latin american workers in unite: from heroes to pariahs

In September 2009 Unite the union ordered the Latin American Workers Association (LAWAS) without notice to vacate the office which it had provided the Association with in its southeast region HQ in Manor House, thus ending a five year partnership. This followed an organised campaign by officials againt LAWAS, because of the latter´s support for an unofficial dispute and support for undocumented workers. But what was the background to this breakdown in the relationship, and the closure of this well known point of contact between latino workers and the trade union movement, and what is the future for LAWAS?

Firstly , some history. LAWAS was reformed in 2003 by Ernesto Leal, Julio Mayor and other Latin American workers in London, many of them political exiles and trade unionists in their own countries. It was in fact the second incarnation of the Association as the first version existed in the 1980s, which is a story for another day. The aim was to address directly the exploitation and abuses faced by Latin American workers in London, and to link these workers to the broader working class movement. Continue reading “latin american workers in unite: from heroes to pariahs”

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tribute to ernesto leal… and more attacks on latino workers by unite bureaucrats

collaboratively produced by members of the Latin American Workers’ Association (leerlo en castellano)

October was a sad month for Latin American workers residing in London, for two reasons. First came the death of Ernesto Leal, a Chilean committed to the cause of migrant workers, who was a founding member of the Latin American Workers’ Association. The other reason – shamefully coinciding with this loss – was the decision of the Unite union to kick out that same organisation our comrade Ernesto Leal helped found.

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Given his dedication and his experiences it is worth revisiting a little of the history of this class fighter. He was born in far-off Chile in the late 1930s, son to a family devoted to the militant social struggles of the Chilean Communist Party. This political commitment on his parents’ part brought on their heads merciless political persecution, forcing them to live clandestinely and constantly change address. Continue reading “tribute to ernesto leal… and more attacks on latino workers by unite bureaucrats”

report: latin american workers’ association conference

60 Latin American workers meet to elect a new committee for the Association.

The general assembly of the Latin American Workers’ Association began at 4:30pm on Saturday 15th August, at SOAS university.

Derek Wall, national representative of the Green Party, opened the event before the reading of messages of support from various parts of the trade union movement, such as the Unite hotels and restaurants branch and the RMT transport union. This was followed by a detailed presentation of the Association’s activities in terms of education, voluntary work and campaigns in defence of Latin American workers. Continue reading “report: latin american workers’ association conference”

alberto durango: ‘i am for justice and the truth’

Alberto Durango is a cleaner activist who has  repeatedly been victimised for his prominent role in union organising. In this piece he charts workers’ attempts to get a better deal and Unite’s abandonment of their struggle.

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I came to London in 1995 running away from persecution by paramilitary groups because of my union activities with the banana workers in Uraba (Colombia).  When I was new in London, despite my sense of justice, on several occasions I had to put my head down and let bosses commit abuses and steal my salary just because of my immigration status. Continue reading “alberto durango: ‘i am for justice and the truth’”

immigration controls: a weapon to defend exploitation

The last week has seen hunger strikes at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire in protest at inadequate medical care: after all, this ‘detention centre’, run by private contractor Serco, is in all but name a prison. In this piece, a Chilean woman detained in Yarl’s Wood speaks of how her employer had her sent there after she protested about unpaid wages.

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I’ve lived in London for two years, working as a cleaner and factory worker – usually several shifts a day. At first when I was working at Fitness First there was no problem and I got all my wages, but then they changed their cleaning contractor. The new bosses deliberately took on staff without papers. I was told to keep working for three months without pay, and then I was sacked. They threatened to take my case to the Home Office because I had no right to be here. But I said to them that I wasn’t going to walk away and would get my money back. They were surprised because they thought they were big and they thought I was nothing.

Then began the story of working with the union, the Latin American Workers Association and London Coalition Against Poverty. So thanks to my friends and the union, we won this fight and I was paid over £1000 that I was owed. Then I found out that hundreds of people were experiencing exactly the same problem as me. Continue reading “immigration controls: a weapon to defend exploitation”