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Published: Monday, 4/26/2004

Familiar lament in Mexico

Manufacturers and other businesses love the global economy. It lets them shop the world, including countries with few worker protections, to buy human labor as they buy raw materials, for the lowest possible price.

They move on, never looking back on the individuals, communities, and entire regions they've left without sustenance. Blanca Velasquez, a union organizer in Mexico and no relation to Toledo's Baldemar Velasquez, knows well that they are also quick to pull out of new digs when workers there demand decent wages and conditions.

Ms. Velasquez spoke here recently of the plight of men and women who had worked in the maquiladora of Tarrant Apparel Group of California.

Until November it made clothing in Mexico for The Limited, The Gap, Wet Seal, Tommy Hilfiger, and Federated Department Stores of Ohio. Then it closed its Mexican plants, leaving its $9-a-day workers without jobs or severance pay.

The Limited, an Ohio company not known for backwardness, last year sent people to investigate claims of worker abuse - Ms. Velasquez and her associates should be told what they found - and is said to be negotiating with workers. Another firm cut off ties with Tarrant when it failed to solve its labor problems.

Ms. Velasquez was seeking help from union workers like those in the crowd at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 50 in Rossford. She should get it.

But aid shouldn't stop with the former Tarrant workers, whose case is being appealed to the National Administration Office, a creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

American unions that are losing members to exported jobs, need to collaborate with workers who get those jobs so they are not short-shrifted. Success in such an enterprise would also slow job exports.

If the global economy is good for business, unions are in a better position than anyone else to see that it is also good for working stiffs. American labor unions exert pressure on many points throughout the American political process. Any advances they can make on behalf of workers everywhere can only accrue to the benefit of their members.

Corporate global freewheeling should by now have had its heyday. Now it's time for a healing world citizenship to show its corporate faces.



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