Last summer I was as they say, minding my own business watching television at home when I received a call to the effect that I had been nominated to host the Latino Workers Leadership Institute by members of the planning committee. LWLI is a one weekend annual conference I used to coordinate at the turn of the century in the University of Michigan. The program is part of the Center for Labor and Community Studies to promote leadership mostly catering to the United Auto Workers rank and file.

I reluctantly accepted with the condition that Elena, an old Detroit colleague be the co-coordinator, anticipating she would decline but the response was, “she was asked and said she would only do it if you did.” Damn…. Every time a project comes along, I keep saying this is the last time I commit myself, luckily the conference was scheduled for late September, so we had plenty of time to prepare. Since CLCS has an effective support team that takes care of the logistics, it was Elena’s and mine role to provide the Raza accent for the event which includes topics of concern beyond mainstream Union issues such as immigration, politics, culture, diversity/equity, history and of course a check on the Sindicatos’ movement in Mexico.

With that in mind, I proposed to invite representation from the GM plant in Silao, Guanajuato. This component I thought would be especially important considering the UAW possibility of a strike since the Silao workers supported the last GM strike in 2019 at the cost of harsh retaliation in the form of harassment and firings when Mexico GM wanted to increase production. This demonstration of international solidarity rang loudly with the UAW in Detroit hence the idea of bringing the two parties together.

The problem was that although CLCS agreed to the proposal, I was informed they didn’t have enough funds to sponsor our international guest, so it was

on me to purchase a plane ticket on my debit card hoping to later raise funds from our support community to cover the expense. With that in mind I called Israel, one of the leaders of the GM Silao movement to see if he could get away for one week so that he would have extra time to join the UAW picket lines after the weekend LWLI conference if a strike was declared so I told him to find a plane ticket from Mexico to Detroit.

He did find a roundtrip ticket for $1,200.00 which would pose an impossibility on my part to raise that amount and get reimbursed. I was planning to drive up from Texas to Michigan so I asked him to check the fare from Mexico to San Antonio, thinking we could save some money if we drove up together, but he informed me that the new price was $800.00 still too much for me to recover. To make a long story short we found a ticket into Chicago for $300.00, a more realistic sum, so I thought I’ll pick him up in O’hare on my way over and drive together to Michigan. Once my friends got wind of my visit to Detroit, I received several invitations for housing however I still needed to find housing for our Mexican guest.

In my line of work as an organizer, I have a network of activist friends in a variety of areas such as Labor, academia, the arts, media, immigration advocates, faith based and nonprofit organizations plus the good old friends from whom I enjoy support regardless of any affiliation. Thanks to this network, I got a housing offer for Israel from Brother O’brien a Detroit community organizer, at least tentatively, depending on a family matter he had to attend in California. In the end, he secured Israel’s staying with a young labor activist, Zach and his wife.

Once all the logistics were in place, I got on the road with enough time to be sure I’d make it to Chicago in time to meet Israel. This was the easy part I thought, get on I-35 in a straight shot all the way to Iowa, hang a right on I-80 by Des Moines and cross into Illinois where I’d stop in the Quad Cities and wait for Israel’s arrival only two and a half hours away.

Years back I used to be able to drive from Texas to Illinois non-stop but at my age now is not recommendable, so I stopped halfway in Kansas where I had the opportunity to contact my friend Judy, a hardcore workers’ rights activist. I met Sister Judy in the 90’s as members of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, she is a labor educator and advocate for workers and immigrant rights and presently produces a radio program on workers issues in a local community station. After catching up and having an interesting conversation over tea, she offered me shelter which wasn’t my original intention but being such a dear friend and considering our limited budget project I gladly accepted.

Midmorning of the following day found me on I-80 about 90 minutes from my next stop in the Quad Cities just on the other side of the Mississippi River when my Ford Focus 14 transmission started to malfunction. Worried I wouldn’t make it all the way, I called my friend who offered to host me in Illinois. Ricardo and
I met back in the late 60’s when we were having fun trying to find ourselves and to his fortune, he developed into a successful entrepreneur as the owner of several businesses in the area but most importantly accumulated a wealth of good will. Slowly but surely, I made it to Ricardo’s place and after

I explained the transmission problem, he took me around the area till he found a dealership that would take my Ford. This year’s model, the diagnostic was, came with a mixed transmission that has a mechanical and computer design. “If the computer is bad, the service is free because there’s a recall on it but if it’s the transmission, we’ll have to replace it at a cost of 3,000 Dollars.” concluded the mechanic.

This project was getting expensive beyond my means I thought so Ricardo introduced me to a barrio mechanic who assured us he could repair the transmission for half the cost, which was great but still much beyond my anticipated budget. Meanwhile the next thing to worry about was the stretch to O’hare in the absence of my loyal Focus. But then, giving credit to the epistemology of his name as a strong leader, the DO on Ricardo showed up again in flying colors when he said “my nephew and mi brother are going to Mexico out of O’hare”, catching a ride with them covered my way to Chicago only that I got there two days early.

So, there I was in a stormy Chicago early morning contemplating my options to bridge the last leg of my road trip to Detroit, all of which entailed time and more money with the limited choices of renting a car or taking the train with a price tag of $300 each way. It was time to tug another angel’s wings, so I reached out to Luz in Hammond, Indiana about 30 minutes west of Chicago. Our friendship goes back to the mid 90’s through her husband Alejandro, a strong Union activist and cultural worrier. After I explained my predicament, she said she could try to find a car for me while I stay in her house until Israel’s arrival from Mexico.

With the increasing possibility of incurring a painful deficit on my debit card, I called Sister Maria, a retired auto worker but very much involved in Union activities in Lansing, and Frank in Detroit, another retired auto worker and a Union encyclopedia of international renown to ask them to find UAW Locals willing to sponsor Israel for presentations on the Mexico GM campaigns and his push on international solidarity. Having worked with a number of Union related projects both in the USA and Mexico I’ve observed the basic differences in each organizing styles and my contention is that US Union organizers can benefit from learning about their Mexican counterparts’ organizing history and struggles.

The plan was that these international Union exchange sessions would present the right opportunity for fundraising, money Israel could take back to support his campaigns and at the same time, to help cover the $300 on my debit card. Sadly, the response was negative mostly because all the attention was on the historic UAW negotiations and the possibility of a strike against the three automakers. Meanwhile I had to dish out another $300 to Ismael, Luz’s friend, who agreed to rent me his spare car, once that was settled the time came to pick up Israel at O’hare and dash on a straight shot of 5 hours to Detroit after caressing the lower rim of Lake Michigan.

As we made it into Detroit, I took Israel to Zach’s while I checked into Fernando’s home, one of my ESL students who offered me his house and got ready to join LWLI for the weekend with over 150 enthusiastic participants who got the benefit of Labor education through a set of workshops from a Raza perspective including Israel’s presentation on their organizing campaigns and accomplishments in Guanajuato.

Israel was unfairly fired on 2019 for organizing workers to fight for union freedom and organized an international solidarity campaign to support the UAW strike in the United States but instead of moping around together with other GM Silao workers, he started the organization of workers to launch a campaign that led to the foundation of GENERANDO MOVIMIENTOS by appropriating the G M initials of General Motors. This new organization evolved into an independent Union SINTTIA, that eventually deposed the corrupt company Union CTM and won the contract representation at GM and since has expanded to two other companies in several regions in central Mexico with a total membership of 7,900. After his presentation, LWLI participants raised $500 he took back to continue his organizing projects.

By then we were getting a number of invitations for Israel to join the picket lines, but I figured someone of his caliber should be introduced by a UAW official, something that was solved by Sister Kristine, from the UAW international relations department who offered to escort us while in Detroit. She played a key role taking us to the picket lines around the Detroit area but most importantly arranging a face-to-face meeting between Israel and UAW President Shawn Fain.

After a busy week and having met the original goals, it was time to start the way back, so I called Ricardo in the Quad Cities to let him know I’d be arriving on Greyhound after dropping off Israel at O’hare, in turn he gave me the good news that the problem with my Ford transmission was the computer so the service turned out to be free and saved me $3,000, at the same time Sister Maria called me to let me know that Brother Huerta, a UAW Local president in Lansing had donated $300 to cover Israel’s plane ticket. All in all, I was able to recoup in the end at least two thirds of the approximately one thousand dollars I invested in the project.

Somehow every time I cross the Mississippi River, I get a sense of revival like spiritual cleansing. This time, driving back home, I had an overwhelming feeling of peace or relaxation, I didn’t feel tired or fatigued but neither a sense of accomplishment. More than anything I felt engulfed by humility, reflecting on all the activities, twists, and turns of the past three weeks, I felt deeply indebted and accountable to the many people who patiently supported me on this project. If anything, I feel I can take the license to mend the meaning of the old E Pluribus Unum Latin phrase that translates to “out of many, one” and place the emphasis on Pluribus, the many without whom this and countless other projects would have never seen the light.

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