Tag Archives: Enlace

Biblioteca, Center for Global Justice, and Via Organico in San Miguel de Allende

Ronnie from Via Organico

San Miguel    San Miguel de Allende is a picturesque 500 year old colonial town in the central highlands that played a major role in the Mexican Revolution against Spain and more recently is known as an artistic and ex-patriot center for North America.  I first visited at the founding meeting of Enlace a dozen years ago and always enjoyed my time here.  On our last visit in January 2010, close to 50 folks had packed the patio of the offices of the Center for Global Justice to hear about ACORN International’s work, so we were excited to be able to return to the Biblioteca, a nonprofit library touted as the largest such institution in Mexico and perhaps North America, where Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada and Dilcia Zavala of  ACORN Honduras would join me in updating folks here on ACORN International’s progress.

After Cliff Durand of the Center introduced the discussion and our presentations the questions were interesting and focused on everything from what we had learned from the ACORN experience in the USA to Occupy San Miguel to whether or not it was practical to organize effectively around economic development in rural areas of the developing world.  It was great to have some of our friends ask for updates on the Remittance Justice Campaign who had been with us in San Miguel in 2010.  Before the end of May, we will post the session on ACORN International’s YouTube channel upon our return.

After a last look at the Biblioteca and a wave towards Juan of our favorite San Miguel coffeehouse, Juan’s Café, complete with a can of Café du Monde coffee & chicory commemorating his own visit to New Orleans, we joined Ronnie Cummins for a fantastic lunch and deeply educational tour of the Via Organico café and sundry operations.  Ronnie is a fellow traveler on the activist path who originally hails from the homeland around Port Arthur, Texas, and after a stint at Rice in Houston jumped into the maelstrom as many of us did to oppose the Vietnam War and, as they say, the rest is history.  He ended up making a career of advocating around food and other environmental issues and now heads a 850,000 strong Organic Consumers Association based in Minneapolis where he lives part of the year and Via Organico, the Mexican counterpart, where he is based in San Miguel.  The Via Organico nonprofit is in many ways a demonstration project for an all-organic operation as well as a combination store, café, brewery, classroom, storage facility, and rooftop farm operation.

And, a heckuva operation at that!  Lunch was fantastic and some of our number felt it their duty to try the beer brewed by Via Organico from cactus among other things while others had a dessert to die for that included homemade ice cream and later lime popsicles.  Ronnie gave us a full tour of the entire operation along with the warehouse and brewery.  He did such a great job, he made it feel like it might be possible to duplicate it, but as organizers, we all knew how difficult bringing projects like this to fruition really are.

Alex McDonald of Ottawa ACORN trying a cactus beer

Among the more interesting things Cummins showed us is was the rooftop growing area where the old ways that Mexican farmers used gourds were in use for growing produce in this dry, high, arid land by conserving the water they had collected.  They would plant large gourds at intervals among the vegetables and refill the gourds with water through small caps on the gourd.  Because the gourds were fired from the more porous clay, as the ground dried, the soil would literally suck the water out of the gourd and into the dirt nearby in order to water the plants to good health and yield.  Amazing!

Anytime you can have a great dialogue with people, share what you’ve learned, join others successes and experiences, and learn something as well, it has to count as a great trip all around.  As we hugged our old companera, Ercilia Sahores, who had organized all of these events for us, we said hasta luego, but in our hearts we could hardly wait to return for more.

All Organic Operation

Gourd Watering System


The AFL-CIO Continues to Step Forward with “New Labor”

New uale logo Orleans John Hiatt, now the AFL-CIO chief of staff under Richard Trumka, and previously general counsel under John Sweeney, was the lead speaker on an early morning plenary before the United Association of Labor Educators (UALE) meeting in New Orleans on the topic of “Building a New Labor Movement for a New Economy.”  He and his co-panelists who included Kent Wong from the UCLA Labor Center as well as a leader of the Domestic Workers Alliance and a lawyer with an interesting bi-national (Mexico/USA) legal project with migrants offered some refreshing perspectives not heard every day in your usual labor oriented gathering.

John and I go back almost 40 years now to common ties with welfare rights even before ACORN and to his several weeks in Little Rock one summer helping organize unemployed workers with ACORN around 1972 or so.  It’s sometimes a rocky road but given his last 15 years as an erstwhile and sometimes controversial keeper of the keys in the “house of labor,” I see these kinds of initiatives among “informal” workers as a kind of “values” statement for John and his inside advocacy within the corridors of labor power that help justify some of the more contentious weight he has carried in various disputes.  His personal crusade as general counsel for immigration reform was one such touchstone, as well as his merging of labor law and labor organizing strategies with his efforts to support the organizing of carwashers in Los Angeles as an affiliate of the Steelworkers is another.  Not all of these efforts have worked out well, and who despite the steps forward labor made in the 2009-10 campaign for immigration reform, it’s a mixed bag as well and a conundrum still unresolved.

Nonetheless there is no questioning the sincerity with which the AFL-CIO has adopted some of the “newer” forms of organizing under a bigger tent philosophy particularly with new organizing experiments among informal workers including day laborers, domestic workers, and others.  The AFL-CIO has formally taken steps which would have been unheard of 20 years ago to come to agreement with organizations representing these groups like NDLON (the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network), Enlace (a multi-national membership based organization of where Local 100 and ACORN International have been charter members), and the Domestic Workers Alliance, which recently won breakthrough labor standards protection in New York State and seems to have new campaigns in California and others pending in the next year in Colorado, Maryland, and Massachusetts.  They have also signed agreements with the Interfaith Worker Justice, a labor/religious support organization based in Chicago and headed by our friend, Kim Bobo, and John mentioned that the Restaurant Opportunities Council (ROC) in New York and elsewhere may be moving towards a form of affiliation as well.

I have argued in Citizen Wealth and in a coming essay in Social Policy (The Maharashtra Model v.41#1) that the future of the labor movement lies not only in the USA , but worldwide in our effectively organizing what one speaker called “excluded” workers and what I call “informal” workers.  These steps by the AFL-CIO are encouraging in that sense though they are largely symbolic unfortunately.  They are signals and placeholders of change and openness without being taken seriously as “real organizing.’  These efforts by and large are not backed by resources and organizers, but by favors and suasion or the leverage of “powerful pockets” as the DWA leader argued.  All of this that is part of a successful organizing plan and what has been proven to create victories, but that’s a lot more than a piece of paper and some good dialogue.

Saying hello to John after the plenary and before my panel, I complimented him for his remarks and the AFL-CIO’s initiatives, but he quickly interrupted me with a grin, and said, “if we could only figure out how to collect dues and bring in members!”

It’s a longer conversation and a different kind of conversion experience on the way to the “new labor movement,” but as Cesar Chavez argued 40 years ago and as I say all the time, “you can’t collect dues without asking people to pay.”

This is the future, if we can just step up to get there.