Velásquez is one of only 15 representatives from across the world meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to create a global standard for agricultural workers through the auspices of the prestigious International Labor Organization (ILO).
The ILO is a tripartite United Nations agency that brings together governments, employers, and workers of member states in common action to promote decent working conditions throughout the world.
“This is the process that the UN uses through the ILO to set global standards,” explained Velásquez to La Prensa in a telephone interview before departing for Switzerland last Saturday.
“The governments of the world have signed and are committed to the ILO’s Convention 184, which deals with safety and health in agriculture. Adopted in 2001, it states there should be global standards that governments adopt and conform to national laws through the convention treaty,” said Velásquez.
“The U.S. Congress has adopted Convention 184, and our lawmakers have to look at OCHA, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Agricultural Worker Protection Act to see how they can modify existing laws to conform to the global treaty.
“In order to guide them in doing so, the ILO has developed a code for interpreting the treaty/convention. But as we know, governments can be very creative in how they interpret it,” said Velásquez with a chuckle.
“Our task is to develop a code to guide the government more specifically on how the treaty should be interpreted. This keeps them from watering it down.
“Our 200-page document was created page-by-page and section-by-section last year. Now we are tackling those articles of disagreement. We start negotiating on Monday, October 25, 2010, and conclude the agreements by Thursday, October 28. Then we bring it back in the final draft and vote on it Friday,” said Velásquez.
He explained that this year there is a smaller work group of delegates involved in the process. Last year, there were ten representatives each of global governments, employers, and workers representatives. For this year’s session, there are only five from each group—Velásquez is representing the farmworkers of North America.
Velásquez said the Washington, D.C.-based Croplife International, the global federation that represents the pesticide industry, will be at the negotiating table.
In addition to Velásquez, worker’s representatives will include the Australian worker’s union and the massive English labor federation Unite, the largest trade union in Britain and Ireland with 1.5 million members. (The UK union is not connected to the U.S. union of the same name.)
“We will negotiate the final items for the code. And then we will use it to show the disparity in the lax enforcement of [U.S.-] American laws as applied against international standards.
“Even some African countries that are considered undeveloped nations are considering strict standards or have already adopted them,” said Velásquez.
He said he plans to send copies of the proceedings every night to health and safety executives at the AFL-CIO to keep them in the loop. Velásquez will return to Ohio on Saturday, October 30.
“That’s provided there aren’t any problems with volcanoes,” said Velásquez.
“Last time I flew to Europe, I had to spend five days in Amsterdam because all the flights were delayed because of ash from the Icelandic volcano.”
But Velásquez won’t have much time to rest when he returns home. He will be in México November 2-10, first for a Mexico City Tribunal November 3-6 where he will present the case of Santiago Rafael Cruz, the FLOC organizer slain in the union’s Monterrey office in April 2007. That murder still remains unsolved.
Velásquez will then attend a two-day meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco November 8-9 for Civil Society Days. “There, the question of migrant workers throughout the world will focus upon North America,” said Velásquez.
Given the concerns Velásquez raised of lax enforcement of laws in the United States, La Prensa asked about the role being played by Latina Hilda Solis, President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Labor.
“She has not been a disappointment to labor,’ said Velásquez. “In fact, she has been very good. We have not had an opportunity yet to present the farmworkers case to her, and that’s probably our fault because we have been so busy with the R.J. Reynolds Campaign. She has been with the CAW in their Florida efforts, although that’s more of a PR effort.
“We have not been successful enough in connecting the government to successful strategies. But I gave up on government enforcement years ago. That’s why I organized a union. I believe in going directly to industry,” said Velásquez.
Moments before we spoke, Velásquez had been on the phone with Bob King, the new activist president of the United Auto Workers and FLOC’s partner in organizing the JPMorgan Chase Bank Boycott to pressure R.J. Reynolds and eliminate foreclosures.
Velásquez said he was elated to hear that King and the UAW had just hired a full-time coordinator for the boycott.
Velásquez will also be updating FLOC supporters in periodic teas hosted by his wife Sara at Sweet Shalom Tea Room, located at 8216 Erie Street, Sylvania, with the next gathering in December.
Velásquez added, “Don’t forget to remind your readers that on December 3 we will have a national day of leafleting at all Chase branches.”