TIJUANA, Mexico - The 8th U.S./Cuba/Mexico Latin American Labor Conference took place in Tijuana, Baja California, within sight of the U.S. border, December 2-4, with the entire event live streamed over the Internet.
Some 80 participants attended from the U.S., Mexico, Cuba, Brazil and Uruguay.
It was preceded by a three-day Worker's School for some 26 intercontinental labor activists, taught by Heriberto González del Valle, a youthful professor at the Lázaro Peña National School for Union Cadres in Havana, Cuba.
Conferees took note of the accelerating trend, in recent years, of economic integration in Latin America.
For U.S. attendees the conference offered a rare opportunity to interact with Cuban counterparts.
The opening panel featured Dr. Raymundo Navarro Fernández, member of the Secretariat of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, who spoke on the effect of the global economic crisis in his country.
He discussed some of the tough problems Cuba must deal with and how those have necessitated some changes in the country's labor and social policies,
Two factors must always be kept in mind, he said: the devastating impact of the U.S. blockade, and the annual necessity to budget for inevitable hurricane damage. A third factor today, he said, is the shift in global market prices: Nickel and sugar, two of Cuba's vital exports, are down, while imported oil and food are up.
He also discussed how social progress can sometimes lead to new problems that have to be addressed. For Cuba, as elsewhere, he noted, the emancipation of women hasw resulted in smaller families. In addition, Cuba's excellent healthcare system has created life expectancies on a par with the world's most advanced countries.
With a smaller and aging population, and over 50 percent of all workers in the service sector, there are now fewer workers, only 10 percent, actually producing the goods necessary for an acceptable standard of living for the other 90 percent of the population.
Privately tilled land will produce greater yield, and there are now some 181 officially recognized professions which Cubans can practice in the private sector. The country has to balance the need to deal with economic realities with its aim of maintaining its commitment to socialism at home and solidarity with struggling workers and their allies abroad.
With some 8 million affiliated members, the Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil is but one of six trade union councils in South America's economic powerhouse, Brazil. The Tijuana conference also heard from João Batista, an officer of the CTB and of the Encuentro Sindical Nuestra América.
In order to be understood by his audience, he spoke in a charmingly spontaneous mash-up he called "Portuñol."
Some 40 million Brazilian workers in the six labor federations are working toward a common program of action, he reported. Batista insisted that the crisis of global capitalism offers no solutions within the capitalist framework.
Globally, the system would need to create 80 million jobs just to return to the status quo ante, and that is not happening. The strategy of capitalism worldwide, he said, is to dismantle working people's standard of living, an approach that has inevitably brought about the most meaningful resistance seen for many decades.
For those of us in the U.S., it was gratifying to hear Batista confirm that the Occupy movement has brilliantly shown the world that "U.S. imperialism" also affects the 99 percent at home. Latin American growth rates in the last decade are directly tied to greater autonomy from U.S. banks and financial institutions.
A UAW member from Detroit, Martha Grevatt, spoke movingly about the U.S. domestic crisis, citing her hometown as "the poster child for a sick capitalist society that puts profit before human needs."
Other presenters, including the Cananea miners' strike in Mexico and the Mexican electricians union, both now under heavy attack, filled out the program. Cuba's Gilda Chacón, represented the CTC and the World Federation of Trade Unions.
At break times between sessions, attendees could watch a live feed from the founding congress in Caracas of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, an alternative to the Organization of American States. For many, the highpoint was watching presiding officer Hugo Chávez of Venezuela recite the titles of the many resolutions on a variety of political and social issues adopted at the congress. With a smack of his gavel, after each one he called out, "Aprobado." Approved!
What impressed many at the conference was what they saw as the depth of commitment among participants to developing creative, flexible, and humane approaches to socialist development.