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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

March , 2012, Vol. 17, No. 3

 

Mexican Labor Leaders to Tour US in March

FAT Leader Benedicto Martínez to Speak in NY, Albany, Syracuse and Pittsburgh

Benedicto Martínez, one of the national co-presidents of the FAT and vice-president of the National Union of Workers will speak in four cities later this month in a tour hosted by the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).

* New York City: Sunday, March 18, 10:00 – 11:50 at Left Forum, Pace University, Room W613 with Immanuel Ness, Robin Alexander, Dan LaBotz and Ashwini Sukthankar

* Albany: Monday, March 19, 6:30 – 9:00 at SEIU, 155 Washington Ave.

* Syracuse: Tuesday, March 20, 4:00 – 6:00 Syracuse University, Eggers Hall (Global Colaboratory), with Robin Alexander and Jamie McCallum

* Pittsburgh: Thursday, March 22, 10:00- 12:00 at UALE Conference, Westin Hotel, Westmoreland Room with Leo Gerard, Bruce J. Klipple, and Napoleon Gómez Urrutia (via Skype).

For more information contact Robin Alexander: 412-716-1696.

SME, Minero and Telephone Union Representatives to Tour West Coast

Jose Humberto Montes de Oca Luna, Secretry for International relations for the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME), and Sergio Tolano Lizarraga GeneralSecretary of Local 65 of Los Mineros from Cananea, Sonora Mexico will tour the West Coast, along with a representative from the Telephone Workers in a tour sponsored by Labor Exchange.

* Los Angeles: Friday, March 30

* San Diego: Saturday, March 31

* San Francisco: Sunday, April 1

* San Jose: Monday, April 2

* Sacramento: Tuesday, April 3

For more information: email LaborExchange@aol.com or LaborExchange@gmail.com or call: 313 355-8566

Second Bi-National Video Conference March 14

March 14, 5:00 – 8:00pm EST video conference: Situación actual del sindicalismo en México/USA. To participate, click here.

Participantes por México: Dr. Sergio Sánchez Díaz, CIESAS, Lic. Rosario Ortiz, STRM-UNT, Ing. Enrique Fabela, STRM-UNT, Moderador Dr. Fernando Herrera, UAM-I

Participantes por USA: Chris Tilly, Director de IRLE, Peter Olney, Director de Organización de ILWU
Moderador Dr. Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, UCLA

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Unions Mobilize Worldwide to Demand Labor Rights in Mexico

Global Days of Action for Freedom of Association in Mexico 2012 kicked off on February 19, in memory of the 63 miners killed in the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion of 2006. The initiative was approved by the Council of Global Unions (CGU), and, as last year, the affiliates were encouraged to act in co-ordination with sister organizations and their National Centers.

Trade unionists around the world mobilized during the week of February 19-25, calling on the Mexican government to stop its attack on workers and implement steps to allow for workers to organize independent democratic trade unions of their choosing.

Last year more than 50,000 union members, students and human rights activists from some 40 countries participated in the Global Days of Action, launched on February 14 in Mexico and Australia simultaneously. For six days union members came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity. Thousands of letters were sent to the Mexican government, more than 50 meetings were held at Mexican Embassies throughout the world, and massive demonstrations throughout the week, inside and outside of Mexico, marked the strength and urgency of our message: STOP the attack on workers, we demand Trade Union Rights in Mexico, NOW!

The impact of our global actions was felt around the world. On February 24, just weeks after Global Action Days launched, political prisoner Juan Linares of the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico was released from jail after being unjustly imprisoned for more than two years. Building on our 2011 actions, independent unions in Mexico, together with their respective global union partners, have come together as a movement of force, challenging retrogressive labor legislation, Mexico’s scandalous “Protection Contract” system, and exposing corporate and political corruption.

Despite an escalation in action and outcry from unions in Mexico and at the international level, workers continue to be denied fundamental rights, independent unions face violent and political attack, and corporate impunity is at an all time high.

Therefore, trade unionists and their allies sent letters and paid follow up visits to their embassies and consulates around the world. As we go to press we are aware of meetings in both Ottawa organized by Canadian trade unions and in Washington DC organized by the AFL-CIO, and well as follow-up letters or delegations in around a dozen US cities.

A Few Highlights from the US

Peter Knowlton, President of UE Northeast Region, Stephen Lewis, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU Local 509 and on behalf of the Greater Boston Central Labor Council, and Russ Davis, Executive Director of Massachuestts Jobs with Justice participated in a productive, hour-long meeting with the Mexican Consul in Boston. “We left them with the letter to President Calderon and a version of the sheet explaining the particular struggles of Mexican workers, independent trade unions, and why reforms are necessary to improve the living standards of Mexican workers - especially in light of the destructive effects of NAFTA over the last 20 years,” Knowlton said.

Representatives from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) delivered a letter to the Mexican consulate in Raleigh, along with FLOC’s petition to President Calderon to bring to justice the assassination of Santiago Cruz.

In Chicago, a crowd of about 40 people -- Steelworkers and retirees, Teamsters, Chicago ARISE (the interfaith labor group in Chicago) and UE -- participated in an action at the consulate, including the reading of the names of the dead miners.

Impressive Event in Mexico

Meanwhile, in Mexico, unions from the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance organized an impressive event in the auditorium of the SME. In addition to Martin Esparza (SME), Napoleón Gómez Urrutia (los Mineros, via Skype), Cap. Perfecto from the Pilots’ Union Association (ASPA) and Benedicto Martínez (FAT/UNT), labor leaders from around the world denounced the violations of fundamental labor rights. Bruce Klipple, President of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and Louis Roy, President of the Confederation des syndicats nacionaux (CSN) presented the declaration of the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA) (see below).

In addition, Duncan Brown (CEP) spoke on behalf of UNI, underscoring the repeated failure to hold a free and fair election at Atento. Jykri Raina sent a recorded message from the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and Jorge Almeida, the IMF representative from latin America and the Carribbean spoke in person. Cathy Feingold (AFL-CIO) also sent a recorded video for the occasion.

Support for Mexicana Workers

Participants in the Days of Action also signed an Open Letter to the President of Mexico on behalf of Mexicana airline workers. Horacio Vázquez, Political Advisor to the Asociación Sindical de Pilotos Aviadores (ASPA) noted that the letter was published on february 23rd in two national newspapers, the Milenio and La Jornada.

In thanking the unions for their support, he reported: “yesterday (Friday, February 24), a group of investors finally deposited the money to purchase the airlines so that it would not be declared bankrupt and the restructuring will begin, with flights starting in April at the latest. The number of flights and workers will slowly increase.”

TNSA Backgrounder

In preparation for the Days of Action, TNSA Prepared an excellent overview of the challenges facing independent unions and a summary of current struggles. To view the Mexico Days of Action 2012 backgrounder, go to the bottom right of the IMF web page.

Back to March , 2012 Table of Contents

Declaration by the Tri-national Solidarity Alliance (tnsa) in Defense of Independent Trade Unions and Labor Rights in Mexico

We are here today to make a brief statement on behalf of the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA), a network of major trade unions and allied organizations from the United States, Canada and Mexico that was formed in 2010 precisely because of our concern about the escalating attacks on independent trade unions and labor rights by the Mexican government, labor boards, labor authorities, official unions and employers.

One year ago, on the 5th anniversary of the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion that killed 65 men and orphaned their children, activists who were shocked by the Mexican government’s systematic attacks on worker and trade union rights held massive mobilizations worldwide to express their indignation.

We responded to the call by four Global Union Federations and the ITUC to participate in Global Days of Action in solidarity with the independent trade unions in Mexico.

In the US there were demonstrations or delegations in at least 13 cities, in the four largest cities in Canada, and in Mexico there were 27 different actions following the massive demonstration on January 31st. In forty countries on five continents, trade unionists and their community allies strongly denounced the attack on independent trade unions in Mexico and on the freedom of association in Mexico.

We called on the Mexican government to:

• Hold Grupo Mexico and government officials accountable for the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion;
• Abolish systemic violations of workers' freedom of association, including employer-dominated "protection contracts" and interference in union elections;
• End the use of force -- by the state and by private parties -- to repress workers' legitimate demands for democratic unions, better wages and working conditions, and improvements in health and safety conditions; and
• End the campaign of political persecution against the Mexican Miners' Union and the Mexican Electrical Workers' Union.
One year later, and despite strong recommendations from the ILO, we are dismayed that violations continue unabated and are increasingly entrenched in the practice of industrial relations in Mexico. Over the past year, the situation for workers became disturbingly worse, with legitimate trade union and social movement leaders facing violence, intimidation and criminal charges. Complicity between government officials and charro union leaders increased.

Regressive labor law reform proposals were once again promoted, although subsequently tabled. The anti-union reforms, among other things, promoted labor flexibility, undercut union contracts, and would have enacted new procedural hurdles making it far more difficult for an independent union to win an election or engage in a legal strike.

When this legislative onslaught was halted, unconstitutional “new criteria” to register unions and collective bargaining agreements were promulgated by the Mexico City Labor Board. Rather than coming into line with international norms, standards and obligations, these measures and practices sought to further consolidate the protection contract system in favor of employers and to permanently erode the basic principles of Freedom of Association and Trade Union Autonomy.

Neither the legislation proposed by the PRI and PAN, nor the new criteria promulgated by the Mexico City Labor Board address the numerous and serious ways in which workers’ freedom of association is already violated in Mexico as documented by numerous studies and the recent decision of the ILO in case 2694.

Ongoing examples of egregious attacks on independent unions and violations of labor rights that we raised last year remain unresolved.
These include the lack of recognition of independent and democratic unions and their democratically elected leaders. Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, the General Secretary of Los Mineros remains in exile in Canada, having faced a series of trumped up criminal charges. For more than three years, UNTyPP continues to battle PEMEX’ failure to engage in meaningful negotiations with the union or turn over dues, as well as its threats to discharge workers who affiliate with the union and its dismissal of union leaders.

The massive discharges of workers as a result of the illegal or fraudulent closure of unionized companies remain unresolved. The 16,599 members of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME) who refused to accept severance remain without work and twelve of their leaders remain in jail despite the commitment on September 13, 2011 by the Mexican government to negotiate a resolution and the unconscionable delay by the Mexican labor board to immediately reinstate these workers based on the well established doctrine of successor employer. Meanwhile, 6000 members of ASPA and ASSA still face unemployment, and the workers of the Sandak company continue to assert their rights in the face of an illegal plant closure, backed by improper rulings by the labor board.

Moreover, the manipulation of legal and administrative processes for determining union representation and collective bargaining rights and the sudden appearance of charro or "ghost" unions have deprived workers of their rights to be represented by the following unions: the Sole Union of Workers at the Autonomous University of Mexico City; the Sole Union of Workers at the Institute of Middle and Higher Education; Locals 307 and 309 of Los Mineros; and the Sole Union of Workers of the Glass Industry of Potosí.

In addition, in November of 2011 workers at Telefónica/Atento who were organizing with Local 187 of the telephone workers union were, for a third time, deprived of their right to elect their own union representatives.

But these are simply the most notorious examples in a system where physical attacks on workers – even in the offices of the labor boards -- are commonplace, and physical attacks and intimidation directed against their lawyers are hardly newsworthy; where protection contracts are far more plentiful that real ones; and where corruption, collusion and delay are so prevalent that it can literally take years to get to the point that the labor board will order an election, and even then an election will only be ordered if it is believed that the union challenging the incumbent has lost its support and cannot possibly win.

One of the most recent illustrations involves workers at the Honda Mexico plant in Jalisco who started to organize to remove a protection union that had failed to represent them for 25 years. In 2011, after several refusals by the authorities, they obtained legal recognition of their independent union, and despite discharges and harassment, the union filed for an election. While waiting for a date to be set, the incumbent union changed its name. A few weeks ago, the labor board dismissed STUHM’s petition, ruling that it could not proceed because the incumbent union no longer existed.

This week, in cities across the United States and Canada, trade unionists and our allies in civil society will be following up with Mexican embassies and consulates to send a strong message that labor rights must be respected.

We are joining the global labor movement in calling once more upon the Government of Mexico to uphold the internationally recognized fundamental labor rights and ensure that the rule of law is applied on behalf of working men and women in Mexico.

We are calling on the Government of Mexico to rapidly resolve the conflicts outlined above and to demonstrate respect for the ILO's recommendations in Case 2694 by engaging in good faith with civil society and by seeking out legislative measures that will end the practice of protection contracts and initiate real change for the advancement of trade union rights in Mexico.

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Mexicana Airlines on the Runway, but Still Hasn't Taken Off

At the end of last month it seemed that Mexicana Airlines would resume flying, putting some of its 6,000 employees back to work. So far, no go.

Mexicana went bankrupt back in August of 2011, leading to the termination of thousands of pilots, flight attendants and ground workers, all of them union members, as well as of hundreds of confidential employees. Month after month there were promises that a new deal was in the works, until last month, February 2012, it finally seemed that the airline would get off the ground, but so far it has not taken off. (Click here to see our original article on this).

Med Atlántica, the would-be new owner, has yet to come up with the 300 million dollars needed to purchase the company, according to Jorge Gastellum of Tenedora K. (See the article in Alto Nivel).

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International Women's Day Special 2012: the Forward March of Women Stopped

[Every year we provide this overview of women in Mexican society, hoping that it will be of use to human rights and labor rights activists working in solidarity with Mexican working women. The statistics in this article come from the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), unless otherwise noted.- Ed.]

International Women’s Day, March 8, was celebrated across Mexico by both government and non-governmental organizations. President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party declared that, “Women are the transforming force of the future of Mexico. Without gender equity there is no democracy and without the participation of Mexican women in the national economy there is no development.” The President, speaking to women in Chiapas, said that every women who is beaten, enslaved, mistreated, assaulted, oppressed or sexually harassed or used, blocks the path toward the evolution of the nation.

Yet many women in Mexico accuse the President and his party of having impeded the progress of women. Patricia Galeana, president of the Federation of University Women of Mexico said that during the last 12 years while the National Action Party’s leaders Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón were in the presidency, the rights of women were violated and the separation of church and state put in question. She argued that the increase in teenage pregnancies was due to the PAN’s neglect of family planning. She also criticized the 18 states that had made abortion a crime. She warned that “religious fanaticism was promoting an alliance between government authorities and the Catholic church.”

Women from all three major parties in the Mexican Congress, the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), as well as the minor parties, lamented the continued problem of femicide, the systematic murder of women in several Mexican states. Laura Itzell Castillo of the Workers Party (PT) state that femicide “is the most violent face of discrimination against women in this country.”

Woman Candidate for President

The presence of a woman, Josefina Vázquez Mota as the conservative National Action Party (PAN), candidate for president brought women’s issues to the fore this year. Throughout the country, on March 8, women held meetings and press conferences in which they analyzed and commented on the state of the country’s female population. While Mexican women are proud of their accomplishments, they also lament the uphill battle that still faces them. This year, many women’s organizations issued statements decrying the continued discrimination against women, the growing violence against women, and the severe attack on women’s reproductive rights.

The forward march of women in Mexican society appears to have been slowed if not halted during the last six years after decades of progress in many areas. While women have a much larger part in Mexico’s economy, society and politics than in the past, at the moment they feel stalled in efforts to achieve full equality and justice for all women. In part this is due to the economic crisis which affects both sexes as well as to the government’s war on drugs which has taken 50,000 lives of both men and women. The weakening of women’s position is also due in part, however, to changing family patterns which put more responsibility on almost one quarter of women as heads of households without significant a increase in their assets or their income. At the same time, the Catholic Church and conservative legislators have fiercely attacked abortion rights—in a nation where such rights are limited to Mexico City—passing legislation which makes abortion a crime of child murder punishable by years in prison.

In comparison with other nations around the world, in terms of gender equity, Mexico does not rate among the best, nor is it among the worst. Social Watch, a network of civil society organizations promoting poverty eradication and gender justice, in its “Index of Gender Equity 2012” gave Mexico a score of 68 out of 100 points. Mexico’s score of 68 compares with Afghanistan’s score of 15, the U.S. score of 72, and Argentina’s score of 74. Norway had the highest score with 89. Cuba like Mexico scored 68. The score is based on women’s access to education, their involvement in economic activity, and their empowerment. (See Social Watch)

First Woman Candidate of a Major Party

This year, for the first time in Mexican history, a woman -- Josefina Vázquez Mota -- is the candidate of one of the major political parties, reflecting the gains of women in the economy and in society over the last several decades. The first woman candidate for president, Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, leader of a Mexican human rights group, ran in 1982 as the candidate of the Revolutionary Workers Party on a socialist program that spoke to working women, peasant women, and housewives in particular. This year’s candidate, however, runs as an arch conservative from the party of big business, the Catholic Church, and the National Action Party (PAN) that has held power in Mexico for the last 12 years.

She is no feminist to say the least. As Jocelyn H. Olcott, Professor of History at Duke University told The New York Times, “She’s running explicitly as someone who affirms rather than challenges conventional gender stereotypes. She’s being put forward as the nurturing, soothing, national caretaker who will put the house back in order.” Vázquez Mota, added Olcott, “certainly won’t support reproductive rights, and she’s unlikely to make issues like wage parity, social services and antidiscrimination major objectives for her administration.”

“What a dilemma for feminism,” blogged Elia Baltazar, the founder of an advocacy group for Mexican journalists. “There is not a single line in her discourse that is committed to the many unresolved issues facing women in this country.” Vázquez Mota, while having little to say about issues facing the country’s working women, supports the PAN’s position of opposing abortion and gay marriage.

Women in Politics in Mexico

By law women must make up 40 percent of the nominees for Congressional office and today women make up 25 percent of the members of Congress. Yet, as Maricela Contreras Julián of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), speaking to the House of Representatives, said that women have not yet achieved parity.

“In spite of the fact that at present there are more than 53 million women representing 50.28 percent of the total population, this fact alone does not guarantee that women have access in an equal way to true participation in public affairs and in elected positions. For example, between 1964 and 2005, the country had 886 senators of whom 12.5 percent were women and 87.5 percent men.

“The presence of men and women in the House of Representatives is similar to that of the Senate, so that between 1952 and 2006, women occupied 676 seats, a sum that represents only 11.4 percent of the almost 6,000 total seats in the House.

“Despite the low level of female participation in the House of Representatives, during the years mentioned, the number of women national legislators has grown to 120 in the period from 2003 to 2006.”

Women’s representation in city governments, however, lags far behind their role in Congress. Women represent only 6 percent of all mayors of cities and towns.

Contreras Julián told her fellow legislators that women should occupy half of the public posts in Mexico, in line with their weight in the population.

Women in the Population

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest nation after Brazil, has a total population of 113.4 million, of whom 57.5 million, or more than half, are women. To that number one must add another 5 million who migrated abroad and who now live in the United States. The female population includes 27.9 million who are under 15 years of age; 26.4 million who are between 15 and 29 years old; 35.2 million adults between 30 and 59 years; and 9.3 million women over 60.

The rising rate of divorce, still not very high by U.S. and European standards, has become a subject of some discussion in Mexico. Among women, however, 27 percent are single, 46 percent married, 13 percent in free unions, and 14 percent separated divorced or widowed. Between 2000 and 2008 there were fewer weddings, while divorces increased significantly. Divorces per 100 marriages have risen from 3 per 100 in 1994 to 11.7 today.

Consequently, women heads of households have increased significantly during the last 40 years. In 1970, women headed 17.4 percent of all households, but in 2010 they headed 24.6 percent, in part as a result of widowhood, separation and divorce. The divorce rate also reflects women’s rising participation in the labor force and therefore greater economic independence.

The Economic Crisis and Women

The economic crisis that began in 2008 with the collapse of the real estate market and construction in the United States quickly spread to Mexico engulfing that country as it did the rest of the world. Mexico’s unemployment rate rose from 2.5 percent in 2000 to 5.6 percent in 2010. In 2011, unemployment dropped to 4.8 percent, a very high number by historic standards in a nation in which the jobless have no unemployment insurance.

In February 2012 the National Council for the Evaluation of Development Policies (Coneval) reported that poverty had grown between 3.2 percent in the period between 2008 and 2010. This means that 52 million Mexicans lived in poverty in 2012, but studies over several years indicate that women suffer higher poverty levels than men. Most of those living in poverty are women.

Women most affected by the economic crisis, unemployment and poverty are the indigenous women, rural women, and specially those rural or indigenous women living in the northern states of Mexico most affected by the severe drought and cold of the last year.

Women in the Labor Force

Some 41.8 percent of all Mexican women participate in the labor force, compared with 87 percent of all men. The highest rate of participation is found among women in their reproductive years, between 25 and 35 years of age, 55 percent, when women also often bear the heaviest load in terms of child-rearing and housework. Women make up 38 percent of all workers in the workforce.

In Mexico 65.7 percent of all working women are wage or salary earners, 22.6 percent are self-employed, and 6.9 percent receive no wages for their work, earning only tips. Some 4.8 percent are employers.

Women make up nearly half of some sectors of the workforce. In education for example, women are 49.9 percent of all teachers. In primary school they make up 49 percent; in secondary school 49.4 per cent; in college prep schools 50.4 percent; in higher education 50.1 percent.

Mexico has 2.1 million employers of whom 404,790 are women, mostly in medium-, small-, and micro-businesses. The National Program of Micro-Business Financing gave out 500,000 credits in 2010 of which 87 percent went to women. Many of these women employers are actually self-employed in very small shops.

Women as a whole earn wages 12 percent below those of men, but in some occupations women’s wages are even lower, according to government sources. Women labor unionists, however, report that women make 30 percent less than men.

Women in the Informal Economy

The informal economy, made up of illegal or unregistered businesses, employs 29 percent of all Mexicans, according to government sources. A researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico disputes the government figures and argues that 60 percent of all Mexicans are now in the informal economy. (See discussion at: http://gerardoesquivel.blogspot.com/2012/02/la-informalidad-en-mexico.html)

One private sector source, the Mexican Institute of Public Accountants, claims that of the 8.5 million Mexicans who entered the labor force in the last ten years, only 26 out of 100 could find a job in the formal economy. The rest went to work in the informal economy, migrated to the United States, or went to work for the criminal syndicates. Like men, women also find themselves faced with these alternatives.

Two groups, younger women and older women, face particular difficulties in finding employment. Young women also face difficulties both in continuing their studies and in finding employment. Mexico has 7.8 million young people who neither study nor work. They are called ninis in Spanish from the words ni….ni meaning neither nor. Of those 7.8 million, the great majority, some 5.85 million are women.

Older women, over 60, also find it hard to make a living. Mexico has over 10.1 million adults over age 60 representing 9 percent of the population. Older women work selling sweets on the street, packing food, cleaning restrooms, and caring for children, but everywhere for low wages. Thirty percent of those workers receive no sort of social security payments. Some 3.5 million men and women over 65 experience “extreme, multidimensional poverty.” The majority of those in these age groups are women.

Women in the Workplace

The National Survey of the Dynamics of Home Relations (Endireh) conducted a survey of women workers and found that 79 percent said they had suffered discrimination at work, such as lower wages and benefits than a man working at the same level, fewer opportunities for promotion and being laid off for becoming pregnant.

Some 41.4 percent of women surveyed said that they had been sexually harassed at work, having been humiliated, or suffered sexual insinuation or aggression. Some 0.3 percent of working women—the equivalent of 54,000 women in the workforce—said that they had been forced to have sexual relations at work.

Mexican Labor Union Women's Alliance

Women from 26 Mexican labor unions and other labor organizations—among them the Independent Union of Workers of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (SITUAM), the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), the Mexican Telephone Workers Union (STRM), the Streetcar Workers, the National Coordinating Committee of the Mexican Teachers Union (la CNTE), and the Center for Labor Union Research and Advice (CILAS)—have created an Alliance of Working Women to fight for wage equity.

Martha Heredia of the National Union of Workers (UNT) Gender Equity committee pointed out that women’s experience of poverty, violence, migration, lack of job security, together with low wages and discrimination in the workplace, led the labor union women to create the Alliance.

“The idea,” said Heredia, “is to create an organization that can truly serve women labor unionists and work with them in a more coordinated and closer fashion to eradicate inequalities of women in both the workplace and the union. We want it to be a space that can provide daily and ongoing analysis and reflection, and above all work to promote action to carry out the struggle against gender discrimination.” For the first time, Mexico has a woman from a major party running for the office of president of the country. The candidacy of Josefina Vásquez Mota, the presidential candidate of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), has raised the question of what this will mean for women in the country. Asked about the significance of this development, Heredia replied, “Just because there’s a woman presidential candidate doesn’t mean we’re going to solve all the gender problems; especially if we take into account the record of this candidate which has never promoted real action on issue of equity.”

Margarita Cruz of the Center for Labor Research and Advice (CILAS) explained that between 2008 and today women in 15 states have analyzed the conditions of women workers. Those analyses have shown that labor rights are often unfulfilled or in grave risk of disappearing altogether; that labor unionism needs to be renewed; and the gravity of the crisis which encompasses all aspects of national life: the fall in the standard of living of both men and women Mexicans, as well as the attack on free, lay, public education as a guarantor of the advance of women.

Women and Violence

Whatever one’s gender, job or income, life in Mexico has been complicated by the Mexican government’s drug war which has taken nearly 60,000 lives, led to at least 10,000 disappearances, and caused thousands to relocate either to other cities in Mexico or to seek safety across the U.S.-Mexico border. The drug war has left tens of thousands of widows and orphans. Some 300 women were killed in the State of Nuevo Leon last year alone. In addition to the drug war killings and massacres, since the 1990s Mexican women have been the target of murders in Ciudad Juárez and other northern border cities. Hundreds of women were killed in Juárez in the 1990s alone.

A recent study of violence against women, ¿Cómo medir la violencia contra las mujeres en México? (How to Measure Violence Against Women in Mexico), by Mexican legislators, the Mexican National Institute of Women, the United Nations Women’s office, found that 34,000 women have met violent deaths in the last 25 years. Between 2006 and 2009, the national rate of murders of women per 100,000 increased from 2.46 to 3.4 per 100,000.

Ana Güemes, one of the women involved in carrying out the study, said that femicide (the murder of women) is just the tip of the iceberg, the saddest and most outrageous in a whole chain of violent acts, together with the impunity that surrounds them. Most recently, a Mexican judge has ordered an investigation into the killing of hundreds of women in the State of Mexico which borders Mexico City.

Government Human Rights Violations and Women

During the drug wars, according to reports by the Mexican government Human Rights Commission, other Mexican and international rights groups, and the U.S. State Department, Mexican police and the Mexican army have repeatedly violated the rights of civilians, including the rights of women, through disappearances, unjustified arrests, beatings, murder and rape. Women’s groups have suggested that sexual abuse and rape of women have become techniques of intimidation by police and soldiers.

Victims of such mistreatment are more likely to be working people and the poor, but particularly vulnerable are the rural, agricultural population and the most vulnerable among them, the women. The virtual impunity enjoyed by the Mexican authorities means that demands by national and international human rights organizations have had little effect in restraining the mistreatment of women by police and military.

Human Rights Watch in its World Report: Mexico 2012 discussed the situation of women and violence in Mexico. The report reads: “Mexican laws do not adequately protect women and girls against domestic violence and sexual abuse. Some provisions, including those that make the severity of punishments for some sexual offenses contingent on the ‘chastity’ of the victim, contradict international standards. Women who have suffered human rights violations generally do not report them to authorities, while those who do report them are generally met with suspicion, apathy, and disrespect. Such underreporting undercuts pressure for necessary legal reforms and leads to impunity for violence against women and girls.” (http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012/mexico)

Attacks on Women Rights Activists

Most disturbing have been the violent attacks on human rights activists such as Norma Andrade of Ciudad Juárez. Andrade became a human rights activist and one of the founders of Return our Daughters following the kidnapping and murder of her daughter Lilia Alejandra García Andrade in 2001. On December 2, 2011, Andrade was shot several times as she was leaving work. She had received death threats earlier in the day.

While Andrade survived that attack, several other women rights activists have been murdered over the last several years. As reported by Human Rights Watch, “In February 2011 the homes of human rights defenders María Luisa García Andrade and Sara Salazar—both of whom worked with the organization Return our Daughters in Ciudad Juárez—were set ablaze in separate incidents. They followed a series of attacks and threats against these and other defenders, including the disappearance of two of Salazar's children and her daughter-in-law, who were later found dead. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had granted García and Salazar protection measures in June 2008, but federal and state authorities failed to take adequate steps to protect them. They later fled Ciudad Juárez with their families.” Many other women rights activists have been killed, disappeared, harmed or threatened in several Mexican states.

The Church, the State, and Women

With the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in power, the Roman Catholic Church has been emboldened to take a more prominent role in Mexican society, particularly in attacking the reproductive rights of women and the social rights of gays and lesbians. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for almost 75 years, has also been complicit in encouraging the Catholic attack on women’s rights.

Only in Mexico City and the Federal District, governed by the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution, have same sex marriage and women’s right to abortion in the first trimester of a pregnancy been recognized. Abortion is illegal in the other 32 states of Mexico, and 17 states have passed “fetal rights” laws which characterize abortion as child murder, punishable in several states by a term of 30 years in prison.

Mexico’s Archbishop Norberto Rivera, groups such as Pro-Vida (Pro-Life), and the Mexican Knights of Columbus have lobbied lawmakers to pass such “fetal rights” laws throughout Mexico. These groups have considerable influence, given that approximately 84 percent of all Mexicans are Catholics.

The legislators of the Catholic and conservative National Action Party could be expected to support “fetal rights” legislation. To the surprise of many, however, women leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party such as former feminist Beatriz Paredes have also gone along with the “fetal rights” campaign and the criminalization of abortion. (See the story at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/5064/church_and_state_in_mexico%3A_a_political_party_wavers_on_women%E2%80%99s_rights/)

In mid-February, the Catholic Church issued voting rights guidelines for Mexican citizens who will be voting in the July 1 presidential elections. The guidelines say that Catholics cannot “choose as a political option those who support or promote false rights or liberties that attack the teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures, tradition and doctrine of the Church.” The Catholic Church opposes divorce, the use of contraception, abortion, and same sex marriage. The Party of the Democratic Revolution has condemned the Church for intervening in the country’s political life, something forbidden in Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution.

Pope Benedict XVI, an arch-reactionary who made his career fighting liberals and leftists in the Catholic Church, will be visiting Mexico from March 23-26 in what critics see as an attempt to influence the outcome of the Mexican elections. The Vatican says the Pope’s visit has nothing to do with Mexican politics.

The conservative attempt to reform Article 24 of the Mexican Constitution, which forbids religious ceremonies in public places, has led to protests by Protestant Evangelical Christians who oppose the Catholic Church (some consider it to be the anti-Christ). Many of the Evangelical Churches, however, are equally hostile to women’s right to abortion and to same-sex marriage.

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Honda in Mexico: Employer Impunity

By Roman Mungia Huato; translation by Pete DeMay

The recent unjust and illegal detention of José Luis Solorio, General Secretary of the STUHM (Union of United Honda Workers of Honda Mexico) is an absolutely ominous and reprehensible deed. The great American writer, poet and philosopher Henry Thoreau (1817-1862) said, “All people who love liberty must be respectful of the law; they must respect it and make it respectful”. He also said “We must think critically and determine the value in the law that permits us to live in harmony and preserves the respect that we all owe each other in a civilized society’. He too expressed that, ‘If we tolerate injustices we become complicit in those very injustices.” Finally, and more radically, Thoreau said that, “Under a government that unjustly imprisons somebody, the appropriate place for a just person is also in prison.”

But the corruption with impunity for the powerful is par for the course in this country. On Thursday, March 1, in the afternoon outside the Honda plant in the El Salto-Guadalajara industrial corridor, the company’s private security guards arbitrarily and violently detained Solorio.

What is certain is that members of this union, because they have the right, were just passing out informative leaflets to their co-workers that were leaving from work. However, as the STUHM is fighting for the right to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement against the incumbent CTM protection union (a vulgar parasitic “Charro” union), the company set up this despicable incident, accusing Solorio of stealing a pen from one of the security guards.

This absurd and ridiculous accusation required the complicity of the State of Jalisco and El Salto municipal police. The detainee (Solorio) was taken to the buildings that house the Department of Public Security of the State of Jalisco. After the illegal firing of several Honda workers, the company is now trying to repress the workforce even more with this dirty conspiracy with the police. Solorio was detained illegally until midnight on Friday, when he was granted his liberty thanks to pressure from, and the mobilization of, a number of members of democratic unions, cooperatives and local organizations.

So deep is the complicity between the captains of industry and the municipal government of El Salto, that last Friday, Miguel García Leal and Alfonso Velasco, Honda’s lawyer and corporate chief of security respectively, were present in the offices of the municipal president. The company, in order to try and justify Solorio’s detention, passed out a letter to its employees filled with preposterous misinformation, saying that on the day of the company’s repressive actions the members of the STUHM were carrying firearms and were seeking to take over the factory by force. This of course, was a lie as large as the size of the entire enormous Japanese owned auto facility.

The corruption of the El Salto Government, headed by municipal president Gerardo González Diaz and Public Safety Director Adrian Octavio Salinas Tostado, is even further evidenced by the fact that they detained Solorio because of a baseless accusation, completely lacking in any proof. There was never any evidence provided of any crime but regardless, Solorio was held captive in a holding cell at the municipal headquarters.

How could the municipal and state police keep a citizen incarcerated for an accusation as false as a three-peso coin? Was it just simply an order from an auto boss and a bribe? Is it this kind of thing that guarantees that the social and labor order is maintained in order to continue exploiting Mexican workers with impunity? Why are they trying to penalize legitimate social protest and silence the fair demands of the union?

The incident can be added to the terrible social violence that exists in Guadalajara and in Jalisco - a reprehensible joint business and governmental attack against a fighting democratic unionist, following the government creed of criminalizing the demands of people and of labor. The Secretary of Labor must know about this incident; and those primarily responsible are the government of El Salto, the State of Jalisco, and especially the Japanese owned corporation Honda of Mexico.

It looks like the transnational corporations that set up shop in Mexico have a license to steal, to pirate, to do what they damn well please and deny liberty to the authentic union representatives whose only crime is defending the labor rights of the workers. We assume that in these modern times the impunity of gangsters cannot exist – gangsters like corrupt company union “charros”, who eliminate their dissidents by hook or crook and if that fails, by sending them to prison by government order. The Guadalajara- El Salto industrial corredor, with the exception of several honorable workplaces, is a true labor paradise for big capitalists – be they local or foreign. This is in no small part to the complicity of the Secretary of Labor and the state government.

[The above article was first published in the Mexican newspaper Milenio on March 8, 2012. The translation here is by Pete de May.]

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Electrical Workers, Other Unions Call for New Federation

The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and other unions, speaking at the Workers University of Mexico (UOM) on March 11, called for the creation of a new labor federation in Mexico to confront the Mexican government’s neoliberal policies and corporate capitalism.

Pablo González Casanova, sociologist, former rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and the dean of Mexican leftist intellectuals, opened the meeting with a call for unions to unite to better defend the working class and the rights of the Mexican people.

Also participating in the meeting were the Union of Workers in Higher Intermediate Education in the Federal District (SUTIEMS) and Local 18 of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) in the State of Michoacán. Members of several other unions were present as well.

Mexico's Labor Federations

While Mexico has many labor federations large and small, the two most important are the Congress of Labor (CT) which brings together most of the pro-government federations and unions in the private sector and the National Union of Workers (UNT) which unites most of the independent unions in both the private and public sectors. While the CT tends to support government policies and to cater to the needs of employers, the UNT has generally opposed government policies and resisted employers demands for concessions.

A leader of the UNT to whom we spoke said that he thought that the SME had not yet done the spade work to prepare for the creation of a new labor federation.

The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which stands at the center of the call for a new labor federation, heads the Mexican Union Front (FSM), an alliance, though not a formal confederation, of several Mexican unions and other workers organizations.

The SME has also been the leader of the National Front Against Privatization which was organized to resist the privatization of the electric power and petroleum industries.

The Electrical Workers Union is itself battered and beleaguered. In October 2009 President Felipe Calderón sent police and troops to occupy the Light and Power Company, then liquidated the company, and terminated 44,000 workers, virtually the entire membership of the SME. Still, 16,500 SME members have continued to fight for their jobs for two-and-a-half years.

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Mexican Union Supporters in British Columbia, Canada Blacklisted

From the UFCW and IUF

More than 5,000 emails in one day alone were sent to President Felipe Calderón of Mexico telling him to stop the blacklisting of Mexican migrant who exercised their fundamental human and labour rights while working Canada.

The deluge of protest emails continues to pour in from around the world after an alert was posted on February 15 by the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association). The IUF is a global union federation of trade unions in the agriculture, food, tobacco, and food service sectors.

The IUF alerted affiliates that Mexico has prevented pro-union Mexican migrant workers from returning to Canada. The IUF has urged affiliates to send a message to tell President Calderón to Stop the Blacklisting and to stop the violation of the human and labour rights of Mexican workers in Canada.

Evidence indicating blacklisting activity by Mexico is currently before a labour tribunal in British Columbia.

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Mexican High-tech Workers Demand Justice and Dignity

by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news

The two high-tech workers laughed when asked if they could afford the smartphones made by their colleagues on Mexican production lines. “No, no, no,” chuckled Maria and Alma, two Guadalajara workers who have labored for years in Mexico’s Silicon Valley. A cheap $20 cell phone has to make do for Maria, while Alma uses a similarly low-priced contraption she won on a five-dollar raffle ticket. “It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially when you have kids,” Alma said.

The two women, who asked that their real names not be used because of possible employer retaliation, recently sat down with Frontera NorteSur to discuss their jobs and lives as factory workers in Mexico’s second largest city and one of the world’s most important centers in the electronics industry supply chain.

An assembly-line worker, Maria makes about $10 for an eight hour shift six days a week. Although Maria said she gets all the benefits afforded by Mexican law, she must renew her work contract every two months. A quality control specialist, Alma has more responsibilities than Maria but gets the same amount of pay. A third woman who joined the conversation worked in the local high-tech industry until she was fired two years ago. Unlike Maria and Alma, the friend completed higher education training for a technician’s career but still maxed out her earnings at approximately $500 monthly after a dozen years in the industry.

All the women interviewed have multiple children to support, and two of them are single mothers. Living in Guadalajara these days is expensive, they said. The lowest rent hovers around $100 a month, a cylinder of gas costs a couple of days’ pay and the price of staple corn tortillas is now well above a dollar. Tomatoes, eggs and the hot chile de arbol essential for so many Mexican sauces have all gone up in price recently. A family budget for four or more people can get quickly dented just by forking out the bus fare necessary for moving around a sprawling city.

To make ends meet, the women play what might be called the Mexican Shuffle. They take out pay-day loans from a bank, dip into small savings accounts, accept packages of basic commodities from churches and contemplate the ever-expanding doors of pawn shops. Like other low-income Mexicans, they participate in tandas, a form of economic solidarity in which members of a group contribute ten bucks or so and then pay out the sum total to a member on a rotating basis. Guadalajara’s women workers get by on a “miracle,” Maria laughed again. “God is great!”

Maria and her friends said they endure an employment system in which a job is on an increasingly temporary basis, unpaid furloughs pop up, promised bonuses do not materialize, overtime is not properly compensated and “labor representation” is performed by “unions” the workers often do not even know exist. Complaints are waved away by the constant fluttering of an economic wand.

“If you don’t like the work, there are five other people outside willing to do it,” Maria said. “You have no option.” While Maria and her friends say they are too afraid to speak out publicly, many workers like themselves channel their grievances through the non-governmental Mexican organization Cereal.

“These are very generalized, across-the board situations, especially in the electronics industry,” said Felipe Burgueno, Cereal’s outreach coordinator. “Many of the (high-tech) businesses are sustained by women, and many of them are housewives. They are frequently paid less than the men and get treated worse.”

Celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, Cereal documents the complaints of workers, negotiates with employers, helps fired workers get severance pay and advocates for the right of workers to collective bargaining and union representation of their choice. Cereal has focused its efforts on electronics industry workers but is beginning to hear more from other sectors of the workforce, according to Burgueno.

Some workers are taking collective action. On February 21, a small group of former Jabil Circuit employees, some of them wearing masks and holding signs, staged a demonstration outside the gate of the company’s Guadalajara plant. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of dismissed workers, freedom of association, steady work and labor justice. In a press statement, the demonstrators contended that pay inequity among “workers performing the same activities” violated Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution that guarantees equal pay for equal work.

The Guadalajara action was also endorsed by the National Coalition of Workers and Ex-Workers of the Electronics Industry. A phone call to Jabil’s headquarters in Florida was not immediately returned.

Last fall, Cereal released a report that highlighted the low pay of electronics industry workers in Mexico. According to the Jesuit-affiliated group, the $8.70 average rate of daily pay in the electronics industry is sufficient to cover only 60 percent of the cost of a basket of food and other routinely-consumed goods. In a production cost analysis, Cereal asserted that workers only receive 0.1 percent, or 64 cents, of the sales price of a smartphone that retails for more than $600 abroad.

Covering a variety of issues, the report included case studies of worker experiences with Nokia, Lenovo, Philips, Blackberry, Dell, Foxconn, and Celestica. Since the Mexican high-tech sector is so reliant on sub-contracted workers hired through temporary agencies, the report also discussed the Manpower and Azanza temporary employment firms.

“Frequently, workers who sign seven-day contracts stay in the company months and even years, signing contracts every week,” Cereal said in a statement announcing the release of the report.

Jorge Barajas, Cereal coordinator for Guadalajara, said industry reactions to the report varied. While Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sanmina were most responsive, some finger-pointing went on with Blackberry, for example, telling Cereal to speak with its supplier Jabil about labor problems, Barajas said. On the other hand, Sanmina rehired 10 workers and made severance and social security payments to 20 others, according to the longtime labor activist. “These are verified, concrete changes,” he said.

For years Cereal and other non-governmental organizations have dialogued with the heavy hitters in the high-tech world assembled in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an initiative which was launched 8 years ago to promote business, labor and environmental best practices.

According to the EICC’s mission statement, the organization envisions “a global electronics industry supply chain that consistently operates with social, environmental and economic responsibility.” Available in 16 languages, the EICC has a code of conduct its 67 member companies must commit to implement in their employment and production policies.

The EICC Code of Conduct upholds adherence to all local laws regarding wages and benefits, and explicitly recognizes the right of workers to freedom of association.

“Workers shall be able to communicate openly with management regarding working conditions without fear of reprisal, intimidation or harassment,” the EICC Code of Conduct states.

Barajas said the results of the management-labor dialogue have been mixed at best, with progress noted in different individual grievances but little headway made in changing structural conditions like the growing use of temporary workers, the lack of genuine union representation and revolving lay-offs.

Since the beginning of the year, Cereal has estimated that about 3,000 high-tech workers have been laid off from Guadalajara plants.

“There was a lot of expectation in the beginning but (EICC) has lost a lot of credibility in the last two years among unions and NGOs because of its inability to affect changes in the industry,” Barajas said. “There is a lot of debate about the utility of the EICC, even in the industry.”

The lot of high-tech industry workers in Guadalajara and elsewhere will be on the agenda of an international gathering scheduled for Amsterdam this upcoming May. The meeting is expected to draw representatives from the EICC and its European counterpart as well as unions and groups like Cereal. According to Barajas, labor activists are increasingly looking to the United Nations as the possible forum for resolving worker grievances in an emblematic industry that spans the globe.

For Guadalajara high-tech worker Maria, the right of workers to organize and enjoy a decent career is a fundamental one that’s currently missing from their lives. “I want my job, but I want it with dignity,” she said. “This is something we deserve.”

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LABOR SHORTS

SME Labourstart Campaign, Naalc Complaints

The LabourStart Campaign initiated by the TriNational Solidarity Alliance on behalf of SME generated 6,712 messages and was crucial in building pressure on the government. This coincided with the cases filed by over ninety labor organizations and their allies in the US and Canada on behalf of the SME.

Both governments have accepted the cases and are sending a joint fact-finding delegation to Mexico from March 20 – 23 to analyze the case.

SME Activists Arrested, Then Released

On March 9, 12-13 SME activists involved in sit-ins outside CFE operations around the city were arrested, but were released the following day.

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RESOURCES

TNSA/NLG Webinar Available

The National Lawyers Guild International Committee and the Trinational Solidarity Alliance held a webinar on February 17 about the days of action. The full recording of the webinar, featuring Lorraine Clewer, Director of the Solidarity Center office in Mexico City and Robin Alexander, Director of International Affairs for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) is now available here for download by clicking here.

TNSA Backgrounder for Days of Action Available

An excellent overview of the challenges facing independent unions and a summary of current struggles is available on the bottom right hand side of the IMF web page.

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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.

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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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