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May Day, May Day

May 2006

Migrante eschucha!
El FAT esta en su lucha!

(Migrants, hear us!
The FAT is with you in your struggle!)

This was one of the many slogans Maria and I heard throughout the march on May 1–Labor Day around the world save for notable exceptions like the U.S.–as we marched with members of Grassroots International’s partner, the Frente Autentico de Trabajo (FAT-Authentic Labor Front). This May 1 was historic in Mexico, not just the U.S. For the first time in nearly 40 years, independent unions like FAT and traditional unions affiliated to political parties had come together resoundingly rejecting neoliberal economic policies. And, together with the Otra Campagña (the “Other Campaign” for indigenous peoples’ rights, spearheaded by the Zapatistas), they were united in supporting the rights of immigrants in the U.S., a significant number of whom are of Mexican origin.

This massive response was evident throughout Mexico as workers, farmers, and indigenous peoples all mobilized to commemorate Labor Day and support the struggle of immigrants in the United States. The Dia sin Imigrantes (Day without Immigrants) in the U.S. was matched by the Dia sin Gringo (Day without the U.S. or without American goods) responding to the call for a boycott by U.S. immigrants’ rights activists. Many people wore white here too. Others designed floats or carried banners linking the rights of workers, farmers and indigenous peoples in Mexico with the rights of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Speaker after speaker at the rally invoked the common struggle on both sides of the border; and linked corporate-driven U.S. and Mexican neoliberal economic policies to be the cause for the majority of the problems Mexican farmers and workers are facing. Since 1994, when NAFTA (known locally as TLCAN-Tratado de Libre Comercio de America del Norte) was passed, Mexican workers have seen their wages fall dramatically, workers’ rights being assaulted and the costs of living skyrocket. Similarly, under NAFTA and the WTO, the dumping of corn (maize–the Mexican staple and the main crop of Mexican farmers and indigenous peoples) has devastated the countryside driving countless Mexican farmers and indigenous peoples off their lands into urban slums across Mexico and north to the United States.

Oaxaca, where Maria and I went after our meetings with FAT in Mexico City, is one of the economically poorest states in the south, with a very large indigenous population of Zapotecos, Mixtecos, Mazatecos, Chinantecos, Mixes and others. Almost as many Oaxacans live outside their home state as within, in other parts of Mexico or in the U.S., as a direct result of being displaced by neoliberal economic policies implemented by the Mexican government, pressured by the United States and international financial institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization among others.

What is singularly missing from most of the mainstream debate in the U.S.–the role of U.S. economic and foreign policies in causing the huge migrations north–is at the center of the debate here in Mexico. After oil, Mexico’s single largest source of revenue is remittances from Mexican workers in the U.S! What is clear to most people here is how the interests of U.S. and Mexican corporations and elites are bound together. What is equally clear is that the struggle for change has to be also one that brings together and binds Mexican and U.S. people.

During lunch, after the march, one of our Mexican comrades from the FAT observed that many South Americans view Mexico skeptically as the thoroughfare through which the United States seeks to steamroll its neoliberal agenda further south into Central and South America through NAFTA plus, the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Area), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the like. What was obvious to us on May 1, was that equally significantly for people in Central and South America, the Mexican *people* and the millions of immigrants marching in the U.S., in concert, is evidence of the great pushback north rejecting “free” trade, and neoliberal economic policies.

Mexico is key for those who are fighting for a progressive vision in this hemisphere, and globally–for resource rights, including the struggles for land and water, for food sovereignty and livelihood with dignity. And it is vital that the two strongest currents within Mexico, the movements of indigenous peoples and the movements of campesinos (small farmers) march together in this struggle.

For us at Grassroots, is is clear that along with continuing our support for our partners in Mexico and other areas in the global South, we need to invest our energies into educating key U.S. constituencies around U.S. economic and foreign policies such as the U.S. Farm Bill and the U.S. positions on international trade that neither serve the average U.S. family farmer nor Mexican campesinos or indigenous peoples.

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