Fair Trade Activist Spotlight: Viola Casares

Viola Casares turned lemons into lemonade by forming Fuerza Unida to fight back against corporate globalization. Now she's holding Rep. Henry Cuellar accountable for betraying his constituents with his CAFTA vote.

Before the abrupt closure of the Levi Strauss Company’s Zarzamora Street plant in San Antonio, Viola Casares and her co-workers were mainly focused on collecting a weekly salary and supporting their families. A long-standing employee of the plant, Viola was shocked and devastated when the company announced on January 17, 1990, without warning, that it would be shutting its doors. Absolutely no notice was given to the 300 plant workers laid-off that day, and the minimal severance pay offered was an insult. Levi’s explained that it was relocating its operations to Costa Rica “in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.”

Although they had no previous organizing experience, Viola and several co-workers immediately turned their grievances into action by forming Fuerza Unida (United Force). Viola made personal sacrifices in order to lead efforts to hold the company responsible for its abuses. She was instrumental in carrying out a two-pronged attack against Levi’s, which included an $11.6 billion class action lawsuit, and a national boycott of all Levi’s products which is still in effect. Fuerza Unida organized a series of protests, hunger strikes, and civil disobedience acts to call attention to Levi’s lack of corporate responsibility. She and several other female workers spearheaded Fuerza Unida’s campaign to obtain a better severance package for its members, achieved in 1997, as well as providing training sessions to educate other workers about their rights as employees. 

Realizing that they were the early victims of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Fuerza Unida made a concerted effort to build alliances with other groups of workers in the U.S. and abroad. In Quebec City, Viola participated in the People’s Summit which issued a final declaration opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and a draft of Alternatives for the Americas. Viola has worked closely with the Texas Fair Trade Coalition to continue educating workers and citizens about the damaging effects of free trade. 

Fuerza Unida mobilized members against the Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), heading a coalition which held a rally and press conference at Rep. Charles Gonzalez’s office, and several members went to Washington, D.C. to lobby their congressmen directly. Fuerza Unida’s efforts were critical in securing Rep. Gonzalez’s opposition, but San Antonio’s other representative, Rep. Henry Cuellar, voted to support CAFTA and even helped whip other Democrats to join him. In return, Rep. Cuellar has been showered with campaign contributions from ethically challenged corporate lobbyists.

Help Viola Humble Rep. Cuellar!

Texas Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar shows us how buddy-buddy he is with President Bush at the State of the Union address.

Now, Viola is focused on holding Rep. Cuellar accountable for betraying his constituents. She helped organize a Valentine’s Day press conference in front of Rep. Cuellar’s San Antonio office, urging the community not to forget his illicit CAFTA affair.

Viola is constantly working to promote labor and social justice as well as the fair trade movement. Send her a note of appreciation below.

January 17, 2019

Thank you, Viola!

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