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WEF Update: AFL-CIO Forum Focuses on Workers of the World

Several hundred trade unionists came out to hear about working conditions around the world at the AFL-CIO sponsored Working Families Economic Forum.
Labor came out in full force, packing Gould Hall for the Working Families Economic Forum, the AFL-CIO sponsored alternative to the corporate driven World Economic Forum. While the talk featured union bigwigs like President John Sweeney, the focus was a roundtable discussion among a diverse group of US and international workers. The participants, coming from places near and far, from NYC to China and Guatemala, spoke to a full house about working conditions in their homes.

Sofia Sazo of Guatemala told the audience of the horrible situation for garment workers in the Maquilas where women making products for companies such as the GAP endure forced overtime and low wages.

Agnes Wong of New York City could relate to Sofia. As a UNITE! activist and a sewing machine operator for 20 years, she's seen plenty of sweatshops right here in the Big Apple.

Santiago Perez Meza of Mexico told an informative tale about why just having a union isn't always enough - when it's run by the company. His was an inspiring story of how he and fellow Nike contract workers suceeded in forming an independent union.

Han Dongfang of China proved to the audience its the same all over-- from South America to Asia workers are exploited. A long time advocate for worker's rights, Han was imprisoned for his activities in Tiannemin Square. Today, he hosts a news and call-in program on Radio Free Asia.

Russell Sheffler's situation is less encouraging. He has his union, the United Steel Workers of America, but his job in Cleveland, Ohio is about to disappear. On the bright side, learning about the international aspects of the steel industry brought him to the Battle in Seattle, which gave him a new perspective on the perils of unchecked globalization.

Joesph Robinson of New Jersey is in the same boat. The Ford Motor Co. has announced the upcoming closure of his plant. This, he says, will devastate not only the workers and their families but his entire hometown of Edison. Currently, the community is petitioning Ford to keep the plant open.

Rogelio Sales of New York City has already lost his job. A former bartender at the Metropolitan Opera House, he says his termination was the result of union organizing. His bosses claim they fired him because of "an error" -- after 10 years of service without a raise.

The Working Families Economic Forum was topped off by a speech from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, which could be seen as an alternative state of the union address. Whereas Bush says the country has never been more united, Sweeney says there is a storm brewing. And he wasn't afraid to mention the E word. Sweeney compared the practices of Enron to those of the WEF corporate members. What Enron did, he said, "is not an abberation but an ideology." -- and that "Enron Economics" are a microcosm of what institutions like the IMF do on a larger scale. Organized labor feels that globalization doesn't work for working families, so they're determined stop it. "We are here," said Sweeney, "to deepen and strengthen the solidarity born in Seattle."

The Forum adjourned at 4:30 pm so that the crowd and others who didn't fit in the hall could participate in an AFL-CIO organized rally in front of the GAP at 54th and 5th Avenue.




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