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Painting of FAT supporters with signs for socialjustice & free unions in colorful town
Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention
Artist Beatriz Aurora

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

July , 2010, Vol. 15, No. 5


Introduction to this issue:


As the attacks on independent unions in Mexico have escalated, solidarity efforts have also increased. On June 20th, a gathering in Toronto brought leaders of virtually all of the independent trade unions in Mexico and two of their most respected attorneys with leaders and attorneys of trade unions from Canada and the US. The meeting also included three GUFs: ICEM, IMF and UNI. A few days later, leaders of the SME, los Mineros and FAT traveled to Toronto to participate in a Peoples’ Movement Assembly at the US Social Forum in Detroit.

Declarations from both events commit to solidarity with the independent trade union movement in Mexico, and represent a commitment to coordination among unions in Mexico and between the Mexican unions and organizations in the US, Canada and beyond, that is unprecedented.

A week later, representatives from Mexico, Canada and the US described the attacks and need for solidarity to the Labourstart conference in Hamilton Ontario, commending the organization for its significant contribution via its email campaigns.

Among the many issues discussed at these events were two highly significant labor cases pending before the Mexican Supreme Court. The first decision came down last week. The court rejected the SME’s claim that the liquidation of the Light and Power Company was improper, but opened the door for the union to return to the labor board to demand reinstatement for its members based on the contention that the company that has taken over the work is a substitute employer. The focus will likely shift to the Federal Labor Board when it returns from its summer vacation.

The second case involves what is supposed to operate as an administrative process to take note “toma de nota” of the election of union officers. While this case specifically involves Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of the Mexican mineworkers’ union, the refusal to register elected union officials and in some cases the removal of elected officers and their replacement with other people has been one of the ways in which the Mexican government has directly interfered with independent unions.

Based on a request received from the USW, the UE circulated an alert to our MLNA list which we generated approximately one hundred letters to the Supreme Court. We have included the letter sent by the UE officers, and are happy to inform you that on July 14, the Second Chamber decided to postpone the hearing of the case until August and to send the case to the full Supreme Court, believed to be a more receptive body.

In this period of increased attacks, we are really happy to be able to share two more pieces of amazing news: we just learned that yesterday the General secretary Didier Marquina and secretary of organization Francisco Díaz Piñeiro of UNTyPP, the new union of PEMEX workers were reinstated and that there is an agreement to continue to reinstate the other workers who were fired! The discharges for to refusal to sign documents resigning from the union and asking that it be dissolved were the subject of a Labourstart campaign initiated by UE, CEP and ICEM a few months ago that Marquina credits with causing PEMEX to back off, leading to negotiations with this tremendous result.

There was more good news: on July 9, Superior Court of Justice of the Federal District of Mexico, dismissing an arrest warrant issued against Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, Secretary-General of the National Union of Mining, Metallurgical, Steel and Allied Workers of Mexico (Los Mineros and four union leaders charged with illegal conduct in relation to the administration of a trust fund.

We thank all of you who sent those letters or demonstrated solidarity in other ways! We believe that by coordinating our efforts we are making a real difference, and that if we are able to realize our commitments to work together we can have an even more powerful impact! But while we celebrate these victories, we need to remember the strikers in Cananea, the SME hunger strikers who have been on strike from more than two months, the Atento workers who just lost their election, the gas station attendants who have been deprived of their right to strike, the workers at Metaldyne who have been asking for an election for more than two years, and the threat of labor law reform. We look forward to working with you in the coming months!


Contents for this issue:

PRI Fails to Win Decisive Election Victory; Oaxaca Left Gains

The Mexican elections for state governors and other offices held in early July saw the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the former ruling party of Mexico, win nine of 12 state elections—but also lose three of its historic strongholds: Sinaloa, Puebla, and Oaxaca. In those three states the PRI lost to right-left alliances between the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRI which hoped to win all 12 states, paving its way to a return to power in the 2012 elections, now faces a rockier road. There will undoubtedly be more controversy regarding the PRI candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, as its leading contender, State of Mexico Governor Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for being responsible for the PRI’s failed strategy.

President Felipe Calderón’s PAN could not claim any clear cut victory, since it only defeated the PRI where it had allied with the left-wing PRD. And the PAN lost Tlaxcala and Aguascalientes to the PRI. Nor could the PRD claim victory, since its victories had come in alliance with the PAN and it lost the state of Zacatecas to the PRI. The PRI also won the mayoralties of Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, suggesting that voters were rejecting Calderón’s war on drugs and his economic policies in those important border cities.

A Victory for the Left in Oaxaca

While the PRD was virtually eliminated as a significant leftwing political party in this election, there was a victory for the left in Oaxaca. There the election went to Gambino Cué, a member of the Convergence Party (Convergencia) and an ally of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, former candidate for president who claims that the last presidential election was stolen from him.

Gambino Cué’s victory over Ulises Ruiz, the PRI governor Oaxaca comes four years after a teachers strike and civic uprising in that city that lasted a year and saw twenty killed by death squads, presumably sent by the governor. The Mexican Congress refused to remove Ruíz and then President Vicente Fox sent in Federal police to end the year-long conflict of 2006. Now, three years later, the same citizens who blocked highways, took government buildings, seized radio and TV stations and fought the PRI governor and the PAN President, have finally won, ousting Ruiz.

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Supreme Court Upholds President’s Liquidation of Power Co.

The Mexican Supreme Court meeting in early July unanimously rejected the Mexican Electrical Workers Union’s claim that President Felipe Calderón’s decision to liquidate the state-owned Light and Power Company of Mexico City and Central Mexico had been illegal. The court upheld the President’s Constitutional right to both liquidate the company and terminate the 44,500 workers employed there.

The Court also ruled, however, the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) is the legitimate representative of the workers and that it may continue to represent those workers before government courts, labor boards and other agencies.

Union Will Continue Fight for Jobs

The SME leadership said that the union would continue to demand from the authorities that the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), another state-owned company that absorbed the Light and Power company, be recognized as the successor firm. SME will also demand that, as the successor, the CFE should fulfill the union contract, rehiring the fired workers. The union will take these demands to the Federal Labor Board (JFCA) shortly, said union leader Martín Esparza.

Reactions to the decision fell along class lines: the conservative National Action Party and employers’ associations praised the decision, while labor organizations, human rights groups, the Catholic life and leftwing political parties criticized it.

La Jornada, Mexico City’s leftwing daily newspaper, opined:

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday is consistent with a history of—with few exceptions—bad decisions, unfavorable to workers, consumers, and citizens, and favorable, in general, to bosses, businessmen, and political office holders, biased decisions made in spite of the division of government into executive and judicial powers. The judicial branch has some responsibility for the increase in inequality, anti-democracy, and impunity in this country, and consequently, this institution has seen its own credibility eroded and its distance from common citizens increased.”

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, former presidential candidate, said simply by a Twitter message that the Mafia that rules Mexico had made the decision.

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SME Statement on the Supreme Court Decision on Light & Power

México City, Federal District, July 6, 2010
To National and International Public Opinion
To the Working Class
To the People of Mexico

Yesterday the people of Mexico witnessed one more example of the contempt with in which the powerful hold the working class. The Supreme Court’s ruling is an expression of the subordination of the judicial branch to the will of the executive branch which expresses the interests of the oligarchy that dominate the nation. It is outrageous that after the forum organized in the Senate of the Republic—where individuals knowledgeable about the issues without hidden motivations and known for their reputations and responsible for defending the precepts of the Magna Carta [Constitution of Mexico], found the liquidation [of the Light and Power Company] to be unconstitutional—that the Supreme Court, in a matter of hours, consummated the coup d’état, showing clearly the collusion of the three branches of government, against a democratic union with a nationalist vision.

In the midst of a tumultuous electoral process, where the party in power [the National Action Party] lost in a majority of states, the judicial branch took advantage of the situation to legitimize the unconstitutional decree liquidating the Light and Power Company, and established the precedent by which the executive branch can liquidate other government agencies, without any individual or collective protection for the workers.

On this 73rd day of the noble Hunger Strike of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers, we strikers reaffirm our commitment to our history and to our glorious union, and we assert our determination to continue forward with this type of protest in order to give expression to our righteousness in the face of the government which only seeks to attack the nation, and to take a moral position, which the government does not have, as was revealed with the sale of the fiber optic cable, property of all Mexicans, to private firms and finally with the privatization of electric power. Therefore, we insist on continuing the legal processes in order to confirm the validity of collective bargaining, to which we have a right, and which the Court did not define, setting aside the responsibility assumed when the union sought an injunction, as well as [continuing] our peaceful but active protest to defend the patrimony, not only of our families, but of all Mexicans, and to rise the banner of working class solidarity, which until now has remained marginal to the struggle.

It is clear that one no one has any job security, nor economic stability. We must all undertake a struggle from our trenches in order to protect our labor rights, both individual and collective rights, as established in our Federal Labor Law.

To the people of Mexico and of the world we state that we have strived by all possible means to negotiate a dignified solution with the executive power, that we have exhausted all of the appropriate agencies to which we as citizens had access as guaranteed by the deputies and senators in the legislature, and that we have gone before the courts with clear, strong legal arguments and all of them have spit in our faces, the response of the strikers continues to be that which the union has maintained from the beginning, to continue with our struggle even giving our lives for our country.

The constitutional order is broken and the rule of law has been violated. This is a government brought forth by fraud, which violates the Constitution and is contrary to the people’s interests, and for those reasons we do not accept the court’s decision. We stand by Article 136 of the Constitution. This strike will not be ended until it obtains a successor clause and a collective bargaining agreement for the more than 17,000 workers who continue to resist. We will put this position before our assembly in the next several days.

From the Zócalo of Mexico City, the Heart of the Nation, continuing 73 days on a hunger strike.

“For the Rights and the Justice of the Worker”
23 Hunger strikers, stalwart members of the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME).

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Letter to Mexican Supreme Court in Case Involving "Toma De Nota"

Based on a request received from the USW, the UE circulated an alert to our MLNA list which generated approximately one hundred letters to the Supreme Court. We have included the letter sent by the UE officers, and are happy to inform you that on July 14, the Second Chamber decided to postpone the hearing of the case until August and to send the case to the full Supreme Court, believed to be a more receptive body.

July 8, 2010

Minister Sergio Salvador Aguirre Anguiano
President of the Second Chamber

Minister José Fernando Franco González Salas
Minister Luis María Aguilar Morales
Minister Sergio Armando Valls Hernández
Minister Margarita Beatriz Luna Ramos
Members of the Second Chamber

Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation

Re: Revisión 67/2010

Dear Ministers:

We are writing to you on behalf of the tens of thousands of U.S. workers who are members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) to express our grave concern regarding the pending decision of the Second Chamber concerning the scope of the labor authority’s authority to interpret trade union by-laws in the case of the National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM).

The practice of requiring prior authorization by a government official in order for the democratic decisions of a labor union to take effect has long been considered by the International Labor Organization to be a violation of Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize, which has been ratified by Mexico and incorporated into domestic law through Article 133 of the Mexican Constitution.

Article 3 of Convention 87 provides that:

“1. Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.

2. The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.”
The Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labor Organization has interpreted Article 3 to establish that as a general principle, governments should refrain from interfering in union elections. (Digest of Decisions and Principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the Governing Body of the ILO, 5th (revised) ed. (2006), paras. 388-453) Specifically, the labor authorities should not have discretion to interfere in elections. (Digest, paras. 388-396). Rather, “[t]he registration of the executive boards of trade union organizations should take place automatically when reported by the trade union, and should be contested only at the request of the members of the trade union in question.” (Digest, para. 403)

In Mexico, the requirement of prior authorization (toma de nota) has been an issue of international concern to those who believe that government interference in trade union elections creates risks not only for union autonomy and democracy, but for democratic principles in general. In the case of the SNTMMSSRM, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association concluded, with respect to the labor authority’s withdrawal of the toma de nota from Napoleón Gómez Urrutia in February 2006, that: “the acknowledgement or registration of the new executive committee by the authorities amounts to conduct that is not compatible with Article 3 of Convention No. 87, which establishes the right of workers to elect their leaders in full freedom.” (ILO CFA Report No. 350, Case No. 2478 (June 2008), para. 1392)

In light of this clear pronouncement, we are very concerned that the labor authority refused for a second time to grant the toma de nota to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia in June 2008, despite his unanimous re-election by the union’s Convention which is the highest body charged with interpretation of the union’s by-laws.

We consider it very important that the Second Chamber has defined the issue before it as: “whether the General Direction of Registry of Associations, in emitting resolutions regarding taking note of the union leadership, has the authority to interpret the union statutes to the detriment of trade union autonomy, or if this corresponds to the Union itself, through the conduct of its internal authorities,” with trade union autonomy defined explicitly by reference to ILO Convention 87 (Solicitud de ejercicio de la facultad de atracción 85/2009, pp. 29-30).

We hope that the Second Chamber will decide this case, which is significant not only for the workers and citizens of Mexico but for workers everywhere in the world, in a manner that clearly upholds the principles of trade union autonomy defined in ILO Convention 87 and the decisions of the Committee on Freedom of Association and that limits the Government’s power to choose trade union leaders without regard for the will of the union members.


Bruce J. Klipple, General secretary Treasurer
John H. Hovis, Jr, General President
Robert B. Kingsley, Director of Organization

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United Steel Workers and Mineros Explore Merger

by Dan La Botz

The merger would create an international union of one million metal workers and miners.

The United Steelworkers (USW), which represents 850,000 workers in Canada, the Caribbean, and the United States, and the National Union of Miners and Metal Workers (SNTMMSRM), known as the Mineros, which represents 180,000 workers in Mexico, have announced plans to explore uniting into one international union. The agreement to begin exploration of a merger was signed on June 21.

This new step in the creation of a global union -- as opposed to a global federation of unions -- represents a significant new development for labor in the Americas with implications for workers around the world. Building on the 2008 trans-Atlantic relationship between Unite in the United Kingdom and the USW, now the USW and the Mineros are working to build a worldwide labor union with the power to confront the concentrated capital of the mining and metal working industries.

USW President Leo W. Gerard and Minero general secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia together asserted the two unions continued "common commitment to democracy, equality, and solidarity for working men and women throughout North America and throughout the world."
The two unions have had a strategic alliance since 2005. Now a commission made up of five members from each of the unions will create a joint commission to propose "immediate measures to increase strategic cooperation between our organizations as well as the steps required to form a unified organization."

Several Years of Close Cooperation

The attempt to create an international union by these two unions arises within the context of the 16-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since NAFTA took effect on January 1, 1994, several Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. unions have sought greater cooperation as they faced transnational corporations with new reach and power. This is, however, the first attempt to create a new international union in response to the greater mobility and power of international capital since NAFTA and what has been called the neoliberal era of privatization and free trade.

This new development also comes as a result of several years of intense and intimate collaboration between the Steelworkers and the Mineros at many different levels. The two unions have joined together in campaigns against common employers and in mutual support on issues facing them. Most notably, the USW has helped the Mineros as it came under a brutal attack by Grupo Mexico, that country's largest mining company, and by the administration of Felipe Calderón, Mexico's president. "

When the Mexican government repeatedly filed charges against the Mineros' general secretary, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, threatening to jail him, the USW played a central role in helping him find safety in Vancouver, B.C. For three years with the aid of the USW, he has been leading the Mineros through a series of difficult strikes and other confrontations from that city.

History of U.s.-mexico International Solidarity

This is by no means the first time that unions in the three countries have attempted to build more powerful labor organizations through international solidarity. The path to solidarity has been fraught with problems and strewn with the wreckage of failures, while at the same time filled with inspiring examples and some significant successes. While today's situation poses altogether new challenges, the past history holds some lessons too.

With the development of modern industrial capitalism in all three nations in the late nineteenth century, there developed a complex exchange of organizational methods, union strategies and tactics, and social and political programs. At the center of the process was the construction of the railroad networks first in the United States and Canada and then in Mexico.

In general, the influence spread from the more advanced and industrialized United States with a long history of trade unionism to Mexico. Those railroad lines, built by U.S. and British capital, employed British, Canadian, and mostly U.S. railroad workers. The American railroad workers carried with them their 16 railroad craft unions, and their practice of striking the employer over grievances, structures, and strategies were soon imitated by the Mexican workers.
Mexican workers who went to work in the mining industry in the United States joined the American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions or more frequently the Western Federation of Miners or the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), adopting their militant strategies and revolutionary syndicalist politics. The influence was not all one way. The Mexican Liberal Party, actually a revolutionary anarchist group, came to organize workers in Mexico and sometimes in the Southwest of the United States.

After the discovery of oil in the Mexican states along the Gulf of Mexico around 1900, accompanied by the growth of oil storage and shipping facilities at the docks, the IWW became established there among the oil workers. At the same time, Spanish revolutionary syndicalists won a strong base among seamen, and their influence spread into the ports of Mexico, while Spanish anarchists came to organize department store clerks, restaurant workers, and factory workers in central Mexico. Their influence became pervasive. By the time of the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, the anarchist House of the World Worker with branches in many major Mexican cities had become the dominant labor movement.

the Mexican Revolution and Samuel Gompers

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the Constitutionalists -- founders of what would eventually evolve into the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and rule Mexico for decades -- reached an agreement with a faction of the House of the World Worker to provide troops for that wing of the revolution in exchange for support for the union's organizing efforts. So thousands of workers organized in Red Battalions rode off to fight Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, leaders of the plebeian and peasant left wing of the revolution. Thus the Mexican state came to control the formerly anarchist labor movement.

In those years, as the new state was being established first under Venustiano Carranza and then under Álvaro Obregón, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, moved into Mexico. The new Mexican government welcomed Gompers as an aid in helping to create the state-sponsored Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM) which with the government was fighting to destroy the anarchist General Confederation of Workers (CGT). So between 1920 and 1925, anarchist unions with an internationalist perspective battled the business unions with a nationalist vision backed by the Mexican government, a war ultimately won by the government-backed unions with the breaking of the Mexico City streetcar workers’ union in 1924.

Gompers principal aim, however, was to expand the reach of his Pan-American Federation of Labor (PAFL), an international union confederation that had already established branches in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. As U.S. capital and the U.S. State Department spread their power and influence throughout Latin America, Gompers expected to see the PAFL spread the model of his so-called "pure-and-simple" trade unionism, sweeping aside the Red unions of anarchists and Communists. Gompers' death in 1924, followed by the crash in 1929, and the Great Depression for the next decade meant that his dream was never realized.

The 1930s Upsurge and the Post-war Right Turn

The worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s led to a working-class upsurge in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, initially under a variety of political leaderships: Socialist and Communist, Catholic and conservative, but all independent of the employers and their respective governments. The brief period 1929 to 1939 saw powerful unions and new labor federations grow up in all three countries.

In the United States and Canada, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organized industrial workers, while in Mexico the new Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) organized a broad spectrum of workers in industries of all sorts. The CIO and the CTM and some of their industrial unions established strong fraternal relations during this period. The CIO-CTM alliance evolved and was transformed during the course of the U.S.-Mexico alliance against the Axis Powers during World War II. Both the CIO and the CTM emerged from the war having been drawn into closer relations of partnership with the corporations and with their respective governments.

With the outbreak of the Cold War in 1948, the governments of both the United States and Mexico, working closely with the employers, forced a purge of leftists from the unions, while in the U.S. the Taft-Hartley Law further hamstrung the unions. In Mexico the purge was particularly violent and brutal, as the Mexican government sent police and gangsters into the industrial unions to conduct a transfer of leadership at gunpoint. In every location, the independent elected union leaders were turned out in favor of men who were loyal to the government.

So by the 1950s, while ties still existed between the CIO and the CTM, they were now relations between U.S. labor officials working closely with the U.S. State Department and American corporations and Mexican officials subservient to their government. Meanwhile, around the world, labor unions became divided between the Communist-led and pro-Soviet World Federation of Trade Unions and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions led by U.S. and European unions under the tutelage of the U.S. State Department. Within this context, real working-class solidarity virtually disappeared, as the U.S. and Mexican unions' tasks on the international scene became working to stop Communist, nationalist, and other radical unions throughout the Americas. By the end of the cold war, most of the left wing of the labor movements in both the US and Mexico and been destroyed.

For a hundred years, attempts to build international worker solidarity have been disrupted by the imperial power of U.S. corporations and the U.S. State Department and by the Mexican nationalist government, as well as by conservative business unions loyal either to government or employers. Genuine international worker solidarity was greatest during periods of working-class upsurge in the 1910s and 1930s within the context of worldwide labor mobilizations. The opening of the era of globalization raised new challenges.

Nafta Changes the Game

Such was the state of labor solidarity in North America in the 1990s when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was being negotiated. NAFTA, opening up the borders to capital (while keeping the movement of labor restricted), suddenly changed the rules. While the U.S. and Mexican union bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO and the CTM had been able to cooperate within the context of the Cold War, they suddenly found themselves at odds in the age of neoliberalism and free trade.

Based on the impact of the US-Canada Fair Trade Agreement,U.S. labor unions opposed NAFTA, fearing that it would lead to the importation of products produced with cheap labor, commodities which would undermine their employers' market share and therefore their jobs. Mexico's "official" or government-controlled unions such as the CTM had no choice but to follow the government's directives and support the agreement. With U.S. unions opposed to NAFTA and Mexico's "official" unions supporting it, the pact between the AFL-CIO and the "official" CTM practically dissolved under the impact of NAFTA, forcing U.S. unions to look for other relationships. At the same time, independent unions in Mexico which were critical of NAFTA also looked for other relationships abroad.

The United Electrical Workers (UE) which represented workers in the United States, and which was not part of the AFL-CIO and the independent Authentic Labor Front (FAT) of Mexico discovered eachother in the early NAFTA period. Those two unions formed a model strategic alliance, and many other U.S. and Mexican unions began to establish ties of various sorts in the 1990s and 2000s. The Communications Workers of America (CWA), for example, established a relationship with the Mexican Telephone Workers Union (STRM). At times there were attempts to establish broader organizations around specific industries or problems, such as the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.

Steelworkers and Mineros: Toward Unity

All of this forms the long and complicated background to the events taking place today, at the center of which is the fight against the mining companies. The USW just settled the 11-month strike of 3,500 of its members against Vale Inco, a huge Brazilian mining company in Sudbury, Canada, while the Mineros, after three years on strike at Cananea, Sonora, face the military occupation of their town to break the strike. The USW and Mineros plan to build the power to stop such assaults on miners and metal workers in the Americas.

The Minero-Steelworker agreement to begin exploration of unity represents an exciting new development in international labor solidarity. With such unity, workers might have greater power in confronting the transnational mining and metal companies and could respond to challenges more rapidly and with more flexibility than a federation or union usually can. Still, the challenges to this process will be enormous. No doubt both the employers and the governments will work to sabotage any arrangement which threatens to empower workers, and the unions themselves which have worked together so well for the last few years will face new challenges in developing a common leadership, organizational structure, philosophy, strategy, and vision.

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USW Hails Mexican Superior Court Decision Vindicating Los Mineros Leader Napoleon Gomez

For Immediate Release: July 16, 2010

Contact: Ben Davis, USW (Pittsburgh); 412.562.2501 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              412.562.2501      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; 202-550-3729;
Steve Hunt, USW (Vancouver); 604-683-1117; 604-816-2554;
Pittsburgh, PA. (Jul. 16, 2010) – Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), hails a decision, by the Superior Court of Justice of the Federal District of Mexico, dismissing an arrest warrant issued against Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, Secretary-General of the National Union of Mining, Metallurgical, Steel and Allied Workers of Mexico (Los MIneros).

The judgment (No. 736/2010) issued last Friday (Jul. 9), spurred the Attorney General of Mexico to remove Gomez’s photo and related information from the A-G’s Federal District internet page, vindicating Gomez and four Los Mineros union leaders: Juan Linares Montufar, Hector Felix Estrella, Gregorio Perez-Romo and Jose Angel Rocha-Perez. Each was charged with allegations claiming illegal conduct in relation to the administration of a trust fund first established in 1988 but not realized until 2004 in a settlement with Grupo Mexico.
Linares remains held as a political prisoner, without bail provisions, in a Mexico City jail since December 2008, under false charges stemming from the same accusation.

Gerard said, “This recent court decision means that Napoleon Gomez and his Los Mineros union brothers have been proven innocent of any wrongdoing in relationship to the handling of a trust fund established after a number of state mines were privatized in the late 1980s.” He added: “The Mexican government has repeatedly ignored previous court decisions in this regard and continues to use every device it can to persecute the leadership of an independent and autonomous trade union that stands up for Mexican workers.”

The USW’s National Director in Canada, Ken Neumann, says the significance of the court decision remains virtually unreported in Mexico and outside Mexico.

“The persecution of Los Mineros and Napoleon Gomez is one of the great underreported and inaccurately cited stories of our times,” Neumann asserts. “In Mexico, we believe this is due in great part to the fact that German Larrea, the principal owner of Grupo Mexico – a corporation that has conflicts with Los Mineros at the Pasta de Conchos mine In Coahuila State; Cananea, Sonora: Taxco, Guerrero; and Sombrete, Zacatecas – has major interests and influence in sectors of the private media in Mexico and that Notimex, the state media agency, does not properly report in a balanced way.”

The USW’s Gerard explains, “The false accusations of embezzlement of the $55-million trust fund is a Big Lie. The Mexican government itself has seized over $20-million of these funds and sits on the money right now. It has also frozen the bank accounts of Los Mineros and union officials in order to debilitate them.”

According to Neumann, “The Mexican government has also trumped up money laundering charges against Los Mineros, which have been dismissed in courts.” In February of this year an appeals court ordered a criminal court in the Federal District to cancel an arrest warrant against Napoleon Gomez.”

Gerard declares: “Whenever it loses court decisions, the Mexican government concocts new allegations – but based on the same old, worn-out set of lies,” says Gerard. “Its actions show it is a government that is abusing its powers, not upholding its laws.”

On Jun. 6, 2010, the Mexican government sent in over 3,000 armed federal and provincial police to overrun the striking Los Mineros members at the Grupo Mexico copper mine in Cananea, Sonora state. Union members have been on strike, since Jul. 2007, principally over the issues of deteriorated health and safety conditions.

The government has acted in concert with Grupo Mexico to bust the strike and has stationed police in and around Cananea to reinforce Grupo Mexico’s hiring of replacement contractors.

For More Information:

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Telefonica/Atento Follows Union-busting Model
In Mexico City Union Representation Election

Originally published by the Communication Workers of America (CWA)

The union election held last week among 20,000 telecom workers in Mexico City was another wake-up call that the global economy simply doesn't work when it comes to workers' rights.

In a disgraceful example of global union-busting, workers at Telefonica/Atento who tried to vote for real representation were threatened and intimidated, offered bribes and kept from voting by company fraud. Unfortunately, this level of anti-union assault is simply business as usual for many global companies who have exported and permitted union-busting behavior at operations in other countries while continuing to recognize workers' rights at home in Europe.

"It is an outrage that huge multinational telecom firms, whether Telefonica or Deutsche Telekom, behave one way in Europe and then are union busters in the United States or Mexico," CWA President Larry Cohen said. "The tactics may be worse in Mexico but the results are the same. We need to continue to unite with the Telefonistas, the independent Mexican telephone workers union known as STRM, and fight back on a global basis wherever these companies operate."

The July 2 election was "won" by a sham company union, and CWA and telecom unions are planning protests and possibly a global day of action in September.

UNI Global Union had negotiated an agreement with Spain-based Telefonica that it would remain neutral in union organizing campaigns as it expands in Latin America and other locations.

But Telefonica-owned Atento "was anything but neutral," said Jose Cantu, a CWA District 6 organizer and vice president of Local 6229, who was in Mexico City to work with STRM and Atento workers, and to observe the election.

"On my first night, we went to a call center and a group of fighters showed up, about 25 guys with brass knuckles, knives in their pockets and alcohol on their breath. They threatened to kick and beat us." Three thugs were arrested, but the company got them out by morning.
"The next day, we had organizers on corners with two-way radios," he said. A huge group of thugs saw them and fled, but remained nearby every day.

Cantu and organizers from STRM went daily from one call center to another, leafleting and meeting with many of the 20,000 workers seeking representation. Before the election, STRM led a huge multi-union march through Mexico City.

Despite the neutrality agreement the company had signed, Telefonica/Atento ran a brutal campaign of threats, firings, outrageous lies and bribes, and denying the opportunity to vote to scores of workers while allowing ineligible workers to cast ballots, Cantu said.

Several years ago, CWA worked with Atento call center workers in Puerto Rico who wanted a union; they also faced a brutal campaign of intimidation from the company.

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Toronto Labor Union Resolution: Support for Mexican Workers
Building Solidarity with the Democratic Labour Movement in Mexico

TORONTO, JUNE 20, 2010

As union and social movement groups from Mexico, the United States and Canada, as well as labour lawyers and trade union activists from around the world, we have come together to express our solidarity and commitment to the defense of human and labour rights in Mexico.

We are concerned that the Mexican government, acting in complicity with business, has been continually and violently contravening Mexican law as well as international labour conventions. We are speaking out against those proposals for labour law reform that threaten to worsen the already weakened protections for workers, virtually annihilating trade union freedoms in that country.

We reject the criminalization of labour organizations and the repression by military and paramilitary forces against them, and commit ourselves to the support of our sisters and brothers who are under attack. In particular we criticize Grupo Mexico, which, acting in complicity with the Mexican government against the Miners’ union, both in the Cananea and Pasta de Conchos mines, has seriously weakened the right to strike and the right to work.

We are outraged, as worker representatives from the international community, about the attack by the Mexican government against the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (SME), using armed forces to raid the workplaces of the publicly-owned Central Light and Power Company, and unjustly firing 44,000 workers, especially since eight months into the conflict, and more than sixty days into a hunger strike, the conflict has not been resolved. Conflicts should be resolved through negotiation and the good will of all parties, with absolute respect for trade union autonomy and the international standards of labour rights.

We demand the non-intervention of the government in the internal affairs of unions, and the unconditional recognition of their democratically elected leadership. We therefore call for the recognition of the Secretaries-General of the Mining and Electrical Workers’ Unions, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and Martín Esparza Flores.
In our meeting, it was agreed to establish tri-national coordination made up of representatives and activists of unions and non-governmental organizations to organize a program of legal, political and global actions to ensure the restoration of the labour rights of our Mexican sisters and brothers and for mutual support for the struggles we each face in Canada, Mexico and the US.

La Lucha Obrera No Tiene Fronteras / Workers’ Struggles Have No Borders

This statement is supported by: Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), United Steelworkers (USW), Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), United Electrical Workers (UE), ICEM, UNI, IMF, Frente del Trabajo (Authentic Labour Front – FAT), Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas – SME), Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros (National Miners’ Union – SNTMMSRSM) and the Mexican Telephone Workers’ Union (STRM).

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Resolution from U.S. Social Forum People’s Movement Assembly:
Support for Mexican Workers in the Fight for Labor Rights

Detroit, 25 June 2010

The United States Social Forum joins unions and social movements around the world in solidarity with Mexican workers fighting for fundamental labor rights. Independent Mexican unions have requested our support in resisting the attempts by employers, corrupt unions, and the Mexican government to destroy the independent trade union movement in Mexico and deprive workers of rights established in the Mexican constitution, Federal Labor Law and ILO conventions. We urge workers and unions, community and social organizations, social movements and non-governmental organizations to join us in this solidarity work.

The Broader Political Context

All the world including North America has been plunged into an economic crisis that began with the financial crisis in the United States in 2007 and 2008. The countries of the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and the United States have all suffered a depression which has led to the failure of banks and corporations, layoffs and rising levels of unemployment and suffering among the people of all those countries. Felipe Calderón, a conservative, pro-business candidate, was elected president of Mexico in 2006 in an election that many Mexicans consider to have been fraudulent. Barack Obama, president of the United States since 2008, has continued to support the Calderón government. The U.S. government through the Plan Mérida provides the Mexican government funds for military equipment for Calderón’s war on drugs, which are now being used against civil society. The deployment of over 40,000 Mexican soldiers and more Federal police has led to 23,000 deaths in the drug wars, and many human rights violations. This atmosphere has a chilling effect on the exercise of civil and labor rights. At the same time, Obama has expanded militarization on the U.S. side of the border.

The Labor Context

Mexico has a long history of state and state-party involvement in the manipulation of labor unions dating back to the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1940. The Mexican government, was ruled by one party (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) for almost 80 years. More recently the party in power, the National Action Party (PAN), employers, and state-controlled unions have colluded to deny workers their fundamental rights.

Workers who attempted to create independent unions have faced terrible periods of government suppression of workers’ rights. Some examples include the government intrusion into the industrial unions in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the crushing of the railroad workers in 1959, the smashing of the Democratic Tendency in 1975, and the attack on miners and petroleum workers by Carlos Salinas in the 1980s.

Calderón and the Attack on the Unions

Since the election in 2006 of Felipe Calderón, workers’ rights have deteriorated significantly. Calderón has worked to carry out the program of his National Action Party and of the Mexican employers’ associations which his party represents. Working with Grupo Mexico, Calderón has carried on a continuous assault on the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union with the intent of destroying the power of that union. Most recently in June 2010, Calderón’s government and its courts ended the strike at Grupo Mexico’s Cananea copper mine by dissolving the union of 3,000 members, which has now been replaced by a company union.

In October of 2009, Calderón’s government occupied electrical facilities of the Light and Power Company of Mexico City and central Mexico, liquidating the company, firing over 40,000 workers, and thereby eliminating the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME). The Calderón government’s attack on the Cananea miners and the Mexican Electrical Workers constitute flagrant violations of workers’ rights through the misuse of the law and the courts, the police and the army.

The Violation of Workers’ Rights

Mexico not only violates the guarantees in the Mexican Constitution’s Article 123 and the Federal Labor Law, but also international labor standards, above all International Labor Organization Convention 87. As has been well documented by a variety of independent organizations, workers are routinely denied the right to form or to join unions of their own choosing, either being corralled into undemocratic government unions, company unions, or gangster unions that sell “protection contracts” to employers.

The government routinely refuses to recognize independent labor unions, prevents duly elected officers from taking office, and denies workers’ rights to strike. The Secretary of Labor functions as the employers’ representative in working to suppress unions and prevent strikes. The labor courts—made up of representatives from the government, government-dominated unions, and the employers—make it virtually impossible to create independent unions. Employers fire worker activists, and the labor boards uphold the employers when they do so. Labor unions and workers are criminalized. The government brings trumped up charges against union leaders, prosecuting and jailing them as a way to keep them from carrying out their union duties. Workers are not only fired and expelled from the unions, but also threatened and beaten.

We express our indignation at the way that the Mexican government, acting in complicity with business, has been continually and violently contravening Mexican law as well as international labor conventions. We are speaking out against those proposals for labor law reform that threaten to worsen the already weakened protections for workers, virtually annihilating trade union freedoms in that country.

We reject the criminalization of labor organizations and the repression by military and paramilitary forces against them, and commit ourselves to the support of our sisters and brothers who are under attack. In particular we criticize Grupo Mexico, which, acting in complicity with the Mexican government against the Miners’ union, both in the Cananea and Pasta de Conchos mines, has seriously weakened the right to strike and the right to work.

We are outraged about the attack by the Mexican government against the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (SME), using armed forces to raid the workplaces of the publicly-owned Central Light and Power Company, and unjustly firing 44,000 workers, especially since eight months into the conflict, and more than sixty days into a hunger strike, the conflict has not been resolved. Conflicts should be resolved through negotiation and the good will of all parties, with absolute respect for trade union autonomy and the international standards of labor rights.

We demand the non-intervention of the government in the internal affairs of unions, and the unconditional recognition of their democratically elected leadership. We therefore call for the recognition of the Secretaries-General of the Mining and Electrical Workers’ Unions, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and Martín Esparza Flores, and the withdrawal of federal troops from Cananea.
International Solidarity

Mexico’s few independent and democratic unions carry out a heroic struggle for workers’ rights in the face of violent repression, often with support from other social movements. But, given the pro-employer and repressive character of the Calderón government, it is unlikely that they can win those rights alone.

An international gathering of trade union representatives and social movement partners in Toronto on June 20, 2010 declared its solidarity with independent Mexican unions, and committed to establishing a mechanism of international coordination to carry out further actions.

We Therefore Call Upon the Ussf to Join Those Unions and Movements To:

1. Affirm support for the Toronto declaration and raise awareness in the US about the ongoing attacks against Mexican unions and labor rights;
2. Denounce the violation of labor rights and the virulent attack on labor organizations in Mexico such as the Miners and Electrical Workers through our unions and social movements; and
3. Join in developing an effective and coordinated response with our North American partners.

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FAT, UE, MLNA at Labourstart Conference in Toronto

Benedicto Martinez, Co- President of the Authentic Labor Front, Robin Alexander, International Affairs Director of the UE, and Dan La Botz, Editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis were among the scores of union members and solidarity activists who attended the Labour Start Global Solidarity Conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in early July. We include below Eric Lee report:

LabourStart’s Global Solidarity Conference: An eyewitness report
LabourStart held its first Global Solidarity Conference last week at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

The conference opened on Friday, 9 July with a session we called “LabourStart 101”. It was supposed to be an introduction to the LabourStart project for those who may not have been familiar and we expected at most 20 – 30 people to attend. So when more than double that number showed up, creating a standing-room only crowd in a small meeting room, we had a sense of what was going to happen at the rest of the conference.

This was going to be bigger and more interesting than anything else we’d ever done.

It was not our first conference – we’d had events in London in 2002 and 2008, as well as a conference in Washington in 2009. But those were small, invitation-only events. This was our first public event.
Trade unionists from some two dozen countries had registered, though last minute problems prevented some from attending. The delegates from Algeria and Egypt were denied entry to Canada on the grounds that as they were not supportive of the regimes in their countries, which meant that they might not wish to return, and therefore constituted a “risk”. A representative of the Bangladeshi garment workers cancelled at the list minute as tens of thousands of workers in that country went on strike. Logistical problems prevented the attendance of delegates from South Africa, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Still, delegates came from all over – from Trinidad, Mexico, Taiwan, New Zealand, India, Norway, Finland, the USA, Canada, Iraq, Iran, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Russia, and Albania. Maybe other countries too. We think that overall, some 200 people participated in the conference. Most were Canadians.

That first evening we had a reception at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre in Hamilton. Hamilton is an old industrial town and the trade union movement has chosen to preserve its heritage in a beautiful Victorian-era hall which hosted us. A highlight of the evening was when a delegate from Taiwan delivered gifts from a working-class history museum in his country to the museum in Hamilton, and invited the director to visit Taiwan. It was a very moving affair and a gesture of genuine international solidarity.
The following morning the conference formally opened at McMaster University.

Greetings were delivered by representatives of the School of Labour Studies (which hosted the event), the local labour council in Hamilton, and two of the unions of McMaster workers (CUPE and CAW). Conference organizer and LabourStart senior correspondent Derek Blackadder begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting went over organizational details.

The keynote was delivered by Judy Rebick, the noted writer and feminist activist, who spoke about social media and social change activism. Her talk was followed by one by LabourStart founding editor Eric Lee on the subject of LabourStart and the fight for a new labour internationalism.

At 10:00, the conference participants – now some 150 strong – marched outside with local workers protesting against an austerity regime on campus. Those workers addressed the delegates, some of whom came with flags and banners from their own unions.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up with workshops, of which there were nearly 30 throughout the conference. Those workshops were sometimes on technical subjects (e.g., podcasting, using social media) but mostly dealt with issues facing trade unionists around the globe (e.g., organizing young workers, precarious employment, and so on) or on specific countries and regions (China, Iraq, Iran, Mexico). Many participants shared live feedback from the workshops using Twitter, including posting photos.

Saturday’s lunch was addressed by the co-president of Mexico’s FAT, the authentic labour front, who discussed international solidarity and specifically mentioned how helpful LabourStart had been for his union.

Saturday evening delegates enjoyed a delightful buffet meal at the campus pub, donated by Canadian Auto Workers Local 555. This was followed by the screening of the winning video from this year’s Labour Video of the Year competition and then by a screening of the documentary “Who needs sleep?” by the legendary director and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Wexler, who is now 88 years old, attended the screening (and the entire conference) and took questions in an extraordinary exchange.

There were more workshops on Sunday morning, followed by a closing plenary session addressed by Adam Lee of the United Steelworkers. Lee focussed on the recently-concluded year-long dispute with mining giant Vale Inco.

LabourStart’s Eric Lee concluded the conference by thanking the organizing committee from McMaster University and in particular Derek Blackadder, as well as all the volunteers, the workshop and plenary speakers, and all those who attended. This was followed by a rousing singing of “Solidarity Forever”.

As most conference delegates headed home, several dozen active LabourStart correspondents met to discuss various aspects of the project including news, campaigns, the new social networking site UnionBook, and the next conference, which we hope to hold in Australia in 2011.

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Labor Shorts

Gas station workers in Mexico City who had won an injunction protecting their right to strike found their rights undermined in a new decision which flies in the face of established Mexican law: scabs have a right to work, although workers who choose to remain on strike will have their rights protected while the labor board considers the case. The workers, who are affiliated with the FAT, will continue their strike and legal challenge.

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Book Review

Review by Dan La Botz

Diana Denham and the C.A.S.A. Collective, Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca (Oakland: PM Press, 2008) and Peter Kuper, A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Oaxaca (Oakland: PM Press, 2009).

The young PM Press of Oakland has published two interesting and quite different books about the civic uprising in Oaxaca in 2006. Teaching Rebellion by Diana Denham and the C.A.S.A. Collective brings together 23 interviews with people who participated in or were caught up in the Oaxaca rebellion together with a concluding essay by Gustavo Esteva and a study guide by Patrick Lincoln. The book is profusely illustrated with photographs. Peter Kuper’s A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Oaxaca is a beautiful and bilingual book of drawing, paintings, cartoons, and photographs—a collage of the two years he spent in the city with his family.

The interviews in Teaching Rebellion were done by the C.A.S.A. Collective, “a group of international activists, human rights observers, and volunteers for grassroots organizations.” The 23 subjects of the interviews come from many walks of life in Oaxaca—teacher, student, housewife, vendor, reporter, and many others. The oldest person interviewed was in her 70s and the youngest just 9 years old, though most were young adults and middle aged people who had taken part in the movement, including involvement in the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) which became for a while a kind of alternative peoples’ government in the city. The interviews constitute a view of the movement from the grassroots.

All of the important events of the Oaxaca Commune, as some have called this experience, are discussed from the teachers’ sit-in, to the mega-marches, to the movement’s seizing of the radio stations, and the creation of APPO. Personally, I found most moving the testimony of Aurelia, a 50-year old illiterate maid who had not participated in the movement, but who found herself caught up in the repression, mistreated, insulted, flown out of Oaxaca and jailed in the state of Nayarit. Her story, and the stories of others who faced repression—including the 20 killed by death squads—remind one of the tremendous force the state unleashed against participants in the movement.

What seems missing from these interviews, however, is any discussion of the internal political debates within the movement. For example, we have no real discussions of the conflicts within the Oaxaca local of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) or between el SNTE and the APPO. The leftist groups that existed in both the SNTE and APPO and in the movement, such as the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist of Mexico and the Popular Revolutionary Front, are not mentioned. The guerrilla group, the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR), is mentioned but not really discussed by any of the participants. Since all of these groups were, to one degree or another, actors in the 2006 uprising, one wonders why C.A.S.A. apparently avoided talking with people who would have identified themselves as members of these groups, so that they could discuss their political views. What was the interaction between the grassroots activists portrayed here and the political organizations? The absence of a discussion of these groups and their politics leads one to feel that the book has been sanitized, presenting all grassroots activists as political innocents.

One also feels—though the authors should not be faulted for this—that we would like a more complete vision of the Oaxaca events of 2006. We need other books that tell us what Governor Ulises Ruíz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and President Vicente Fox were doing and thinking at the same time. We want to know what the local political and police authorities in Oaxaca talked about during the rebellion. We would like to know what the very rich of Oaxaca did during the rebellion as well as the comfortably well off. What was the larger social and political picture into which this civic uprising fit?

Kuper, his wife and daughter arrived in Oaxaca in July 2006 and spent two years there, years which he recorded in his sketchbooks. As he writes, he felt compelled to capture Oaxaca’s “dark times” but also to “capture its light.” Kuper’s sketchbooks—turned into what is a beautiful, colorful art book—accompanied by a bilingual diary, touch on all the famous sites and activities that tourists find and locals know in Oaxaca. His drawings are clever and campy, kitch and corny, funny and wild. Anyone who has spent some time in Mexico and particularly in Oaxaca, will be reminded, looking at this book and reading the text, of their own experiences. The book is charming.
In truth, the events of the upheaval of 2006 represent only a small part of this book. Kuper has captured much more of Oaxaca’s light than of its dark times. That too proves useful, allowing to situate the year of upheaval within the broader context of a city filled with tourists and visitors like Kuper himself.

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NAFTA and the Political Economy of Mexican Immigration, Addressing the root causes of Mexican immigration by analyzing the architecture of the global economic system. By Collin Harris.


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Back to Table of Contents of Mexican Labor News & Analysis articles.

Archived MLNA issues.


Arturo Silva Doray


"The relationship that we've had with international organizations
-- thanks to ties with UE   --  is hugely important.

"After each international meeting, we feel more and more encouraged by the knowledge that we're backed by outside organizations as strong as the UE."

-- Arturo Silva Doray
General secretary of municipal workers union in Juarez, Mexico
& of Federation of Municipal Workers for Chihuahua, Mexico



For more Information

For information about submission of articles and all queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: or call (513) 861-8722. The mailing address is: Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.

Can you reprint these articles?

Most MLNA articles may be reprinted by other electronic or print media. If the article includes a byline, republication requires the author's approval. For permission, please contact the author directly. If there is no byline, republication is authorized if the reproduction includes the following paragraph:

"This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE)."


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