This week, over 600 union leaders from across the region came together for the UNI Americas Regional conference in Fortaleza, Brazil to build a better future for workers and trade unions. The conference featured several prominent political figures and trade unionists who called for renewed urgency in the fight for workers’ rights.

Across the region, this has been a time of great social and political upheaval. Although recent victories for left wing political parties in Chile, Colombia and Argentina have been encouraging, unions need to work together to continue to build worker power.

The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, was the highlight of the conference – calling for unions to be the pillars upon which we build societies based on justice, equality, social progress, education and job growth.

“Latin America is one the most unequal continents in the world, but we are here to change this. We need to fix the model which perpetuates inequality, and we cannot wait any longer to do so. Latin America is ready to fight for workers, for people and for progress,” said Fernandez.

National Vice-President of the Workers’ Party (PT) in Brazil, José Guimarães, called for unions and workers to fight to oust Bolsonaro at the general elections in October after years of regressive and repressive policies. “The Brazilian State has ceased to be a protector of the people and became a government which attack rights,” he said. “We must urgently stop fascism in our country and elect a new government which is committed to democracy, decency and workers’ rights.”

The President of the Constitutional Convention of Chile, María Elisa Quinteros, said, “With the new Constitution, we now have the right to strike, and each union has the space to grow towards its own objectives. I want to thank UNI Americas, who have worked tirelessly for labour rights – it’s been a pleasure to work side-by-side with union leaders to improve rights in Chile.”

Luisa Alcalde, Mexico’s Secretary of Labour, celebrated the moment the region is going through: “It is fundamental that as trade unions, we lead the way in the fight to democratize our societies, push back against ruthless governments and companies, and fight for workers’ rights,” said Alcalde. “We cannot depend on legal and cultural reform – we need trade unionism to be the innovative force for good that workers need.”

After the interventions from politicians, union leaders emphasized the achievements of the trade union movement and called to deepen trade union rights in the region.

“We have to fight to redistribute wealth and build strong unions all over the world,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “Workers cannot take the economic hit of a cost-of-living crisis, particularly after a debilitating global pandemic. We must use all our collective power to build a better world for workers.”

Héctor Daer, President of UNI Americas, closed the conference calling for a deepening of trade union rights: “Now, more than ever, we need collective bargaining and strong unions. The political realignment to the left in Latin America means that we must take full advantage of this moment and strengthen worker power and organizations.”