
house where he expired. And a young Triqui Indian mother from Oaxaca 
picking cucumbers for a Vlasic pickle contractor who was stranded in a 
country that doesn't recognize her language after her husband went 
fishing for supper without a license and Fish & Game turned him over to 
the Migra.

We visit with Liliana (not her real name) from the drug war-riddled hot 
lands of Guerrero state. The patron is a kindly old farmer who has 
installed cable TV for the workers and we watch Barack Obama extol the 
wonders of his tarnished health care bill. Liliana's husband is picking 
oranges in Florida but will soon return to work the cherry. She says he 
doesn't much believe that an immigration reform measure will make it out 
of congress - "just some more blahblahblah…" But Liliana will march this 
May 1st if she can get a ride - undocumented workers are not permitted 
drivers' licenses in the state of Michigan.

Traverse City is good to me. I perform at a local organic coffee roaster 
for a roomful of social change agents. The next morning, Jody T. who 
gave up her life to drive this garrulous old gaffer around the bioregion 
steers the Viva into a trepidatious triangle. Cadillac was once the home 
base for Timothy McVeigh and the Michigan Militia, a recent flashback on 
the Ten O'clock News after a Christian posse purportedly targeted cops 
for blood sacrifice in preparation for the appearance of the 
Anti-Christ. To the west, small towns with Dutch-inflected names like 
Holland and Zeeland and Vreland dot the lakeside.

White clapboard outposts of the Dutch Reform Church, the architect of 
South African apartheid, their steeples spiring piously into the spring 
breeze, hug the highway. The Dutch Reform Church is the spiritual home 
of the Prinz family whose most celebrated spawn, Eric, is the go to guy 
at Blackwater. Further south we slide into Grand Rapids where the 
similarly affiliated DeVos dynasty's Amway, an all-American Ponzi 
scheme, holds sway. The Prinzes and the DeVoses (a good reason not to 
root for the Orlando Magic) finance such repositories of right-wing 
fanaticism as Focus On The Family and Operation Rescue. The largesse of 
Dick DeVos rivaled the Mormon Church in putting California's homophobic 
Proposition 8 over the top.

Grand Rapids, once the furniture capitol of the known universe and now 
the home of the Gerald Ford Museum of Presidential Imbeciles, is a good 
boxing town (Buster Mathis and Roger Mayweather have gyms here) and a 
swelling Latino population has changed the complexion of the city. 
Despite the downturn, Grand Rapids is trying to upgrade its downtown but 
the further one gets from the core of the city, the seedier things look.

Koinonia House is a sanctuary near the old demolished heart of Grand 
Rapids - in fact, it is the only structure left standing on its block. 
Established by disaffected seminarians like Jeff Smith in the early 
1980s when the U.S. waged war on Central America, K House became a 
station on the underground railroad built by the Sanctuary Movement. The 
first refugees were Guatemalan Indians fleeing the scorched earth 
genocide of Efrain Rios Montt. In recent years, K House has taken in 
Mexicans fleeing that "desgraciada pobreza" back home, like Carlos and 
Alynn (their real names) who have brought their remarkable art with them 
to El Norte.

Jeff kicks back and reminisces about the fates of former tenants. The 
big-bellied wood stove belches out waves of warmth on a chill late March 
morning. The big arms of the fluffy old lounger envelop a weary traveler 
and hold him close. K House remains a sanctuary deep in the heart of a 
wounded land.

Stay tuned. Chicago, St Louis, Jackson Mississippi - there is still a 
whole lot of traveling to do as the Monstruo tour moves eastwards.

*John Ross *continues to slog across Obama's America now in the second 
month of his monster book tour with "El Monstruo - Dread & Redemption In 
Mexico City 
("gritty and pulsating" - NY Post.) Consult at: johnross at igc.org 
<mailto:johnross at igc.org>


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