·  by Brook D’Angelo, member and Women of Steel chair, USW Local 9434 in Niagara Falls, NY

United Steelworkers & Los Mineros Making a Meaningful International Trade

Not Just a Shirt

We all have dozens, if not hundreds of shirts. There’s the drawer of work shirts, the pile of concert t’s, the rag section of shirts that have holes in them and paint all over them, the basket full of workout t-shirts, and even shirts marvelous enough to wear out on a date. Each one of them certainly has their purpose.

So many shirts have a story and a feeling attached to them. There’s the (now) faded shirt you bought at the Tom Petty 1991 “Into the Great Wide Open” tour, but you won’t give it up because it reminds you of seeing your favorite rock star. In your basement, you have a hideous tie-dye tank top, which everyone got at your 20th high school reunion, and you won’t donate it to the thrift store because it reminds you of your best friends.

Shirts can be more than just a means of fashion or to cover yourself from the elements. They can hold power. Significance of matching shirts lies in the unity among a group of people for a common cause. At work, it’s referred to as uniform. Same in the sports world too. A team’s t-shirt always promotes unification and encourages a fusion from individuals to one unit.

This concept most certainly enters into the Union world. The United Steelworkers have a strong, recognizable logo. Though Locals may have their own shirt designs, when one Steelworker is on vacation and sees the USW logo on the shirt of another, there is an automatic kinship with their Union brother or sister.

There is recognition. There is respect. There is pride. There is unity. There is solidarity.

Take nearly 100 of those Steelworkers from across the county, place them in a blue USW shirt, and have them stand together proudly as they march for labor rights in Mexico. Now that’s powerful.

USW in Lázaro Cárdenas

On February 19, 2006, 65 miners perished in a mine explosion at the Grupo Mexico mine at Pasta de Conchos in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The situation began with horrible labor conditions and unfair compensation for workers. It climaxed with untold government and corporate corruption, leading to the deaths of dedicated laborers.

Lead by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the leader of the national union of mine, metal and steelworkers (Los Mineros), they denounced the killings.In April 2006, the union called strikes across the country. Workers stood together to fight for basic rights.

President Vicente Fox ordered an attack by police and military forces on the strikers. That order resulted in the deaths of Hector Ấlvarez Gómez and Mario Alberto Castillo Rodríguez, two union members at the steel mill in the Mexican town of Lázaro Cárdenas, Section 271.

For the last 12 years, thousands of members of Los Mineros are joined by United Steelworkers to march through the streets on April 20. They march to commemorate Hector and Mario and remind the world that the fight for safe and decent working conditions is not over.

A sea of Los Mineros wearing their signature red shirts, adorned with their powerful logo, puts an exclamation point on their solidarity. Everyone notices their unity and everyone knows who they are.

The Shirt off Your Back

After a march through the streets of Lázaro Cárdenas, Los Mineros host a picnic at their local soccer field. This is an informal gathering of miners, their families, and the United Steelworkers. After food and drink, there is one more thing to share: Your Shirt.

It has been customary for United Steelworkers to exchange union shirts with Los Mineros. Though many of us don’t speak Spanish, and most Mineros don’t speak English, there is a mutual understanding of how it works.

A union member usually seeks out someone who may be roughly the same size, they point to their shirts, and after a handshake, they exchange the shirts off their backs, right there, on the field! No need to shield your eyes, as the women often bring an extra shirt to share.

Heather Szymaszek of USW District 7, Local 1010 (Chicago, Illinois) traded shirts with Victor Mendez Sosor, Los Mineros Section 271, (Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán).

“I brought my shirt to the picnic in hopes of trading from one district to another. I was blessed to be able to trade with a Minero – one union family to another and international solidarity,” said Heather Szymaszek.

Del Vitale, USW District 4, Assistant to the Director (Edison, New Jersey) exchanged with Riccardo Torres Oregon, Los Mineros, Section 271, Union Officer, (Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán).

For us, it is very nice to exchange the shirts because we have a great memory forever. We thank our USW brothers and sisters,” said Riccardo Torres Oregon.

MaDelia Huerta, wife of Minero Jaime Rodriguez, Section 271, (Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán) was just about to trade shirts with John Shinn, USW District 4 Director (Cheektowaga, New York), when he said, “It is such a great feeling to show a true connection and solidarity by exchanging shirts. It is the final touch to show how united we all are.”

Even the children wore the colors of Los Mineros proudly. After all, the cause involves them. It is for their future, for the success of Mexican miners, laborers, unions, and all of their families.

There was something that truly crossed the language barrier. Something bigger than the shirt itself. The feeling of true international solidarity was bright and evident, especially on this day. And I guarantee you, that if any Steelworker was lucky enough to get a Los Mineros shirt at the picnic, it will not get buried in the closet, but will be worn often, with reverence and pride.

USW Joins Los Mineros March - 2018

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