AFL-CIO Young Workers Meet with Brazilian Union Leaders

July 1, 2017

Share this article

(This article first appeared in the July-August 2017 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)

A delegation of young workers from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil for five days in May for an educational exchange with Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), an organization of Brazilian labor unions, much like the AFL-CIO. The exchange was sponsored by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and CUT.

One of the six delegates was APWU member Courtney Jenkins, Legislative Director of the Baltimore Francis “Stu” Filbey Area Local and member of the APWU National Young Members Committee. The other delegates were Rachel Bryan (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), Al Vega (United Steelworkers), Carolyn Kadzyn (United Steelworkers), Sheva Diagne (AFL-CIO) and Maria Robalino (AFL-CIO).

“Our purpose was to discuss how the United States and Brazilian labor movements address economic, social and political issues ranging from racism, to immigration, to income inequality,” Jenkins explained.

Days prior to the meeting, Brazil held its first general nationwide strike in 20 years, adding fuel to the discussion.

“Much like in the United States, Brazil is in the midst of political turmoil with working families bearing the brunt of the pressure from government and big corporations,” Jenkins said.

Workers Share Struggles

During the stay, the delegation held a panel discussion “to dissect ways in which our labor movements are addressing racism, women’s rights, immigration and criminal justice.

“We were able to exchange the ways in which our movements and organizations were on the forefront of the fight for our most vulnerable,” Jenkins said. “The CUT delegation was excited to hear about the APWU’s work around postal banking and its passing of the resolution to support #BlackLivesMatter.”

They also went on a site visit to an abandoned building occupied by homeless men and women who are also leaders of a movement for basic housing rights. “I was humbled to see that the men, women and children who lived in this abandoned building came together to assert their basic human rights,” Jenkins commented. “They had made something out of nothing, turning abandoned office buildings into habitable units…they took pride in their resourcefulness and camaraderie.”

Delegates also visited a night school that helps Afro-Brazilians prepare for college entrance exams. Jenkins explained that while public universities are tuition-free to all students, “discrimination in access to quality education makes the tract to higher education much more difficult for Afro-Brazilians.”

Jenkins said the experience was life-changing. “[None] of us ever imagined being in Brazil, representing our unions, speaking to thousands of workers,” he said. “Our unions lifted us from economic insecurity and showed us what it means to fight for the common man and woman.”

“Becoming a member of the American Postal Workers Union introduced me to the movement, one that fought for change that would positively impact its members and the public it served,” Jenkins continued. “You can tell a lot about the character of a nation based on how they treat their working people, but you can tell even more about a nation based upon how working people treat one another. Thank you APWU.”

Celebrating May Day

APWU member Courtney Jenkins (back row, third from right) and other AFL-CIO delegates attended a May Day celebration in the heart of Sao Paulo with fellow young Brazilian union leaders. 

“I could not have been prepared for the amount of people that consumed my eyes,” Jenkins recalled, noting the excitement of delivering solidarity greetings to workers during the demonstrations. “Tens of thousands of Brazilian workers cheering and chanting for as far as the eye could see!”

“It was on that day that I discovered myself a citizen and worker of the world,” he continued.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.