November 9, 2008
Last month, MSN received the sad news of the death of our friend Antonio Villalba. Antonio was a union organizer, an important leader of Mexico's Authentic Labour Front (FAT), and a life-long fighter for the rights of workers in Mexico and internationally.
Until the very end of his long struggle against cancer, Antonio continued to offer thoughtful strategic advice to his union membership, never losing his wonderful wry sense of humour.
In a testimonial published in the October 18 edition of the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, labour lawyer Arturo Alcalde describes Antonio's contribution to the growth of Mexico's independent labour movement. Below is an excerpt from that article, reprinted with Arturo's permission.
Antonio Villalba became involved in the labour movement at a very young age as the General Secretary of the union at Pepsi Cola in Chihuahua, his native state. At the end of the 70s, he led the initial fights of the union uprising against employer repression. For his role in this battle, he suffered years of difficulties finding employment because of being blacklisted by companies in Chihuahua. As a result, he decided to start working for labour unions as a professional organizer.
In the 70s in this northern Mexican state, Villalba worked in solidarity with democratic electricians and acted as an adviser to striking workers in labour conflicts at the La Perla mine and the Las Palomas sawmill. Later he was involved in attempts to organize the workers at the Local Water Board and at Escobas La Nacional, amongst others. At that time, he also participated in organizing and founding of the Popular Defense Committee. He stood by the Cinsa-Cifunsa workers in Saltillo in 1974 and the Spicer workers in 1975, and provided support to workers during numerous strikes in the early 80s, including those at Vidriera and Alumex in the state of Mexico, Hilsa and Cisa in León, Guanajuato, and the struggles of the fishermen and shoe factory workers in Yucatán.
Democratic unions face enormous resistance and rules of the game that are stacked against them: forming a small authentic union becomes an odyssey. This challenge compels union activists to train themselves for various tasks. That is why Villalba, as a union strategist, trainer and adviser, worked for the formation of important national unions, such as SNTIHA, STIMACHS, the September 19 Union, the union of transportation workers, and the organization of textile workers in the industrial corridor of Puebla-Tlaxcala. Furthermore, he was an initiator and promoter of the co-operative movement and of different forms of social enterprise both in the countryside and in the cities.
Committed to the governing principles of the FAT, Villabla received a salary comparable to what a specialized worker would earn, and subjected himself to a pace of work in which Saturdays, Sundays and holidays didn't count, always available when workers needed support. As a good democratic unionist, he was committed to finding solutions to conflicts, respectful of workers' decisions, always aware of the importance of reflection, training and organized action. Conscious that the worker's struggle isn't limited by national borders, he also became an active promoter of international solidarity. He will always be remembered for his friendly smile and the cheerfulness with which he dedicated himself to the service of others.
Antonio Villalba will be remembered as a fighter for life.
Translation by MSN.