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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

April , 2011, Vol. 16, No. 4

 

Introduction to this issue:

For weeks now there have been constant demonstrations, sometimes of tens of thousands, against a rightwing attempt to take away workers rights to unions and to collective bargaining rights—and we are not talking about Wisconsin. This is Mexico where employers and official unions have joined with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to push forward a law that would virtually dismantle workers’ rights despite longstanding Constitutional protection. The PRI’s labor reform has the backing not only of its rival the PAN, but also of the Congress of Labor, the umbrella labor organization of the official unions.

Yet Mexico’s independent union movement with support from its allies both in Mexico and abroad has succeeded in delaying—at least for now—the pro-employer proposal. This is an impressive victory. Marches and rallies, educational campaigns and lobbying, and appeals to allies in union organizations around the world as well as to international institutions have defeated plans for a vote on the law before this session ends. Under pressure from the independent unions, legislators say they will consult more broadly with business, labor and society, and have scheduled hearings through May 18, pushing a decision over until the next session in September. Still some fear an emergency session will be called, just the kind of trick the PRI is known for, and have vowed to keep up the pressure.

The unions have received support from various coalitions in Mexico, including the broad network Movimiento por la soberanía alimentaria y energética, los derechos de los trabajadores y las libertades democráticas, the human rights network Todos los derechos para Todas y Todos, and the Asociacion de Abogados democraticos (ANAD) among others. Internationally, the ITUC and its Latin American affiliate TUCA, the IMF, CEP, UE and others all sent letters of protest, and USLEAP picked up the UE's initiative with an email campaign: http://usleap.org/mexican-congress-rushes-pass-regressive-labor-law-take-action-now

The Bosses’ Law

Since the 1980s COPARMEX, the most aggressive and political Mexican business organization, has been pushing for a labor law reform which, they say, would “modernize” the country and make it more “competitive” in order to attract more foreign investment and create jobs. For three decades the conservative National Action Party put forward versions of this law which call for “flexibility,” that is, permitting temporary and part-time work—still forbidden in Mexico. Some early versions also talked about ending the government’s control over the unions through a variety of practices such as the power to approve or reject the election of union officials. Opposed by other parties and both the “official” (that is, pro-government) federations and the independent union organizations, no reform was passed.

Now the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has always claimed to be Mexico’s working peoples party, has put forward an even more reactionary version of this law which will promote labor flexibility by permitting sub-contracting, creating many categories of probationary and temporary employees and capping back pay in labor board proceedings at 12 months, when such proceedings often take far longer. Even where there are union contracts, employers could offer workers individual contracts with different wages, conditions, and benefits. And the proposed law would enact new procedural hurdles making it far more difficult for an independent union to win an election or engage in a legal strike.

The Independent Unions in Opposition

The independent National Workers Union (UNT), however, opposes the measure as do other independent unions. Over the past few weeks there have been several large marches of tens of thousands of members of the UNT, teachers, electrical workers and others against the PRI’s labor law reform. Independent union officials, the National Association of Democratic Attorneys, and pro-labor academics have spoken at public meetings, educational forums, and testified at government hearings. Congressional representatives from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Workers Party (PT) who work closely with the independent unions have spoken out against the labor reform in Congress. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will most likely be the candidate of the left in the presidential election in 2012, has also spoken out strongly against the law and organized demonstrations of his main supporters against it.

Just as public employee unions and workers in the United States see the Republican’s various state labor law reforms as an attack on their labor rights which could wipe out their unions and contracts, so, too, the Mexican workers see the PRI’s labor law reform as a frontal assault which could virtually eliminate unions and contracts from Mexican workplaces or leave in place only government-controlled or employer-friendly unions. So far, independent unions and their allies have done a remarkable job of resisting the PRI-PAN political juggernaut.

What Next?

With things now delayed, will the PRI find it too politically expensive as it heads toward the 2012 presidential election to have pushed this ant-worker measure? Or will they be more afraid that the PAN will accuse them of having failed to support business, failed to modernize and make Mexico competitive, costing jobs? Will more militant and radical workers put their hopes in Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidential campaign to resolve the problem? And will the independent Mexican workers' movement be able to build a bigger, broader and more powerful front not only against this law, but also for an end to the neoliberal economic model? We’ll find out either over the next several weeks or next Fall.

 

Contents for this issue:

Statement of the National Union of Workers (UNT) on PRI Labor reform

Statement: the UNT on the PRI’s Proposal for Labor Reform

This past March 10, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presented its labor law reform proposal. This proposed legislation, which was not presented for consultation to the majority of organizations that make up the Mexican labor movement, nor to the PRI’s own congressional representatives, has the blessing of the head of the Department of Labor and Social Welfare and of certain business circles, recapitulates, with minor adjustments, the content of the proposal elaborated by the Secretary of Labor and formally presented by the National Action Party (PAN) congressional delegation in 2010.
After analyzing the various articles of this proposal, we come to the following conclusions:

1. The proposal contains serious contradictions between its enunciated objectives and its explanatory memorandum regarding its purpose on the one hand and the text of its articles on the other. The clear intention is to hide the underlying basis for this reform which is to cheapen the cost of Mexican labor and to maintain the corporativist [i.e., governmental] control, as well as the distinction, in terms of rights, between public employee unions and other unions.

2. The PRI’s initiative has omitted various proposals that were vetoed by the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) and that had initially been suggested to improve working conditions, establish a 40 hour workweek, improve the seniority bonus and the vacation system, as well as ending government approval of elected union officials (toma de nota) and complying with international conventions relating to the workplace.

3. On the issues of democratization, transparency and accountability, the text of the initiative makes no improvements, while maintaining the system of corporativist control which is the mainstay of aberrant phenomena such as employer protection contracts.

4. Instead of the items mentioned above, other criteria are introduced that provide unilateral labor flexibility, always in favor of capital, such as: freedom to subcontract, to expand temporary contracts to provide for 60-day training periods, 30-day probationary period and seasonal work, which allow employers to fire employees with least possible cost to the employer.

5. The content of Article 15 §2 of the PRI proposal legitimates current illegal practices of subcontracting—outsourcing—without regard to basic guarantees that are necessary to prevent abuses common to many firms and result in casual labor, inequality, lowering of wages, lack of real legal recourse, leaving workers defenseless.

6. Job security is completely undercut, cheapening firings and annulling any protections and benefits associated with unjustified firings. This issue proves the pro-employer bias of the PRI project, in reality the Secretary of Labor’s approach, which limits wages in case of dismissal, so that workers are pressured to accept any settlement, even if unfavorable, when the legal process for reinstatement, is delayed for too long, as is customary in our country.

7. The expansion of temporary, probationary, seasonal and training contracts will undoubtedly harm job security, especially when it is not accompanied by bilateral arrangements to avoid employers taking advantage of them. This will clearly lead in some firms to the replacement of employees by temporary workers with practically no cost to the bosses.

8. Article 388 of the proposal limits the workers’ right to choose their own union, since they must join the union that negotiates the collective bargaining agreement with the employer’s firm or subsidiary, literally blocking the existence of craft unions. This will affect various union organizations in sectors as diverse as aeronautics and universities.

9. Article 25 of the initiative violates the bilateral nature of the worker-employer relationship by allowing individual workers to agree changes in the collective agreement in the case of additional or related work.

10. The PRI proposal impedes union democratization and strengthens corporativist control of workers by imposing as a prerequisite to a petition for an election or to exercise the right to strike, the prior execution of a certification by the employer of the registry of union members, thereby exposing organizers of alternative union to all types of reprisals before such an election can occur. This requirement will make it drastically more difficult to carry out any lawful strike; it puts in the hands of the labor authorities a new pretext to declare strikes illegal and to interfere in the internal affairs of unions. All of this annuls in practice the gain represented by the establishment of the secret ballot for these procedures.

In sum, this is a regressive proposal that attacks the fundamental rights of workers, reinforces the government’s corporativist control over labor organizations, and which, finally, is conceived within the logic of those who think that the only viable offer, given the continuing economic crisis, is to transfer its costs to the workers, deepening the current policy of wage restraint with a partial modification of the labor law that reduces the costs of labor and converts the workers into an easily disposable resource for the benefit of capital.

Since its founding, the UNT has called for an integral, productive labor reform whose general lines are contained in the initiative that we have presented with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in the House of Representatives and that forms part of our perspective for the transformation of the economic, political and social regime of our country.

The proposals of the PRI as well as those of the PAN are radically opposed to this vision and for that reason we will make use of all of the political resources available to us to avoid its approval.
We call upon all the various currents of Mexican unionism to develop the broadest possible unity of action with the goal preserving and expanding our rights and continuing the struggle in favor of the democratization of the world of work.

We reiterate that any labor reform must be arrived at by democratic means and methods, involving all the different expressions of the Mexican workers movement without exception. In order to stop this new attempt to undermine our rights, we are promoting a struggle on all fronts with the goals of improving working conditions and quality of life. Consequently we will promote labor policies focused on strengthening the creation of new jobs, the reactivation of the internal market, and the purchasing power of workers.

We in the UNT think that the workers movement should look for new ways to reach out through its various organizations and to link itself to political forces and with strategic economic centers, formulating proposals from the perspective of the workers beginning with an authentic plural and democratic social dialog among the productive sectors.

The UNT will, consequently, assume responsibility for a political proposal to generate an environment of discussion, organization and proposals, working to bring together the forces of our allies and other union, peasant and citizen organizations, with the goal of constructing a vast social force. Under these conditions, a labor and productivity reform will acquire a greater political dimension by being associated with the democratization and modernization of work and with the constitution of a political and social force of its own with the ability to define the objectives of labor policies and promote the transformation of today’s society as well as the emancipation of the workers.

This convergence will permit us to eliminate the immediate danger represented by the PRI’s labor reform proposal through the application of an energetic plan of action and mobilization, and to insert the debate about a real democratic and productive labor reform that our country needs within the context of the construction of a new model of development and a process of political and social transformation. Such a transformation will allow us to eradicate corporativism and make the democratization of our nation possible by means of a new social pact, that allows for the participation of representative social organizations in the design and instrumentation of public political principals.

The current economic crisis has profound structural roots, internal as well as external, independent of the fact that speculative financial capital may have detonated its explosion in 2008. To change the Federal Labor Law to encourage forced labor flexibility, to weaken collective bargaining, to facilitate layoffs, and to strengthen the system of corporativist control is a false solution that avoids the real basis of the crisis and evades the necessity of modifying the current failed political economy.

Labor Commission of the Vice-Presidency of Economic, Political and Social Affairs of the UNT
Mexico, DF, March 2011

Back to April , 2011 Table of Contents

A Labor Law Bosses Would Love

by David Bacon

[The following article originally appeared in the web edition of In These Times. We thank David Bacon for permission to reprint the article here. – Ed.]

MEXICO CITY (4/14/11) - Changing labor law sounds like some technical modification, a subject lawyers argue about in musty hearing rooms. In Mexico it's been front-page news for weeks. Changing the country's labor law would transform the lives of millions of workers. It would cement the power of a group of industrialists who have been on the political offensive for decades, and who now control Mexico's presidency and national government.

“Labor law reform will only benefit the country's oligarchs,” claims Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who many if not most Mexicans think actually won the last presidential election in 2006, as candidate of the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution. Napoleon Gómez Urrútia, head of the miner's union who was forced into exile in Canada in 2006, says Mexico's old governing party, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI), which lost control of the presidency in 2000, “is trying to assure its return by making this gift to big business, putting an end to labor rights.”

Drastic Changes Proposed

In part, the change is drastic because on paper, at least, the rights of Mexican workers are extensive, deriving from the Revolution that ended in 1920. At a time when workers in the U.S. still had no law that even recognized the legality of unions, Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution spelled them out. Workers have the right to jobs and permanent status once they're hired. If they're laid off, they have the right to severance pay. They have rights to housing, health care, and training. In a legal strike, they can string flags across the doors of a factory or workplace, and even the owner can't enter until the dispute is settled. Strikebreaking is prohibited.

The new law would change most of that.

Companies would be able to hire workers in a six-month probationary status, and then fire them at the end without penalty. Even firing workers with 20 or 30 years on the job would suddenly become much easier and cheaper for their employers, by limiting the penalty for unjust termination to one year's severance pay. “That's an open invitation to employers,” according to Arturo Alcalde, Mexico's most respected labor lawyer and past president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers. “The bosses themselves say the PRI reform is the road to a ‘paradise of firings.’ It will make it much cheaper for companies to terminate workers.”
The justification, of course, is that by reducing the number of workers at a worksite, while requiring those remaining to work harder, productivity increases and profits go up. Meanwhile for workers, though, a permanent job and stable income become a dream, while the fear of firing grows, hours get longer, and work gets faster, harder and more dangerous.

The labor law reform proposal deepens those changes. The 40-hour workweek was written into the Federal Labor Law, which codified the rights in Article 123. That limit would end. Even the current 7-peso/hour minimum wage ($5/day) would be undermined, as employers would gain the unilateral right to set wages. The independent review of safe working conditions would be heavily restricted.

Individual Agreements and Subcontracting

Mexican workers aren't passive and work stoppages and protests are much more common than they are today in the U.S. Greater activity by more angry workers, therefore, wouldn't be hard to predict. So the labor law reform takes this into account as well.

Even in union workplaces with a collective agreement setting wages and conditions, an employer could force individual workers to sign individual agreements with fewer rights or lower wages. Companies could subcontract work with no limit, giving employers the ability to find low-cost contractors with no union to replace unionized, higher-wage employees. And it would become much more difficult to go on strike.

The proposed labor law reform is the fourth in a series of basic changes in Mexico's economic, legal and political framework over the last decade. A fiscal reform began the process of privatizing the country's pension system, much like the Social Security privatization plans proposed for the U.S. Teachers charge that Mexican education reform is intended to remove their influence over the curriculum, which still espouses values that would seem very progressive in a U.S. classroom. In many cases, they say, it will remove them from their jobs also. Current Mexican President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) proposed an energy reform aimed at privatizing the national oil company, Pemex. Fierce opposition, however, was able to restrict it to some degree.

All Part of Economic Liberalization

All the reforms have been part of a program of economic liberalization opening Mexico to private domestic, and especially foreign capital. López Obrador calls the labor law reform “part of a series imposed on Mexico from outside over the last two decades, including the energy reform, fiscal reform and education reform.” In fact, the World Bank pressured Mexico to adopt an earlier labor law reform after the PRI lost the presidency in 2000, and Calderón's predecessor, Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox, won it. The two labor law reform proposals are not identical, but very similar. Both reflect the surging power of corporate employers in Mexico, and the way the PRI and PAN often trade places, pursuing the same political and economic agenda.

“At the same time,” López Obrador notes, “the fight against inequality and poverty is not on the national agenda.” Mexican poverty is already a scandal for a country whose leaders insist its economic growth merits a seat in the “first world.” Changing its labor law would make that poverty more permanent, however, as well as rendering unions more impotent in challenging it. Juan Manuel Sandoval, a leader of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade, predicts, “We will become part of the first world - the back yard.”

An Economy Built on Poverty

In 2010 Mexico had 53 million people living in poverty, according to the Monterrey Institute of Technology. Even the CIA says half the country's population lives in poverty, and almost 20% in extreme poverty. The government's unemployment figures are low—5 to 6%—but a huge number of working-age Mexicans are part of the informal economy, selling articles on the street or working in jobs where the employer doesn't pay into the official funds (the basis for counting employed workers.) Some estimate that there are more workers in the informal sector than in the formal one.

Even the formal jobs don't pay a wage capable of supporting a family, however. According to the Bank of Mexico, 95% of the 800,000 jobs created last year paid only $10 a day. Yet, when a maquiladora worker buys a gallon of milk in a Tijuana or Juárez supermarket, she pays more than she would on the U.S. side. Prices are a little lower further south, but not much. The price of that gallon of milk used to be fixed and subsidized, along with tortillas, bus fare and other basic necessities. Previous waves of economic reforms decontrolled prices and ended consumer subsidies, as Mexico was pressured to create more favorable conditions for private investment.

but Investors Have Done Well

And investors have done very well. In one of the recent diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks, the U.S. government admits “The net wealth of the 10 richest people in Mexico -- a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty -- represents roughly 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.” Carlos Slim became the world's richest man when a previous PRI President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, privatized the national telephone company and sold it to him. Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who owns TV Azteca, is now worth $8 billion, and Emilio Azcárraga Jean, who owns Televisa, is worth $2.3 billion. Both helped current Mexican President Feiipe Calderón get elected in 2006.

German Larrea and his company Grupo Mexico got the concessions to operate some of the world's largest copper mines. Grupo Mexico was accused of industrial homicide by miners' union president Gómez Urrútia after 65 people (many of them contract workers) died in an explosion in February 2006. Since June 2007 the Grupo Mexico copper mine in Cananea has been on strike. Last year Larrea and the Mexican government cooperated in using armed force to open its gates and bring in strikebreakers.

In reality, much of the PRI's labor law reform is already the reality on the ground in Cananea, at other mines, or among maquiladora workers near the U.S. Mexico border. For years the rights of workers in northern Mexico, and even the rule of law itself, have been undermined by the growing power of corporations.

The corporate transformation of the Mexican economy began long ago, moving the country away from nationalist ideas about development, which were dominant from the end of the Mexican Revolution through the 1970s. Nationalists advocated an economic system in which oil fields, copper mines, railroads, the telephone system, great tracts of land, and other key economic resources would be controlled by Mexicans and used for their benefit.

From Nationalism to Liberalism

Under President Lázaro Cárdenas in the late 1930s, Mexico established a corporatist system in which one political party, the PRI, controlled the main sectors of Mexican society - workers, farmers, the military and the "popular" sector. PRI governments administered a network of social services, providing healthcare and housing, at least for people in those organized sectors. Cárdenas also nationalized Mexico's most important resource—oil—in a popular campaign.

National ownership of oil, and later electrical generation, was written into the Constitution. Land redistribution and nationalization had a political as well as an economic purpose - the creation of a section of workers and farmers who would defend the government and its political party, into which their unions and producer organizations were incorporated.

After World War Two, Mexico officially adopted a policy of industrialization through import substitution. Factories produced products for the domestic market, while imports of those products were restricted. The purpose was to develop a national industrial base, provide jobs, and increase the domestic market. Large state-owned enterprises eventually employed hundreds of thousands of Mexican industrial workers in mines, mills, transportation and other strategic industries. Unions had their greatest strength in the public sector. Foreign investment was limited.

Enrique Dávila, professor at San Diego City College, calls the system “nationalism in rhetoric, selling out the country in practice.” Under successive PRI administrations a vast gulf widened between the political and economic elite, who managed the state's assets and controlled government policy in their own interest, and workers and farmers, especially those not in the formal sector. To protect this elite, the country's political system became increasingly repressive.

Oil, Debt, and Corruption

In the 1970s, to finance growth while the price of oil was high, Mexico opened up its financial system to foreign capital (mostly from the U.S.), and the country's foreign debt soared. Managers of state enterprises like the oil company ran private businesses on the side, along with politically connected union officials. Rackets and corruption proliferated while labor and campesino leaders who challenged the system were imprisoned or worse.

The debt and the hold it gave to foreign financial interests spelled the end of nationalist development. Oil prices fell, the U.S. Treasury jacked up interest rates, and in 1982 the system collapsed when Mexico could no longer make debt payments. The government devalued the peso in what is still infamous as the great “peso shock.”

In the Constitution Mexicans still had the right to housing, healthcare, employment and education, but millions of people went hungry, had no homes, were sick and unemployed, and couldn't read. The anger and cynicism felt by many Mexicans toward their political system is in great part a product of the contradiction between the constitutional promises of the revolution a century ago, plus the nationalist rhetoric that followed, and the reality of life for most people.

The Coming of the Maquiladoras

In a desperate attempt to generate jobs and revenue for debt payments, the government encouraged the growth of maquiladoras, the foreign-owned factories on the northern border. By 2005 over 3000 border plants employed over 2 million workers, making products for shoppers from Los Angeles to New York. In 1992 they already accounted for over half of Mexican exports and, in the NAFTA era, became the main sector of the economy producing employment growth.

Maquiladora development undermined the legal rights of workers in the border area, and any laws viewed as discouraging investment. The government had a growing interest in keeping wages low as an attraction to foreign investment, instead of high enough that people could buy what they were making. The old official unions, including the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) controlled restive workers, rather than organizing them to win better conditions.

Protection Contracts

One of the most important methods of control is the protection contract. Cooperative unions sign agreements with factory owners, who pay it "dues" for workers who often have no idea that the union and contract even exist. They find out quickly, however, when they try to organize any independent effort to raise wages or improve conditions. The company and official union claim a contract already exists. If workers try to protest, they're forced into a process before "tripartite" labor boards dominated by business owners, politicians dependent on them, and the official unions.

Labor history in Mexico for decades has been dominated by valiant battles fought by workers to organize independent unions and rid themselves of protection contracts. Thousands have been fired, and some even killed. Despite defeats, organizations like the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM), the Border Committee of Women Workers (CFO), Enlace, and the Workers Support Committee (CAT), have helped workers challenge this system. Some of these battles, fought together with independent unions like the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), have won union contracts, slowly building an independent and progressive sector of Mexican labor.

Counter-Proposals from Democratic Unions

The FAT and the National Union of Workers, to which it belongs, have made their own proposals for labor law reform. They've suggested making all contracts public to let workers know what union they belong to, and to shine a light on the corruption of the present system. They would reform the labor boards, making its process more usable to workers, and remove some of the government controls used to punish independent unions. The PRI proposal would not make protection contracts public or limit them, nor would it change the labor boards or enhance union rights.

Instead, it takes direct aim at those independent unions, some of which have been organized in fierce fights against shutdowns and privatization, like the recent one at the government-owned Mexicana Airline. New private businesses in aviation and other industries don't want to see these unions spread by organizing their workers. A new private carrier, Volaris, for instance, recently started service to the U.S. Now that the government has forced Mexicana into bankruptcy and laid off its workers, Volaris hopes to take over the old airline's routes, and perhaps even its assets. What it doesn't want is the Mexicana union.

Reforms that Undermine Unions

The new labor law reform would restrict unions to the one company or enterprise where they start. Industrial, or even craft, unions, representing workers at many employers, would become impossible to organize. The new private businesses in Mexico would face no challenge by a union seeking to set a base wage for a particular industry, for instance. Unions would have much greater difficulty in organizing solidarity among workers, in any effort like the ones that led to the large industrial unions in either the U.S. or Mexico.

Progressive unions in Mexico today are fighting for their survival. The state institutions that enforce Mexican labor law are already heavily stacked against them. PRI's reforms would turn the struggle for survival into a desperate war.

The miners’ union has been forced out of many mines by government-sponsored company unions. Its leader is still in exile in Canada. President Calderón declared Mexico's oldest and most progressive major union, the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) "non-existent" in October of 2009. He dissolved the state-owned Power and Light Company for central Mexico, and fired all of the SME's 44,000 members who worked there. Most Mexicans believe that is a prelude to privatizing the electrical industry. Already, despite the Constitutional prohibition, almost half of the electricity generated in the country comes from private producers. Nevertheless, the union has been able to win back its legal recognition, and is fighting for the rights and jobs of the 16,000 members who have refused to accept their termination.

International Solidarity with Mexican Unions

Meanwhile, unions in the U.S. and other countries have tried to find ways of supporting Mexican unions. In February five international union bodies, the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), UNI Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), cooperated in organizing actions in 40 countries. Over 50,000 workers, students and human rights activists demonstrated at Mexican consulates or otherwise showed their public opposition to the reform. Twenty-seven actions took place in Mexico itself.

The international federations and Mexican unions formed a coalition, which agreed to press the government to abolish the protection contract system and to stop the use of force against strikers at the Cananea mine, the Power and Light Company, and in other similar situations. The unions demanded an end to repression against the miners’ union and the SME; and that government officials be held responsible for the explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine.

Mass Protests in Mexico

In April unions, community organizations, and even churches and farmers filled Mexico City's main avenue, the Reforma, in a huge march to the central plaza, the Zóocalo. Agustín Rodríguez, general secretary of the union for workers at the national university, STUNAM, warned them, "It is clear that they are trying to modify and reform the Federal Labor Law to turn workers into slaves. That will not happen." In the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, legislators from the PRD announced they would begin holding "days of information" in neighborhoods, helping ordinary people understand the changes that await them.

As the presidential election of July 2012 draws closer, politicians increasingly try to calculate the way the reform might influence it. For the PAN, having the PRI introduce the proposal helps cement a political alliance against the left, and makes the PRI complicit in the government's anti-labor crusade. This causes problems in the PRI, however. Even some official union leaders, affiliated with the PRI, seek to defend themselves against accusations from their base that they're betraying their union and history. A few have even called the bill an "aggressive attack on workers," while others advocate more meetings to discuss the proposal, echoing the call by the PRD.

PRD Senator: We Need Jobs—But Not at This Price

Carlos Navarrete, PRD coordinator in the Senate, ridiculed the secrecy in which the PRI proposal was introduced. “The country needs good-paying jobs, with secure benefits and a level of technology that makes them competitive,” he argued, “not stealth initiatives made with no public debate.” The longer the debate goes on, however, the closer the elections approach. Some PRI candidates, at least, would rather not have to defend an unpopular reform, fresh in the memory of voters. They'd like to see a vote as soon as possible. “The PRI and PAN deputies will try to pass it during Holy Week, when people are on vacation,” predicts López Obrador.

On the defensive or not, though, the independent unions and left wing activists are far from beaten. They've defeated previous efforts, and popular support is on their side. If they can mobilize it effectively, they can still defeat the present proposal and hold the government at bay. July of 2012 is not that far away.

Back to April , 2011 Table of Contents

Mexican Trade Union Leaders Speak at Numerous Venues in the United States

Over the past month, Mexican trade union leaders from Los Mineros and SME have spoken at numerous venues as the result of three tours to the US.

In late March, Carlos Esquer traveled to New York where he participated in the Left Forum, at a program hosted by LCLAA at 1199/SEIU, and at two law schools. He continued on to New Orleans where he spoke at the UALE conference.

Earlier this month, Pipino Cuevas Velázquez, a national leader of SME, joined us in Pittsburgh for events related to April 4. In addition to providing a greeting during the demonstration, we organized an event at the USW headquarters and an evening event at the University of Pittsburgh where he was joined by local leaders of UE from public sector unions from around the US and union leaders and students from Pittsburgh who are fighting against cuts and the attack on fundamental labor rights.

The most extensive tour was organized by Labor Exchange. The March 30th report on the tour’s stop in Wisconsin explains:
“A delegation of workers affiliated with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union of (SME) headed by Jose Humberto Montes de Oca, Secretary of the Interior of this organization, will participate this next Friday April 1st in the massive protest against the law that annuls the Collective Bargaining of the workers of the public services of Wisconsin to endorse their struggle.

“The SME has been fighting for 17 months to recover their source of work that was ‘extinguished’ by means of a presidential decree that left in the street more than 44 thousand working electricians and which had among other intentions to end the Collective Contract of Work of the SME.

“At the moment more than 16,500 workers who have rejected the liquidations that the government of Felipe Calderón offered, are staying firm in their intention to recover their jobs by means of legal and legislative routes, and by the social struggle of resistance.

“It is in this context that they have decided to endorse the demands of the workers of Wisconsin and to interchange experiences of struggles and to reinforce the bond of unity between workers in defense of their conquered rights.

“The Mexican delegation informs that at the moment it has a permanent “encampment” in the Zócalo square of the City of Mexico to demand a solution to this conflict and the freedom of Miguel Márquez Ríos, political prisoner of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union.

“This activity is the final part of a tour of the electrical workers through different cities of the United States to denounce the Mexican government as a violator of labor rights of the Mexican workers. Among other cities they visited are San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Cleveland and Washington where they had interviews with unionists, community leaders, congressmen and organizations of Mexican migrants.

“In this tour also participated Gilda Chacón of the sister republic of Cuba who addressed the subject of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America).”

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ILO Condemns Protection Contracts

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has issued an interim report on a complaint against the Government of Mexico presented by the IMF, ITUC and several Mexican unions, against the widespread use of protection contracts and other barriers to freedom of association in Mexico.

It recommends social dialogue between the Mexican Government and the complainants regarding exclusion clauses, minimum representativeness of trade unions in order to bargain collectively, alleged impartiality of the JCAs (labour tribunals) and the excessive length of proceedings.
The entire report can be accessed here. For key areas, go to paragraphs 727 to 903 on pages 197 to 243. Recommendations are in Paragraph 903, beginning on page 242.

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Mexican Miners and Their Leader receive Human Rights Award

by James Parks, Apr 18, 2011

Reprinted from AFL-CIO blog.

Over the past five years, the Mexican government has unleashed a systematic attack on workers’ rights. Despite the continuing repression, Mexico’s independent, democratic unions organize and represent the rights of workers. Some of the most egregious attacks have been on the Mine, Metal and Steel Workers Union (SNTMMSSRM), also known as Los Mineros.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, awarded Los Mineros and their leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. The award will be formally presented later this year. Click here to read the resolution in English and here for Spanish.

Gómez was first elected general secretary of the SNTMMSSRM in 2002 and immediately began challenging government policies of low wages and flexible labor markets, and building alliances with the global trade union movement.

When a February 2006 explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine killed 65 mineworkers, Gómez publicly accused the government of “industrial homicide.” In response to this criticism, the government filed criminal charges against Gómez and other union leaders, froze the union’s bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions in SNTMMSSRM-represented workplaces and declared the union’s strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them.

Four union members were murdered and key union leaders were jailed. In the face of this campaign of repression, Gómez left Mexico for Vancouver, Canada. From there he has waged a five-year effort to win justice for his union and for all democratic unions in Mexico.
Despite massive repression, the SNTMMSSRM has continued to bargain contracts and organize new workplaces with the help of trade union allies around the world.

Gómez has won major legal victories. Mexican courts have thrown out all of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government’s appeals.

The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe, Ela Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, the Liberian rubber workers, Colombian activistYessika Hoyos and the Independent Labor Movement of Egypt.

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United Steelworkers Congratulate Miners and Leader on Award

(Pittsburgh) -- The United Steelworkers (USW) today congratulated Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the leader of the Mexican Mineworkers’ Union, on being chosen to receive the prestigious Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award.

The award, approved today by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, recognizes Gomez’s “courageous commitment to defend the aspirations of Mexican workers to higher living standards, democratic labor unions, rule of law and a better future for their country.”

“This is an important public recognition that the fight of Napoleón Gómez, his union, and the democratic labor movement in Mexico is just and will be vindicated,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “The Mexican government’s flouting of international labor and human rights norms has been exposed by the global trade union movement and should be condemned by all nations.”

Gómez, who was elected in 2002, incurred the wrath of the Mexican government by demanding higher wages and resisting government efforts to control the union. In 2006, the government removed him from the leadership and, following a mine explosion that killed 65 workers, filed criminal charges against Gómez and other union leaders. The Government has frozen the union’s bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions, declared the union’s strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them.

Despite massive repression, the Mineworkers’ Union has continued to bargain contracts and organize new workplaces with the help of trade union allies around the world. Gómez has won major legal victories, as Mexican courts have since thrown out all of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government’s appeals.

The USW has been a key supporter of the Mineworkers’ union, providing assistance to striking workers in Mexico, support for organizing campaigns, and office space in Vancouver, Canada where Gómez lives after being forced to leave Mexico. In June 2010, the two unions set up a joint task force to “propose immediate measures to increase strategic cooperation between our organizations as well as the steps required to form a unified organization.”

The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions.

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Mexican Government Fails to Protect Central American Migrants

[Several years ago we made a decision that MLNA which focuses on Mexican workers in Mexico should not report on migration or migrant workers in the United States, since other labor rights and human rights organizations were better equipped to report, analyze, and comment on those issues. We make an exception with this article because of the growing concern over the last few years about Central American migrants in Mexico, some of whom also spend some time as workers in Mexico. This article is meant as a resource to provide some basic information on the issue for our readers. – Ed.]

Central American migrants and members of Mexican civic organizations staged a Stations of the Cross pageant in Mexico City in mid-April ending at the U.S. Embassy to dramatize the treatment of Central American migrants. Migrants from Central America and Mexico, said a spokesperson, are bearing their own crosses, for migrants are often kidnapped, tortured and sometimes murdered as they make their way across Mexico and into the United States. One Catholic migrant rights group has referred to this as a kind of migrant massacre.

Mexico’s treatment of Central American migrants is once again being criticized by both domestic and international organizations. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) announced in early April that it will send a special representative (called a rapporteur) to Mexico to investigate the conditions of Central American migrants and to make recommendations to the Mexican government for their protection. A few weeks later, the ICHR demanded that Mexico conduct an exhaustive investigation into the mass grave found in San Fernando, Tamaulipas containing the remains of 145 human beings. This is the same spot where 72 bodies of Central American migrants to the United States were found in August of 2010.

Mexico Violates Migrants’ Rights

The ICHR estimated that between 150,000 and 500,000 Central American migrants enter Mexico each year, the great majority of them heading toward the United States to seek work. These Central American migrants come from the nations of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Most migrants leave Central America because they cannot find work there or cannot find work at living wages, but also because of the increasing levels of violence caused by organized crime in their countries.

While international standards provide that detention should be exceptional, last year some 70,000 migrants were detained in migrant stations that are often unsanitary. Most migrants do not know their rights, are often not advised of them, and despite Mexico’s international agreements with Central American nations, they are often treated with disrespect, callously and sometimes brutally.

While most are traveling through Mexico as quickly as possible in order to get to the United States with its higher wages, some will also work in Mexico in agriculture or industry for a period of time.
Recent surveys show that many migrants’ rights have been violated by the Mexican National Migration Institute and by the Mexican Federal Police. While Mexico, working with the United Nations and other international organizations, has created special units to protect migrants and especially to protect women and children, many problems remain unresolved.

Kidnapping a Major Problem

Kidnapping has become a major problem for migrants. The ICHR says that 11,333 migrants were kidnapped between April and September of 2010. Some think the number of kidnappings may be even higher. The Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission agrees that 20,000 immigrants are kidnapped every year by criminal gangs that act with impunity. The Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission has just identified 71 cities in 16 Mexican states where Central Americans are in danger of kidnapping. Most of these cities are on the train routes from Central America.

Kidnapping has become systematic and widespread along the migrant trails. Mexican criminal gangs such as the Zetas kidnap migrants individually or in groups and hold them for ransom, typically for the amount $2,500. Criminal gangs often work in collusion with the Mexican National Migration Institute, the Federal Police and local police officers. Sometimes the police deliver the migrants into the hands of the criminal gangs. Such migrants may be beaten, sexually abused, used for forced labor, or more rarely have their organs removed for sale.

The treatment of Central American migrants in Mexico forms part of the broader issues of the power of organized crime, of the corruption of government police agencies, and of the broad and general disrespect and abuse of human rights and workers’ rights in Mexico. While migrant rights’ organizations do exist, such as the group which staged the Stations of the Cross demonstration in Mexico City, the labor movement in Mexico has not yet taken up migrant workers’ rights at its own cause.

Special Reports on Central American Migrants in Mexico:

Mexican government, National Human Rights Commission, “Informe Especial sobre secuestro de migrantes en México,” Feb. 2011

Secretary of Interior (Gobernacion), Mexico, “Informe del Estado Mexicano sobre sequestro, extorsión y otros delitos cometidos contra personas migrantes en tránsito por territorio Mexicano,” July 16, 2010.

Migrant Posada Belen, A.C., “Sixth Report on the Situation of Human Rights of Migrants Traveling Through Mexico,” June 2010.

Amnesty International, “Invisible Victims,” April 2010.

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Citizen marches Throughout Mexico Against Drug War Violence

Tens of thousands of Mexicans, in some cities all dressed in white, took to the streets on April 6 to demand President Felipe Calderón and state governors stop the violence which has taken so many live in Mexico in the last five years.

The largest of these demonstrations took place in Cuernavaca, Morelos about one hour south of Mexico City, organized by the poet Javier Francisco Sicilia who son Juan Francisco was found dead with six others on March 28. They are only seven of 15,273 killed this year out of a total of 34,612 since Calderón was elected president. In addition, according to the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission, some 5,397 other people have disappeared. Francisco Sicilia asked that the troops be returned to their barracks and that the government stop referring to those killed as “collateral damage.”

In Mexico City the slogan was, “They are our dead, but it is not our war.” Ten thousand marched there to the Palace of Fine Arts. Artists, intellectuals, lawyers and prominent figures such as Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ofelia Medina, David Huerta, Ana García Bergua, Francisco Segovia, Eduardo Hurtado, María Baranda y Eduardo Vázquez either lent their names to the march or addressed it at the rally. Marchers chanted, “No more blood!” “Out with Calderón!” “Not one more” and “We are fed up.”

Demonstrations in Many Cities and Most States

There were similar if smaller marches in about 40 cities in 21 other states, all responding to Javier Francisco Sicilia’s call to protest the violence. Demonstrations ranging in size from about 20 to 1,000 people took place in the states of Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico State, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, and Yucatán.

The next day, Miguel Alcántara Soria, head of the National System of Public Security (SNSP), announced that he and the governors of the state of Chihuahua, Michoacán, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas had come up with a three-year timetable for the withdrawal of the Mexican Army, conditional upon the establishment of reliable local police forces. At present some 50,000 soldiers have been sent to fight drug dealers in those and other Mexican states.

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RESOURCES



New Blogs on Labor Law Reform

Several new blogs on Labor law reform (in Spanish)can be viewed by clicking here and here.

New MPI publication on US-Mexican Migration and relations

With funding from the European External Action Service, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has issued a report: Obstacles and Opportunities for Regional Cooperation: The US-Mexico Case. MPI Senior Policy Analyst Marc Rosenblum analyzes the history of US-Mexico relations on migration dating from the 1890s to the current day and offers some lessons for the relationship going forward.

Americas Program Updater articles on Corn and Drugs

Americas Program Updater, Vol.9, No.5 contains two interesting articles:

Why Mexico’s War on Drugs is Unwinnable and Monsanto Uses Food Crisis to Push Transgenic Corn in Mexico

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ITUC Statement Opposes Labor Law Reform: Mexico: Labour Legislation Reform Without Consultation

Reprinted from ITUC Press

Brussels, 6 April 2011 (ITUC OnLine):

On 10 March 2011, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), backed by the National Action Party (PAN), put forward a bill radically reforming Mexico's labour laws. The bill was drawn up without consulting the social partners and proposes sweeping labour law reforms that seriously curtail workers' rights and heighten job insecurity.

The ITUC and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) are firmly opposed to the bill and are hoping for a new proposal in keeping with the fundamental rights of the ILO and the recommendations of the Committee of Experts on the Applications of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR).

The bill drafted by the PRI does not include the proposal made by trade unions to eradicate the "protection contracts" making it virtually impossible for workers to form free and democratic unions that represent their interests. Proposed amendments to establish a 40-hour week as well as improvements to seniority bonuses and the holiday system were also rejected.

"The rejection of these proposed amendments is unacceptable," said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. "Once again, labour outsourcing, precarious contracts and unfair dismissals are being facilitated."

In a letter to the Mexican authorities, the ITUC urged President Felipe Calderón to take on board the trade unions' proposals and do everything possible to have the PRI bill withdrawn. It is essential that proposed labour reforms be drawn up within the framework of a genuinely tripartite process, including employers, the government and labour representatives, to ensure better protection of workers' human rights and create a legal foundation on which a national strategy can be built for sustainable and effective development.

The ITUC represents 175 million workers in 151 countries and territories and has 305 national affiliates. Check out their website and at youtube.

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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: danlabotz@cs.com 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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