|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
August , 2011, Vol. 16, No. 8
Introduction to this issue:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Activists and friends,
Although unusual because we just published the August, 2011 issue of Mexican Labor News and Analysis, we are publishing a supplemental issue to bring you news of one small and one large group of workers who are engaged in valiant struggles: workers at the Sandak plant in Tlaxcala, Mexico who are members of an independent union that is close to the FAT are facing a very difficult situation. We are bringing you the most recent information information about this group of 250 courageous workers and their independent union who are fighting to keep their plant open and save their jobs.
We have also taken the opportunity to include several other articles regarding the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) -- the declaration published this week in La Jornada and signed by an impressive array of individuals and organizations from around the world, the Call for the foundation of a new political party, and two documents reporting on the recent election of a new leadership.
Our respects to these courageous workers and their independent and democratic unions!
UE Director of International Affairs
Contents for this issue:
- Sandak Workers Defend Their Jobs, Win the Protection of a Legal Strike
- Declaration in Support of SME Published in La Jornada
- Electrical Workers, Allies to Form Nat'l Political Organization
- Members Vote Therefore the Union Exists: an Embattled Mexican Union Demonstrates Its Strength at the Ballot Box.
- the 2011 Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) Elections: Dispatch from the Observation Team
- Labor Shorts
Sandak Workers Defend Their Jobs, Win the Protection of a Legal Strike
Last December, the Independent Union of Sandak Workers initiated a strike to prevent the company from violating their contract and shutting their plant. The company agreed to sit down with the union to negotiate and the resulting agreement provided for the restructuring of production and rehiring of the fired workers.
However, in early July the company again began preparations to remove molds and dismantle machines. Workers organized an encampment to prevent the removal of equipment and again filed a strike notice. The Labor Board imposed a series of procedural hurdles that left workers in an extremely difficult position -- if they continued to block the removal of equipment they would be subject to arrest and lack the protection afforded by the labor laws. (The labor board had required that the entire executive committee sign the strike notice, although this is not legally required; when they did so the board again rejected the notice because a recently elected union officer had not been recognized by the government the issuance of the toma de nota).
The workers remained united and at the last moment the labor board issued approved the toma de nota, placing workers in a much stronger position. If a strike is legal a company may not remove equipment and workers who are on strike for violation of their contract, may eventually collect damages by acquiring the equipment. The workers will begin their legal strike this coming Sunday with strong support from other unions in Mexico. They are demanding that the company stop violating the contract: that it reopen the plant, rehire all workers with full back pay and restore their health care.
Calzado Sandak S.A. de C.V. is the name under which Bata Mexico operates in Mexico. Its main plant is in Iztapalapa in Mexico City and it has other plants in Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala, Amecameca and Chalco in the State of Mexico. With the exception of the democratic unión at the Tlaxcala plant, the other plants and 50 Sandak stores operate under protection contracts.
Previous articles about this struggle can be found at:
Declaration in Support of SME Published in La Jornada
Since October 2009 the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) has been one of the primary targets of the Mexican government's attack on Freedom of Association.
Most recently, the government has failed to take action to recognize the union's national officers who were elected by an overwhelming vote in July. Instead, it issued arrest warrants against General Secretary Martin Esparza and another national leader, along with their legal counsel, based on spurious charges regarding actions occurring two years earlier (the charges relate to an attempt by the SME to withdraw money from its own bank account as authorized by a judge after it had been frozen by government authorities).
SME continues to work with organizations and individuals both nationally and internationally. If you wish to support their struggle, contributions may be sent to:
Bank: BBVA BANCOMER, 0067 REVOLUCION, MEXICO, D.F.
Names on account: MARTIN ESPARZA FLORES and JOSE FERNANDO MUÑOZ PONCE.
SWIFTT Code: BCMRMXMNPYN
Interbank number: 012180001687152466
Stop the Repression Against the SME!
We demand a solution to the conflict on behalf of workers and citizens
To: President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, Government Secretary Francisco Blake Mora, Attorney General …, President of the Executive of the National Congress..., President of the National Supreme Court..., and Chair of the National Human Rights Commission....:
And to the Mexican people and the people of the world:
In addition to the arbitrary dismissal of 44,000 electrical workers, the takeover of their workplaces by the military and police, the seizure of the Union’s bank accounts and the jailing of 13 workers, there are now arrest warrants out for leaders of the SME. If this is not a campaign of state violence aimed at wiping out an independent union, what is?
At a time when the Mexican society is clamouring for an end to the rampant violence in our country, the first violence that can be and must be stopped is that being exercised by the state against its own citizens, its workers, and expressions of social dissatisfaction. We demand an end to the criminalization of the SME’s struggle, the release of the 13 electrical workers being held as political prisoners, the withdrawal of the arrest warrants against the Union’s leaders, the return of the bank accounts, and the official recognition of the SME’s elected leadership (“toma de nota”) without further delay. There is no excuse for a delay in implementing these actions.
The underlying problem must be dealt with immediately. The nearly year and a half of conflict has meant not only enormous sacrifices for the workers of the former Central Light and Power (Luz y Fuerza del Centro), but also trouble for society at large, and a significant effect on the electrical services for the central part of the country, not to mention the deaths and injuries occasioned by the forcing of a system operating in irregular conditions. Once and for all it is time either for the Federal Electricity Commission to recognize the successor employer or for Congress to create a new public electricity company.
Solidarity Signatures from Individuals
Obispo Raúl Vera, Miguel Concha Malo, Guillermo Almeyra, John Womack; José Jacques Medina, Miguel Álvarez Gándara, Jorge Cázares Torres, Petro Ameglio Patella, Alberto Arroyo, Sergio Cobo, Magdalena Gómez, Oscar Estrada, Luis Hernández Navarro, Marcos Tello Chávez, Héctor de la Cueva, Francisco Javier Saucedo Pérez, Magdiel Sánchez, Gabino Jiménez, Mario Saucedo Pérez, Hugo Herrera Almaraz, Josefina Mena-Abraham, Alejandro Castaneira Yee Ben, Eduardo Miranda Esquivel, Carlos Fazio, Jesús Cervantes Esparza, Hilda Venegas Negrete, César de León Guadiana, Pablo Franco Hernández, Fernando Morales Calihua, Edgard Sánchez Ramírez, Pablo González Casanova, Enrique González Ruiz, Laura Villasana Anta, Atenógenes Pineda Escamilla, Dolores González, José Calixto Rodríguez, Darío Rojas Macías, Paulina Fernández, José Luis Vega Núñez, José Enrique González Ruiz, Bertha Torres, Dr. Gilberto López y Rivas, Marco Antonio Lemus Ramírez, Beatriz Amézquita, Víctor Montiel Cortes, Guadalupe Aguilar Madrid, Pablo Romo, Cuauhtémoc Juárez Pérez, María Asunción Gil González, Rodolfo Olguín Ruiz, Horacio Aguilar Arredondo, Alfredo Hernández Peñaloza, Luis Méndez May, Manuel Fuentes Muñiz, Oscar Alzaga, Arturo Alcalde Justiniani, Dip. Federico Ovalle.
Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT);Sindicato de Telefonistas de la República Mexicana (STRM); Sindicato de Trabajadores de la UNAM (STUNAM); Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos, Siderúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (SNTMMSySRM); Comité Ejecutivo Democrático de la Sección 9 del SNTE; Frente Sindical Mexicano (FSM); Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM);Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Instituto de la Educación Media y Superior (Sutiems); Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la UACM (SUTUACM); Sindicato de Banco Azteca; Ciprosoc; Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT); Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Nuclear (SUTIN); Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de “La Jornada”; Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Instituto Mexicano del Petróleo (SNTIMP); Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra de Atenco (FPDT); Coordinadora Nacional de Sindicatos Universitarios de Educación Superior, Investigación y Cultura; Sección 10 del SNTE – Fracción Democrática – Educación Física; Sindicato Democrático del Metro; Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre comercio (RMALC);Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD); Confederación de Jubilados, Pensionados y Adultos Mayores; Alianza Mexicana por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos (AMAP); Asamblea Nacional en Defensa de los Usuarios de la Energía Eléctrica; Congreso Social Hacia un Nuevo Constituyente; Unión de Juristas de México; Sindicato Independiente Nacional de Trabajadores de Salud; El Barzón Popular; Unión Nacional de Trabajadores y Profesionistas de Pemex (UNTyPP); Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Instituciones Educativas Similares y Conexas “20 de noviembre”; Movimiento de Unidad Social por un Gobierno Popular; Alianza Sindical Independiente; Coordinadora Metropolitana Contra la Militarización y la Violencia (COMECOM); Centro de Información Laboral y Asesoría Sindical (CILAS); Casa del Migrante y del Adulto Mayor; Colectivo Estudiantil en Lucha; Asamblea de Redes del Movimiento Social; Izquierda Democrática Juvenil; Unión General de Trabajadores de México; Organización Alianza Única del Valle; Organización Tlacaelel; Consejo Estatal de la Salud;Partido del Trabajo; Movimiento de Unidad Socialista; Partido Obrero Socialista; Partido Popular Socialista de México; Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores;Organización Socialista de los Trabajadores; Liga Socialista Revolucionaria; Partido Comunista (ML); Unión de la juventud Revolucionaria de México; Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo; Centro de Estudios Antropológicos Ce-Acatl; Frente Unificador de Trabajadores Urbanos y Rurales Organizados (FUTURO); Frente Popular Revolucionario; Centro de Información para Trabajadores y Trabajadoras; Casa de Cultura Obrera; Organización Político Cultural Cleta, Servicio y Asesoría para la Paz(SERPAJ); Grupo Tacuba; Fomento Cultural y Educativo; Movimiento Cívico; Movimiento de Liberación Nacional; Red Nacional Género y Economía (REDGE); Mujeres para el Diálogo (MpD); Siembra A.C.; Comité Ejecutivo Nacional Democrático del SNTE (CEND-SNTE); Alianza Democrática de Organizaciones Civiles; Central Campesina Independiente (CCI); Unión General de Obreros y Campesinos de México (UGOCM). Confederación Nacional Campesina (CNC).
Baja California: OllinCalli, Tijuana; Baja California Sur: Centro de Investigaciones Sociales, Sindicales y Laborales (CISSLABORAL). Guerrero: Consejo de Comunidades Opositoras a la Presa “La Parota” (CECOP). Jalisco: José Ángel Rodríguez Valdez, Secretario General, Sindicato de Empleados Públicos del Sistema Intermunicipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado (SEPSIAPA);Trabajadores Democráticos de Occidente (TRADOC); Sindicato Único de Académicos del Colegio de Bachilleres del Estado de Jalisco; OPN-Jalisco; Colectivo Estudiantil en Lucha (COLESLU); Asamblea de Redes de Movimientos Sociales (AREMOS); Izquierda Democrática Juvenil (IDEJ); Consejo Estatal de la Salud.Michoacán: Sección 18 del CNTE-SNTE; Alianza de Trabajadores del Estado de Michoacán (ATEM); Asociación Civil "Va por Michoacán y por México".Morelos: Frente Cívico por defensa del Casino de la Selva.San Luis Potosí: Sección 26 del SNTE.Oaxaca: Consejo Obrero Popular y Campesino.Tabasco: Frente Sindical, Campesino, Indígena, Social y Popular, Consejo de Comunidades Unidas de Centla.Veracruz: Centro de DDHH “Voces de las altas Montañas”, Orizaba. Yucatán: Secretario Nacional de Cultura y Formación y Secretario Seccional de Organización de Mérida del SUONTRAJ; Kolectivo El Rebelde. Zacatecas: Frente Social por la Soberanía Popular; Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado; Sección 46 de Telefonistas; Sección 34 del CNTE-SNTE;Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la UTEZ; Académicos del CONALEP; Docentes y Administrativos del Colegio de Bachilleres; Coordinadora del Magisterio Democrático Sección 58, Trabajadores del CECyTEZ; de Confianza del CECyTEZ; Secciones 95, 166 y 201 de Mineros; Sección 59 de SEMARNART; Sección 29 del Seguro Social; Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras y Productores del Campo; Movimiento Sindical Universitario; Movimiento del Sindicalismo Revolucionario; Ex Braceros en Lucha; Solidaridad Cívica Zacatecana; Nueva Democracia APN; Promotora por la Unidad Nacional Contra el Neoliberalismo; Colectivos y Trabajadores de la Otra Cultura; Federación de Organizaciones Sociales del Estado de Zacatecas; Barzón Zacatecas; Frente Popular de Lucha; Coordinadora Plan de Ayala; Jóvenes por el Socialismo; Alianza Ciudadana de Comunidades Urbanas y Rurales; Integradora Estatal de Productores de Frijol; Comercializadora “Alfonso Medina”; Enlace del Campo; Los Ejidos SPR de RI; Vaqueros de la Cocinera; Tianguis “La Campesina”; Sección 32 del INEA; Organización de Lucha Social en Apoyo a Deudores;OPN – Zacatecas.
Federación Sindical Mundial; Federación Internacional de Trabajadores de la Industria del Metal (FITIM); Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de las Américas (CSA) – Brasil; Derechos Humanos en la Secretaria de Políticas Sociales de la CSA – Brasil; Alianza Trinacional de Solidaridad Canadá-Estados Unidos-México; Unión Nacional de Comunicaciones (UNI); TNSA-Action; Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers (US-Canadá); Federación Internacional de Sindicatos de la Química, Energía, Minas, e Industrias, (ICEM).
Argentina: Enrique Gandolfo Secretario General de la CTA-Bahía Blanca (Central de Trabajadores Argentinos); Claudio Katz y Eduardo Lucita, Economistas de Izquierda (EDI); Horacio Meguira, CTA; FITIM, Diálogo 2000.
Germany: Dr. Klaus Engert, Presidente del Consejo Personal MDK-Bavaria.
Brazil: Kjeld Jakobsen, Movimiento de los sin Tierra (MST);Tárzia Medeiros, Partido Socialismo y Libertad (PSOL); Central Única Dos Trabalhadores (CUT-Brazil).
Belgium: Eric Toussaint, Presidente del Comité por la Anulación de la Deuda del Tercer Mundo (CADTM).
Canada: Daniel B. Lafrenière, Secrétaire-trésorier, Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ); Virginia A. Nelder, Abogada Laborista; John Dillon, Fronteras Comunes; Hugo Leal-Neri; Marion Pollack, Representante Nacional de la Unión Canadiense de Trabajadores Postales; Derek Blackadder, Labor Start; Laurent Lévesque, Représentant National, Syndicat Canadien des Communications, de L'énergie et du Papier (SCEP) FTQ-CTC; Stephen Bryant, Président Locale 1626 (SCEP-Berlitz); Dominique Daigneault, Secretario General, Conseil Central du Montréal Métropolitain-CSN; Pat Roy, Administrative Vice-President, Communications, Energy & Paperworkers of Canada (CEP - AtlanticRegion); Sister Lorraine Clewer, Solidarity Center in Mexico, SME ASAP; Duncan Brown, CEP, Tri National Solidarity Alliance; Rhonda Spence, Canadian Union of Public Employees; Cindy Payne, CEP National Representative. Red de Solidaridad de la Maquila, Canadá.
Colombia: Federación Unitaria de Trabajadores Mineros, Energéticos, Químicos y de Industrias Similares de Colombia; Daniel Libreros, Colectivo Ecosocialista.
Cuba: Lidia Guevara.
Ecuador: Alberto Achito Lubiasa, Autoridad Tradicional Indígena Embera; Maria Isabel Altamirano, Colectivo Feminista IV Internacional; Margarita Aguinaga Asamblea de Mujeres Populares y Diversas.
Spain: Fermín Paz Reséndiz, Frente Sindical Mundial-Galicia; Josep Cruelles i Zapater, Revolta Global – Izquierda Anticapitalista (Cataluña); Central Sindical LAB(País Vasco).
US: Federación Americana de Trabajadores – Congreso de Organizaciones Industriales (AFL-CIO),Centro de Solidaridad - México; Robin Alexander, Director de Asuntos Internacionales delUnitedElectrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE); UE Local 150, Trabajadores Negros por la Justicia, Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ); Dan La Botz, NationalWritersUnion; Veronica Wilson, Coordinadora de Proyectos, InstituteforTransnational Social Change; Peter Olney, Organizador Nacional del International Longshore and WarehouseUnion (ILWU); Frank Martín del Campo,Tim Paulson, Joe Berry Consejo Laboral de San Francisco (SFCL-SME); Joshua Sperry, Engineers and Scientist of California, Local 20, AFL-CIO & CLC; Mark Brooks, UtilityWorkersUnion of America; David W. Campbell, Secretary-Treasurer, UnitedSteelworkers Local 675; Marcus Holder, ILWU10; Renee Saucedo, La Raza Centro Legal, SF; Jane Slaughter, revista “Labor Notes”; Stephen Coats, Director Ejecutivo, US Labor Education in theAmericas Project; David Bacon, fotoperiodista; Michael Woo, Director de Got Green, Seattle, WA; Guillermo Pérez, Local 3657, United Steel Workers; Fred Hirst; Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network, San Diego California; Karl Kramer, San Francisco Living WageCoalition (Coalición Salario Digno); South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council; Manuel Pérez-Rocha L., Associate Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project, Washington D.C.
France: Christian Mahieux, Secretario Nacional, Patrick Choupaut, Comisión Internacional, Unión Sindical SOLIDAIRES (Solidari@s); Sylvain Artigau, secrétaire du syndicatl’ Union Générale CGT Ingénieurs Cadres et Techniciens (UGICT VOA); Hervé Do Alto, Nuevo Partido Anticapitalista (NPA); Goetz Wolff, lecturer, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Great Britain: Ian Bruce, Periodista y Cineasta.
Martinique: Patrice Mhidi, Groupe Revolution Socialiste.
Poland: Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski; Pawel Bartolik; Szymon Martys y Lukasz Lugowski, Partido Polaco del Trabajo (PPT); Pawel Szelegieniec; Marcin Starnawski, redactor de Recykling Idei; Grzegorz Maryniec; Piotr Tronina, Grupo por un Partido Obrero; Joanna Lis; Bartosz Lukaszewski; Jacek Drozda; Roland Zarzycki; Katarzyna Bielinska.
Puerto Rico: Rafael Bernabé Riefkohl, portavoz del Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS).
Sweden: Dick Emanuelsson Periodista; Ingrid Storgen, Periodista.
And the list of signatures continues…
Responsable for Publication
Héctor de la Cueva Díaz
Electrical Workers, Allies to Form Nat'l Political Organization
The Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) and their allies announced at a press conference on August 18 that they would be holding the founding convention of the National Political Organization (OPN) proposed by SME last October. The convention itself, following several months of discussion and preparation, will take place on August 27 in the SME auditorium. The convention will close on Sunday, August 28 with a mass meeting in the Sports Palace.
Participating in the press conference that announced the event were: Martín Esparza, general secretary of the SME; Humberto Montes de Oca, Secretary of International Relations of the SME; Jorge Cázares, general secretary of Local 18 (Michoacán) of the National Teachers Union (el SNTE); Marcos Tello, Workers University of Mexico (UOM); Humberto Martínez Brizuela, Socialist Workers Organization (OST); Edgard Sánchez, Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT); Luis Miranda, Popular Socialist Party of Mexico (PPSM); Camilo Valenzuela, National Liberation Movement (MLN); José Luis Hernández Ayala (MUS); Rodolfo Chávez Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the Dam at La Parota (CECOP); anong others.
The following statement was read by SME member Cecilia Figueroa:
To get out of the national disaster
A Peoples Government and a National Constituent Assembly!
We are building the National Political Organization of Workers and the People!
Everyone to the Convention of the Opn and to the Closing Meeting
The City of Mexico, Saturday, August 27 (10 a.m.) and Sunday, August 28 (12 noon)
To the Working People:
On October 30 2010, in the Aztec Stadium before 60,000 people, Martín Esparza, general secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers union called for the creation of a national political force to expel from the leadership of the country those responsible for the national disaster. We, leaders and activists of workers, peasants, indigenous, popular and political organizations from all parts of the Republic have responded to that call to take the next step toward the founding of a National Political Organization of workers and the people.
The reasons we have done so are clear. The country is going through a disastrous situation. The imperialist pillaging and exploitation which the country suffers has grown to levels that are leading to a national catastrophe. To this must be added the policies of a sell-out regime which is destructive of the rights and living conditions of the great majority of the working population and of the people.
At the moment, poverty affects 70 percent of the national population. Life in the indigenous communities and in the slums surrounding the cities is hell. Meanwhile the oligarchs accumulate incredible riches through the exploitation of workers and the sacking of the national resources and public and social property. Eight million young people have neither jobs nor employment. Slim, Larrea, Salinas Pliego y Azcárraga [the very wealthiest Mexican capitalists], among others, are some of the great thieves who cause the ruin of our nation and the poverty of our people.
They and the politicians at their service, have made our national sovereignty into a joke. The signing of the [North American] Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico in 1994 formalized the subjugation of our country to the interests of the transnational corporations. National industry and agriculture have been dismantled.
The adoption of the Mérida Initiative, a continuation of the sell-out policies of NAFTA, has been linked to the war on the drug dealers which now has killed a total of 50,000. [Mexican President Felipe] Calderón made secret agreements with [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama permitting U.S. police and military officers charged with running this war [to operate in the country] completely violating national sovereignty.
To Stop the National Disaster
• Some 90 percent of the financial system has passed into foreign hands and the total of the national debt is exploding, threatening to lead our country to a crisis even worse than that of 1982.
• In clear violation of Article 27 of the Constitution, 43 percent of the electrical energy production is in private hands, as well as a good part of the processes of exploration, production and refining of PEMEX, a public company which during the government of Calderón has recorded losses of 273 billion pesos, in spite of the high prices of crude in the international markets. At the rate we are going, Mexico will become an importer of crude in 2017.
• The mines and the water have been stolen by foreign companies and by the Mexican oligarchy, at the same time that we are losing our food sovereignty more and more each day. Mexico imports half of the food that we consume; the agribusiness monopolies speculate with the prices of food and impose patterns of production and consumption that increase diabetes, cancer and other types of illness.
Calderón Is Planning to Expand His War
During the next legislative session, the government wants to expand the war against working people, pressing to pass a package of “counter-reforms” among which:
• The labor law reform would bring about the destruction of collective bargaining agreements, the individualization of work relations, the negation of benefits, work by the hour [as opposed to a guaranteed work week], etc. They want to eliminate the provisions of the Federal Labor Law (LFT) that favor workers and to get rid of the oldest and most combative workers organizations: the Mexican Electrical Workers and the Miners Union among others.
• The national security law reform is put forward under the pretext of a struggle against the drug dealers, but it will lead to the militarization of the country and will give the executive branch of government the ability to use the armed forces against any social, election or worker protest.
• The reform of the law of public private associations would legalize the state as the mere agent and administrator of contracts for the private sector, that is to say, as an agent of the imperialist businesses and of the local oligarchy. If this law is approved, it will hand over in their entirety the petroleum, electricity, minerals, aquifers and wind power of the nation.
The legislative houses [Senate and House] are corrupt to their core. Today, all of the institutional parties are in agreement with the essence of these counter-reforms. There is no doubt that the economic and political oligarchy and imperialism are designing a war scenario that facilitates the installation of a civil-military dictatorship which would carry out the turning over of the nation’s riches and the destruction of all rights won by the people during two centuries of struggle.
Either Them or Us
There is no way out for the Workers and the People except unified and organized resistance: This resistance extends and tends to develop, as has been shown by the electrical workers, teachers, miners, Mexicana airlines employees, among others, who seek to get back their jobs and their collective bargaining agreements. At the same time, the peasants defend their forests, their lands, their young and the families which have been the innocent victims of war and which mobilize saying, “Stop the war and the militarization!” and “No More Blood!”
The rebellions of the people of North Africa and the Middle East, of Latin America (Chile) and the Caribbean, the struggles of the workers of Europe and of the United States itself (Wisconsin) show how resistance to the war declared by imperialist government and oligarchic governments against workers and people throughout the world is being resisted. These struggles give encouragement to the development of the resistance of the Mexican people.
The National Political Organization of Workers and the People (OPN) rises up to contribute to give the struggle of the workers an independent political expression. The OPN believe that the only serious way to defend the nation and the economic and social rights of the working people is to struggle to throw off the power the economic oligarchy and its political representatives. The OPN commits itself to working for an authentic democratic representation of the people, for a government of workers that will make a reality of a National Constituent Assembly [a convention to form a new government].
The National Political Organization of Workers and the People stands for political alliances and appropriate agreements with social movements, political and union organizations….for the demands of the people and in defense of the sovereignty and unity of the nation.
The OPN defines itself at the same time as an internationalist organization ready to join in solidarity with the struggles of the people of Latin America and of the working class and the people of the world.
To the Workers and the People of Mexico:
We invite all men and women to unite in this great force in whatever corner of the country you may be found, putting yourself in contact with the organizing commission of the OPN.
We invite you to join us at our FOUNDING CONVENTION which will take place on Saturday, August 27 in the Mexican Electrical Workers union hall in Mexico City and at the PUBLIC MEETING which will conclude the work on the following day, Sunday, August 28 in the Sports Palace.
Members Vote Therefore the Union Exists: an Embattled Mexican Union Demonstrates Its Strength at the Ballot Box.
The Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas, SME) resoundingly returned its general secretary, Martín Esparza Flores, to office in late June. While this exercise in democracy and citizenship within a workers’ organization seems commonplace, its significance cannot be understated.
The SME, more than 65,500 active and retired members strong in 2009, could have disappeared in October of that year, when a midnight presidential decree shuttered the state-owned Luz y Fuerza del Centro (Central Light and Power, or LyFC) and pushed its entire 44,000 member workforce into the street in what the union claims was a constitutionally illegal move to destroy its historical collective bargaining agreement and wedge open the door for privatization. The independent union has fought on, however, working to hold the government to account, represent the interests of its members, and stand with human rights and other organizations in support of the many Mexican workers seeing their democratic protections shattered and working conditions irrecoverably eroded in strategic sectors such as mining, transportation and telecommunications.
Until a definitive Supreme Court ruling is made regarding the dead-of-night decree that dissolved the company and deprived workers of their jobs and a bargaining partner, SME cannot legally be prohibited from functioning. Although its bank accounts have been frozen since even before LyFC was dissolved, it is sustained economically by the pensions of its retirees, nourished nominally by voluntary dues payments and the sale of union T-shirts and other paraphernalia, inspired politically by a vision of social justice based on public ownership of the common good, and supported morally by a solidarity movement to which the SME has contributed since better times. Meanwhile, the case inches its way through the Mexican justice system while national and international legal strategists prepare case evidence and testimony for future consumption by the transnational justice mechanisms available to Mexican workers—e.g., the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, NAALC—should the Supreme Court route be indefinitely blocked.
Twenty months after the heavy-handed attempt to silence it forever, the union membership voted on mass, proving to the Mexican authorities and general public that it will not give in to the Calderón administration’s concerted pressure to eradicate organized labor in the only sectors in which workers have a truly independent voice.
By going to the polls in June 2011, members said more than that they are proud of their union. They said, “SME votes, SME negotiates, SME represents and protects workers. And therefore SME exists.”
The Election Context
For this leadership election (which took place June 16–27, 2011), 37,420 retirees and laid-off workers “in resistance” (the badge of honor used by those who have not taken severance) were eligible to vote, Ultimately 25,421 workers—or 68 percent of those eligible to vote—exercised their right , returning General Secretary Martín Esparza Flores to a third term with 98 percent of the ballots. He has served as SME’s highest level leader since 2005.
Some 27,280 workers who were forced by economic or other pressures to accept severance continue to have a voice in the union but cannot exercise a vote. As of today 16,720 workers have declined severance and survived 20 months without a paycheck, living on solidarity and ingenuity in order to defend their right to a union workplace, Mexico’s right to publicly owned and regulated power, and everyone’s right to live and work peacefully under the rule of law.
Every two years, 13 of SME’s 26 Central Committee and Autonomous Commission positions are up for the vote. There are no statutory limitations to the number of successive mandates a leader can serve; the only limit is the one imposed by the will of the members via their system of universal and direct suffrage. This year the union made a tactical decision to vote on all 26 positions, as much to catch up with internal election cycles (after the government violated International Labor Organization (ILO) protocols in April 2009 by declaring that year’s election null and void and refusing to register the elected leadership) as it was to prove a point—to the government, themselves and their community.
Although voter turnout for SME elections has decreased since October 2009, some 68 percent of eligible workers registered their choices, with tallies oscillating between 94 percent and 98 percent for each of the 26 national-level leaders. Esparza Flores called the June election a “rebirth certificate” for the union after almost 600 days of lock-out . Of equal importance, the 20-organization election observation team reported that, “the duty to vote, the secret nature of the vote, and the absolute freedom under which voting took place were all fulfilled,” and that “the final result of the electoral process was the product of a free and transparent process.”
Meanwhile, Mexican municipal, state and federal elections are rarely given a clean bill of health by observers, and the Mexican public has not ventured to polling stations in numbers beyond 60 percent in recent years (58 percent for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2006, 45 percent for parliamentary elections in 2009). The victory is not, therefore, simply a win for SME leaders or even for the union itself. It is a victory for democracy and citizenship in Mexico, and one whose lessons government and big business can ill afford to ignore.
The Principles Involved
A growing number of consumers in Mexico City and its surrounding states (estimated by SME technicians and community outreach activists to be at 4.8 million people) are unable or unwilling to pay increasingly onerous electricity bills, some up 300 percent higher, for service that is more sporadic since the loss of LyFC. When LyFC closed, the government also mothballed seven hydroelectric dams that are still capable of producing clean energy for Mexico’s central region. Meanwhile profitable contracts are tendered to multinational enterprises for the construction of fossil fuel and nuclear electrical generation plants, many of which have come online in Mexico’s southern states. Energy sector analysts predict that the same firms likely will go on to win contracts in the central region once the LyFC conflict is resolved.
The 2009 decree, workers and consumer rights groups argue, was not issued in order to make electrical generation and distribution in Mexico more efficient, or to provide lower-priced service to industry and households. It was issued in order to create a profit from the sale of one of the country’s last remaining nationalized industries, and to send a message to democratically organized workers about who holds the power in Mexico. This is why, human rights advocates explain, the situation is currently under constitutional, congressional, and international review, and sheds light on how it is possible that leaders and their families in resistance have been intimidated, harassed, and even jailed when they will not be otherwise silenced. Today, 13 SME member-leaders are indefinitely in jail awaiting trial on a variety of charges that most rights observers consider false.
The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center accepted SME’s invitation to observe its internal electoral process. Four of the organization’s Mexico City-based staff participated in the effort, moving unannounced from voting center to voting center and state to state, day and night, during eight days of voting and four days of counting. At no time during this process were Solidarity Center staff denied access to any document, election site, voter, union staffer, or official, and at no time did the SME or any other institution interfere with the recording of information. Furthermore, while Solidarity Center staff crossed paths with observers from the 19 other monitoring organizations, public galleries were open to all who wished to see what was happening, webcams beamed live streams of the process over the Internet, and journalists conducted interviews for print and broadcast media. These elections were high stakes, and no one (allies or enemies alike) was going to allow so much as an unregulated or unaccounted for sneeze go by unnoticed.
By early afternoon on day five of the elections, 15,000 members had voted in 12 voting stations located throughout Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla, and Morelos. This was right on track given that SME was just over half way through the vote. By exactly 3 p.m., Monday, June 27, the last of the 25,421 votes had been cast, the doors to the Mexico City voting station closed, and the vote counters were sealed into a fish-tank-like space in union headquarters. They would not emerge until July 1, relieved to be free from the minute-by-minute scrutiny from the viewing gallery, and from sleeping, eating, and passing the evenings with minimal privacy. They chalked the final official results onto the slate boards for all to see. These elections were nothing if not transparent.
The Ordinary Became the Extraordinary
This electoral effort was extraordinary given that the union’s assets are frozen, workers have endured almost two years of hardship, LyFC lies dormant, and the company infrastructure has either been sacked, taken over by the hostile Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), or lies idle.
The election involved:
• 2 months of preparation
• 972,920 ballot papers (prepared by SME’s print shop)
• 100 staffers (unpaid until the LyFC workers are reinstated or hired by a successor employer)
• 60 volunteers
• 400 elected union officers from all of the departments and divisions of LyFC and corresponding ranks of the Mexican Electricians Union
• 1 public notary
• 20 national and international observer organizations, and
• 1 sizeable press corps
The extraordinary elements of the current SME election, however, were not its size, nor the resources invested in ensuring that the vote followed the union’s bylaws to the last letter and was secret, universal, and direct. Nor even the fact that tens of thousands of members voted after 20 months of workplace exclusion and no positive outcome securely in their sights.
To the contrary, this election was extraordinary because of its ordinariness. It was “extraordinary” because each member will go on to vote in up to three other elections this year, just as they have every year since they started work with LyFC. It is “extraordinary” because it consolidates 97 years of democratic practice in a union that has always functioned in the midst of a violent and repressive environment. It is “extraordinary” because of the buzz of pride and joy that members, leaders, and staff radiated as they went about this most civic of obligations to their union and themselves. And it was extraordinarily important because, by continuing to hold normal and regular elections during a period of extreme duress, the union was saying to itself and to the world that it will not be defeated and that liberty will prevail.
Cecilia Figueroa, a former worker from LyFC’s audit department and volunteer host on Radio SME, said that most workers in Mexico do not know who their union representatives are or that the right to choose representatives and leaders at all levels is what gives the union its essence. When workers voted in November 2010 for the first time after the government failed to take away this right in 2009, she said, members celebrated at the voting stations. But this was not about the victory of the winning slate, it was about the victory of winning back the right to vote.
Although seasoned observers told Solidarity Center staff that these current elections were less festive than in 2010, those who came from Canada and the United States this time said that it felt like something very special was happening. Union sections arrived en masse with members carrying banners, sounding trumpets, and chanting. SME’s 13 political prisoners—arrested and held for a variety of offenses (including resistance to arrest), which most rights observers consider false—were present even though they could not vote, their faces carried into the voting hall on life-size posters. Some elderly members, in wheelchairs adorned with their SME pride, were helped up the steps to the transparent urns to place their votes, making a rare trip out of their homes to have a say in their family’s future. And at the General Assembly on July 4, when the final results of the votes were announced to members, Miguel Márquez Ríos, former hunger striker and current prisoner (nine months and counting) joined the final ceremony by cell phone and listened to the emotional crowd assure him that he was not alone.
Because they no longer have workplaces in which to share gossip and cannot afford to pass time in cantinas and malls, chit-chat about current life and past union actions went on continuously along the lines of people waiting to vote. They reminisced about the time when folks traveled to Chiapas to help indigenous communities install electrical generation plants, which the government refused to provide. They remembered when SME stood in solidarity with the Mexican Association of Anthropologists to resist the sale of Mexico’s cultural heritage to private interests. They talked about the truckloads of provisions that members distribute each and every time a hurricane hits the villages that the government often ignores. The elections made such “normal” story swapping possible again. And folks commented wryly on how they never would have believed how such-and-such person, specialist in high-voltage cabling (or other such skill), would have found him- or herself dressed in costume and selling candy on the streets in order to survive one of the longest lock-outs in history.
More than a few tears were shed as the stories continued. Suicides, divorces, indebtedness, sickness, and poverty are some of the very real consequences of the physical and psychological attacks on LyFC workers during the lead up to and beyond the shuttering of the company. Men have taken on housework. Women have participated in security brigades to protect hunger strikers. Children are jeered at school for the decisions of their parents. Parents, meanwhile, feel like children again as they move “back home,” to be supported by their retired elders. One former worker said that 20 of her family members lost their jobs that night when armed forces entered the 100 worksites that LyFC had operated since 1914. The family was able to survive because retired union members had pensions and because many joined the ever-expanding army of the informal economy. Still, their economic status plummeted, and their family no longer expects to return to the ranks of the middle class in this generation.
These issues raise the question of whether Mexico’s development strategy is sustainable, productive, or in line with the values of the Mexican people or with national and international laws and standards. SME members are not the only workers who have seen real income fall to its lowest level since the 1980s, yet they have been attacked precisely because their collective bargaining agreement provided salaries, benefits, and protections well above those earned by the new generation of men, women, and children temporarily and informally employed as service providers, assembly workers, farm laborers, coal diggers, etc. In a country that aims to compete on the basis of an unregulated labor market, where increasingly violent forces chill all civil-society organizing, and where the rich get richer on the backs of an increasingly impoverished population, SME should not logically exist. Indeed, the organization must confront a seemingly underhanded attempt to privatize power generation and distribution in Mexico, as well as a hate campaign—including sustained slurs in the media blaming LyFC workers for black-outs and high prices—unleashed against these essential frontline service providers.
SME’s resistance is tenacious and creative, however, and the government’s justification for its egregious violations of the rights of workers are being proved groundless by the reality faced by consumers and replacement laborers as the lock-out continues. Workers hired on temporary contracts or subcontracted by the CFE (which has a sweetheart union) have been killed on the job at a rate of two every three months as a result of weakened health and safety protections. (LyFC’s mortality rate was one worker per year.) Power-outages and disconnections have increased as cheaper substitute cabling materials short out with high demand, sub-stations catch fire, and families and businesses refuse or are unable to pay skyrocketing bills. As a result, SME has been able to build alliances with consumer groups and educate the public about the union’s role in industrial security and gradually win back some of the respect it lost when the government called the workers lazy, greedy and unskilled.
One takeaway from this situation is that when people understand the structural causes of their situation and will not trade their dignity for short-term solutions, fear and hardship can be transformed into extraordinary strength. In the case of SME, a near century of pride and tradition has been reinforced by bonds that have literally been transformed into family relationships. These traditions and bonds are the transmission belts for the democratic values and working class consciousness that constitute SME’s culture, promoted and practiced by leaders and members alike.
Perhaps ironically given their distress, SMEitas are known for their sense of humor and mischievousness, both vividly on display in Mexico City’s Zócalo since the union occupied it with a tent city four months ago. But that should not distract from the seriousness of the issues and the determination for a solution to be negotiated that will recuperate this human talent and, once again, ensure affordable, clean and safe electrical supply to the 6 million entities that LyFC used to serve.
By refusing to give up their right to exist, by providing a model of democratic and peaceful organization to a public that is worn down by corruption, lies, and violence, by providing unconditional solidarity to other oppressed groups who request it, and by extolling the virtues of the people’s right to decide, SME and Mexico’s other independent and democratic unions are a beacon of citizenship in Mexico and beyond. Their recent election is a shining example, and this light should be held up as a source of hope and inspiration to illuminate these dark times.
the 2011 Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) Elections: Dispatch from the Observation Team
By Jodi Martin
Jodi Martin is a Labour Lawyer practicing in Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers
Between June 26 and June 30, 2011, at the invitation of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico City and act as an international observer for the internal SME elections. In Mexico City, I joined representatives from several Mexican labour and human rights organizations, the United Auto Workers International, the American Federation of Labour, and the San Francisco Labour Council who also participated in the observation.
In summary, the observation team found the SME elections to be free, fair and transparent. The presence of the observation team was necessitated by a series of recent events whereby the Mexican administration has both terminated the employment of SME members, and sought to undermine the union’s strong membership.
The SME was founded in 1914 and is one of the oldest democratic unions in Mexico. It represents employees of the former state utility, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which provided electricity to Mexico City and surrounding states. In total, LyFC provided electricity to approximately 25 million Mexicans.
On October 10, 2009 at 11pm, at the direction of the government of Felipe Calderón, federal police seized the utilities’ plants. The following day, on October 11, 2009, Calderón issued a decree that the LyFC would be liquidated and that the other state electrical utility, the Federal Electricity Commission, would provide service to LyFC customers. Overnight, approximately 42,000 workers lost their jobs. The SME’s bank accounts were frozen.
The federal government justified its actions by arguing that the LyFC was inefficient and operating at a loss – largely the result of high labour and pension costs. In the current state of the Mexican economy, the government explained, it was not responsible to permit the state-run utility to operate at such a heavy loss. However, and notably, the government seizure and decree came closely on the heels of highly disputed, and close, SME leadership elections which saw Martín Esparza Flores elected President. Shortly before the government’s issuance of the liquidation decree, the federal Labour Ministry accused that the elections had been corrupt and declared the results invalid, refusing to recognize Esparza’s leadership.
In the almost two years since, just over 16,000 active SME members continue to be “in resistance”. That is, they have refused to accept severance packages from the government and are awaiting the outcome of both political and legal challenges which they hope will result in the reinstatement of their employment. In the intervening period, thirteen SME members have been arrested and all are being kept in jail.
While in Mexico City, I visited the SME’s resistance camp in the Zócalo, which is the main square in the heart of the historic centre of the City. There, SME members sell food and goods in an effort to continue to support their families and the resistance. The camp was also the backdrop for recent SME hunger strikes. By visiting the resistance camp, members of the public can learn about the SME and the liquidation of the LyFC, and can learn about assisting the resistance by not paying the electricity bills issued to them by the Federal Electricity commission.
It was in the context of this ongoing resistance that these most recent internal SME elections were held. The very fact of the elections, and the process by which the SME achieved the results, was an important component of the ongoing struggle. The SME hoped that the elections would be a show of unity and strength, an illustration to the Calderón government that despite their actions, despite the decree and the frozen assets and accounts, the SME was still operational, democratic, and their elected representatives would continue to hold office mandated by thousands of active and retired worker members. To assist in achieving this goal, the SME opened the process not just to members (who at all times could watch the voting from a public gallery in the union’s headquarters), but to representatives from both Mexican and international organizations.
When I arrived in late June, the voting had already been underway for well over a week. The election process I witnessed was a well oiled machine. The process involved several distinct steps, each with its own checks which were diligently performed by an army of SME executive, staff, and volunteers. Voters were required to provide identification proving eligibility to vote, their names were checked against SME member lists, and the lists were marked with the day that a member voted to ensure each member only voted once. Voting was conducted behind a screen, in complete privacy and secrecy.
Accommodations were made for the elderly and those with assistive devices to ensure that they were also able to mark their ballot from behind the privacy of a screen. Marked ballots were placed by the voter into glass ballot boxes in open view of the public gallery, and monitored by SME volunteers/staff to ensure that members placed only their ballot, and placed it into the appropriate ballot box.
In the morning, a notary arrived to open the ballot boxes and to remove the blank ballots from the location where they had been locked overnight. The same notary returned at the end of the voting day to place the ballots in a locked and secure location, and to close the ballot boxes. At the end of the last day, the ballot boxes were locked and the locks sealed with tape bearing the seal and signature of the notary. Each package of remaining blank ballots was accounted for by the notary, and all of the blank ballots were destroyed.
Once the voting was closed, the count was conducted by a team of people who were required to remain in the voting hall for 24 hours a day. While the counting was visible from the public gallery, and the ballot boxes were visible at all times, no one could enter or leave the voting hall once the ballot boxes were open.
It was clear from the outset of my first day that the SME took very seriously the democratic tradition of the Union, and went to great efforts to ensure that the vote would be open, fair, and transparent.
As observers, we were provided with completely unfettered access to observe any component of the voting process, and to go wherever we pleased within the voting hall. We were also encouraged to ask questions and provide comments. The SME executive members wanted to ensure that we had all the information which we requested. Humberto Medrano Morales, of the SME’s Comisión Autónoma de Justicia, spent several hours with the international members of the observation team answering detailed questions about the SME’s internal election process, the constitution, and the background to the current struggle. Every member we met wanted to know what the observers thought about the process and the current struggle. In this respect, it was not simply the SME executive and those running for office who wanted to ensure that the process was fair, but SME members also wanted to ensure that the process was transparent and the results viewed with the legitimacy that the SME’s procedural protections were meant to ensure.
Observing the vote was an excellent lesson in solidarity. Members from all walks of life came to ensure that their vote in the election counted. I watched as retirees were wheeled in by family members, often with the rest of the members’ family watching from the public gallery. Occasionally the very act of voting in this historic election was cause for celebration and the gallery would erupt in a cheer when a loved one or friend cast their ballot.
At the end of my short 5 days in Mexico City, I was left with a strong impression about the importance of process, and was impressed by the dedication of both SME members and those observers from local human and labour rights organizations.
The observation team drafted a report which was released to the media on July 14, 2011.
To learn more about the SME and the current state of labour rights in Mexico, please visit the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America International Mexican Labor News and Analysis at: www.ueinternational.org/MLNA
Labour Start at www.labourstart.org
Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral at www.sjsocial.org
American Federation of Labor Solidarity Center at www.solidaritycenter.org
On August 18th leaders of the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Industria Automotriz Volkswagen (Sitiavw) announced that an agreement had been reached, thus avoiding a strike which was widely believed to be imminent. The agreement included an increase of 6 percent, a one-time bonus of 661 pesos for each of 11,800 workers irrespective of the number of children they have (the company originally would have only provided the bonus for families with more than two children.