|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
September , 2012, Vol. 17, No. 9
Contents for this issue:
- Unions Oppose Labor Law Reform: for Quite Different Reasons
- Declaration of the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA)
- 36 Reasons Not to Approve the Labor Law Reform of Calderón
- SME Wins Major Victory
- Mexican Electrical Workers End Sit-in in National Plaza
- PEMEX Plant Fire: 29 Dead, 7 Missing, 46 Injured Near U.S. Border
- The PRI Is Back, the Left in Disarray
Unions Oppose Labor Law Reform: for Quite Different Reasons
By Dan La Botz and Robin Alexander
Mexico’s labor unions, so seldom in agreement about anything, today almost universally oppose the labor law reforms being pushed by both out-going President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) and in-coming President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), though they do so for very different reasons. Both the “official” Congress of Labor and the independent National Union of Workers oppose the reforms, as do some legislators on the left, though they have different strategies for stopping the bill.
Some of the unions oppose the reforms because they will make it virtually impossible to organize or maintain genuine or independent unions or to engage in strikes, while at the same time undermining the 44-hour work week which forms the basis of legal employment by permitting subcontracting and temporary or part-time work. Others, however, oppose the reforms because they will require financial transparency regarding the unions’ dues, other income, and assets, a policy which would reveal that some unions exist only on paper while others are awash in graft receive enormous government subsidies of dubious legality.
The Calderón government has put this legislation on a 30-day fast track, a legislative toboggan only recently created that permits the president to designate two pieces of legislation as “preferential,” to be considered within a period of thirty days from the opening of the session. Some opponents have expressed the opinion that this process may violate the Mexican Constitution or existing laws.
Mexico's Two Types of Unions
To comprehend the significance of these reforms and the varied response to them, it’s necessary to understand the fundamental division between Mexico’s unions. Mexican unions can be divided into unions dominated either by the government and the employers, on the one hand, or independent unions which chart their own course on the other.
The first group, often called “official unions,” because they were for so many years creatures of the government, are often “ghost unions,” unknown to the workers represented by them. To protect employers from genuine unions, the “official unions” often collaborate with the bosses to create “protection contracts” with only the legal minimums. Independent unions, of which there are few, attempt to engage in genuine union organizing and collective bargaining, but face constant challenges from the labor authorities and the employers and repression from the army, police or gangster unions.
Eliminating the Independent Unions
The proposed reforms, which have their origins in plans first hatched by the Mexican Employers Association (COPARMEX) back in the 1980s, have as their goal to strengthen the employers and to weaken unions, particularly the independent unions. In Mexico, in a process comparable to our union representation elections, unions may file for an election to take over responsibility for the existing contract (a process called titularidad). Most independent unions have their origin in those challenges to the “official unions” and their phony contracts. According to labor lawyer Arturo Alcalde, the proposed reforms would make such challenges virtually impossible, since they would have to notify the company and practically ask it for permission to change unions.
The law also prohibits new proceedings for the period of one year after an election. Employers and “official unions” could easily collude to prevent any new representation election involving an independent union from taking place by ensuring that a petition from an official union is before the labor board to block that of the independent. The most onerous aspect of the law is a requirement that those who want to change unions must sign a statement stating so and present it to the employers, who typically fire and black list those who try to organize independent unions. Workers must also make their demand to the tripartite labor board made up of the government, the employers, and the official unions—which would surely place obstacles in their path.
Finally, there are the changes, affecting all unions, which would end the requirement to hire workers for full-time permanent jobs and permit them to be hired on a temporary or part-time basis, or let their jobs be subcontracted to others, practices not now permitted under the law, though they do take place.
At the same time, the reforms would also force unions to make public their financial records.
Organizing the Opposition to Reform
Opposing these reforms are virtually all of the official unions. Forty-six CT unions signed a statement in opposition, including the Congress of Labor (CT), the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), the Federation of Unions of Workers at the Service of the State (FSTSE), the Teachers Union (el SNTE), and a variety of other federations and unions. Joaquín Gamboa Pascoe, head of both the CT and the CTM, argued that such an important decision should not be made in 30-day period, suggested that the process does not respect unions’ and workers’ rights, and objected to many of the actual provisions of the law. He suggested that Peña Nieto should remember that he was elected with the support of four million organized union workers, and that “they would like to continue being his friend,” but cannot do so if he does not eliminate all of the unfortunate elements of his proposal.
Even the National Union of Social Security Workers (SNTSS), which has recently been aligned with the PAN, has come out strongly against the bill, insisting on the right to strike and engage in collective bargaining. Some of the unions oppose the bill in its entirety, while others say they can live with parts of it.
The real motivation of some of the CT unions may be the fear that if they were forced to open their books, some would be revealed to have few members. At the same time, others such as the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM) would have to reveal the millions of dollars in government contracts and other government funds that they receive, and perhaps also their contributions to political candidates. The CT’s principal approach to resisting the bill will be through lobbying legislators, using as their starting point their own union leaders who sit as PRI senators or representatives.
Independent Unions, Unt and Left Parties Against the Bill
The National Union of Workers (UNT), which brings together several of the country’s more independent unions, los Mineros, SME and others have all strongly denounced the proposed reforms. The UNT called for demonstrations and for a plantón or sit-in outside the legislature. Benedicto Martínez Orozco, a co-president of the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) as well as a leader of the UNT, explained that the bill “is intended to flexibilize the world of work, to make the workers wages even more precarious, and to close the door to independent and democratic unions.”
Opposing the bill within the Congress will be the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Workers Party (PT), and the Citizens Movement (MC). Saúl Escobar, a member of the National Council of the PRD said, “This is a bill strictly for the bosses. There is not a serious union in Mexico that is in agreement with this labor law reform, not even the unions close to the PRI are in agreement with it, much less the progressive unions.”
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left’s unsuccessful candidate in the recently concluded Mexican elections, also opposed the bill telling the press, “Now they don’t want to pay a minimum wage of 60 pesos (about five U.S. dollars) for eight hours; they want to pay 30 pesos for four hours, which isn’t even carfare.”
While not opposing the proposed bill outright, the senators and representative of the PRI have stated that they will not support the bill in its entirety. The coordinator of the PRI’s representatives told the media that “many of the concepts in the presidential initiative are in conflict with Constitutional Article 123, and we will have to bring the initiative in its final form into line with the Constitution.” Part of the proposal, he said, “attacks the rights of workers and interferes with the internal life of the unions.”
Opposition Moves to the Streets in Mexico
On Tuesday, September 18, STUNAM, the union at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) convened a large meeting at the rectory located at University City, where leaders condemned the reform and urged participation in the march called by the UNT for the following Friday.
On Friday, the march left the Angel of Independence headed for the Zócalo, with STUNAM and the Telefonistas in the lead. Participation, which included many UNT unions as well as SME, dissident locals within the teachers, Conalep and others, was reported at more than 10,000, filling the streets and snarling traffic.
It is expected that opposition will escalate during the week. The bill is expected to go into committee on Sunday and is scheduled to go to the floor next Thursday.
The Trinational Solidarity Alliance (TNSA), which brings together many of the most important labor unions in Canada, Mexico and the United States, as well as international labor organizations, has also taken a strong position “strongly opposing” proposed labor reforms in Mexico. TNSA argues that the reforms violate fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), that it will adverse affect on worker rights and collective bargaining, while at the same time leaving the real problems of “corporativist control” (i.e., the official unions) and their “protection contracts” untouched.
Gathered in Mexico for a planning meeting shortly after the reform was introduced, representatives of TNSA called a press conference. Hosted by Hernandez Juárez at the offices of the MexicanTelephone Workers’ Union, Laura Ramírez from the United Steelworkers from Canada, Pete DeMay of the United Auto Workers from the U.S., and Jorge Robles of the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo/ UNT read the Declaration, which was published the following Monday in La Jornada. (See below).
Despite the short time frame, the unions from the US and Canada agreed to make opposition to the reform their first priority. Since the meeting, we are aware of the following:
On September 14, the United Electrical Workers (UE) submitted written comments to Ambassador Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative, for the hearing Mexico’s participation in the ongoing negotiations of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The UE officers concluded: “If Mexico is to participate in the international arena, it should be held to the international standards that are well established. Wreaking havoc on workers’ rights should not be tolerated.”
On September 18, Richard L. Trumka, writing as President of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (OECD) sent a letter expressing concern to OECD Secreatary General Ángel Gurría about an article in which he was cited as endorsing the reform.
Over the past few days, unions, federations, and organizations specializing in international law – including IndustriALL, the AFL-CIO, the CEP, UE, FLOC, Utility Workers of America (UWUA), USLEAP, National Lawyers Guild (NLG), International Association of democratic Lawyers (IADL), International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) have all written to the parliamentary coordinators of the Mexican political parties condemning the reforms for slashing protections for workers and violating international law.
Most recently, ten members of the US Congress sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, asking her to address the situation. The letter begins: “As Members of Congress dedicated to ensuring that worker rights are respected by our trading partners, we write to express our deep concern about an upcoming vote in the Mexican Congress that would roll back protections for worker rights and make it even more difficult of workers to form independent trade unions. We ask you to urge the Mexican government to take action to protect the rights of all workers, including the right to organize.”
The challenge ahead
The unions succeeded throughout more than five years of the Calderón administration in blocking the conservative labor law reform. The question is, can they can stop Calderón now in the last part of the last year of his term from forcing through the reform via “fast track”, and then prevent Peña Nieto as he begins his-six year term, from takingup the assault on the unions.
Declaration of the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA)
The Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA) is committed to building a collective response in solidarity with the struggles of the working class in the three countries of North America where we face the same challenges from neo-liberalism, the most raw and cruel face of capitalism.
Although the global crisis was not caused by working people, it has been used as a pretext for widespread violations of labor rights around the world. In Mexico, the United States and Canada, the violation of freedom of association and collective bargaining has escalated and the financial crisis has been used to ratchet down wages, benefits and working conditions, attack public sector workers and public services, and interfere with collective bargaining rights and the collection of union dues.
In the case of Mexico, anti-union policies continue to be the norm and control over the working class is increasingly oppressive; the companies and the various levels of governments utilize corporativist trade unionism as a battering ram against the working class, using violence and intimidation to impede the free exercise of trade union association, imposing Protection Contracts on behalf of employers, and blatantly disregarding the recommendations of the International Labor Organization. A clear example is the case of Atento, until recently an affiliate of Telefonica Espanola, where there has been interference with freedom of association in three elections to prevent the STRM from representing the workers and negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. The proposed deepening of regional integration through the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to intensify all of these processes.
The flagrant use of the armed forces to perpetrate attacks on and the persecution of workers has increased, as illustrated all too clearly by the case of the SME, where 11 brothers are political prisoners and where the Mexican army, disguised as the Federal Police, occupied the facilities of Luz y Fuerza del Centro; by the violent eviction of the strike at Calzado Sandak; and by the failure to respect the freedom of association and the violation of the right to strike of the mineworkers of Local 65 of the SNTMMSSRM in Cananea Sonora, as well as by the incarceration of brother Martín Salazar Arvayo. Even more shocking is that the same military and police forces that are being used to crush legitimate worker protests are receiving billions of dollars from the U.S. Government through the Merida Initiative.
We are experiencing an increasing campaign of criminalization against the democratic trade union movement which, due to its peaceful struggle of civil resistance, is accused of “theft, kidnapping, creating a disturbance, etc.” in order to justify government repression that ranges from physical violence and forced exile to incarceration and the assassination of democratic trade unionists. In reality, Mexico is experiencing a war of extermination against democratic and independent trade unionism that includes illegal actions, official violence, media campaigns, criminalization, and modifications in labor legislation that facilitate the super-exploitation of Mexican Workers.
We strongly oppose and condemn the neo-liberal labor law reform that has been described by president elect Enrique Peña Nieto as one of his priorities as well as out-going president Felipe Calderón’s recent attempt to force its passage. We also recognize that some local governments have moved in advance of federal legislation to illegally put into practice such anti-union policies, for example the DECREE through which the local labor and arbitration board of Mexico City, a government of the PRD, has imposed the neoliberal labor law reform promoted as much by the PRI as by the PAN. This reform violates the normative principles of conventions 87 and 98, of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining respectively of the International Labor Organization (ILO) at the same time as it provides an incentive to the Mexican government to disregard the recommendations of this international organization.
the Labor Law Reform Threatens To:
1. Cheapen the cost of labor while leaving the regimen of corporativist control untouched, along with the distinction in terms of rights of those workers employed by the state and those in other union sectors.
2. Provide further cover and protection for the system of corporativist control that is the heart and sustenance of employer Protection Contracts.
3. Introduce unilateral criteria for labor flexibilization on behalf of capital, such as freedom to sub-contract, to expand temporary contracts, and to fire workers with the least possible expense to employers.
4. Legalize subcontracting (outsourcing) by employers, a legal concept that has caused the lack of job security, inequality, decreased wages, and generated a lack of meaningful rights and left workers defenseless in those countries that currently employ this system.
5. Cause the complete elimination of job security, lower the cost to employers of discharges at the expense of workers, and undercut whatever benefits may exist through unjustified firings.
6. Further impinge on rights of freedom of association, as in the case of trade unions and the new requirements for petitioning for the right to administer collective bargaining agreements or exercise the right to strike, including the prior submission of a list of members certified by the employer which exposes the advocates of the alternative union to various types of reprisals before they can obtain the election to which they are entitled, as well as drastically complicating the exercise of the right to strike. All of this negates, through actual practice, the benefit that the establishment of secret ballot elections for such proceedings would represent.
Therefore, the following labor organizations declare that we stand together in forceful opposition to any and all attempts at neo-liberal labor law reform and that we will fight for the rights and freedom of association of the working people of Mexico, the United States and Canada our rights to freedom of association.
Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos, Siderúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana
Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME)
Unión Nacional De Trabajadores (UNT)
Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas de PEMEX (UNTyPP)
Canadian Auto Workers' union (CAW)
Canadian Office and Profession Employees union (Cope 378)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP)
Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)
Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN)
Public Service Alliance of Canada
United Steelworkers (USW)
Communications Workers of America
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Transport Workers Union (TWU)
United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)
United Steelworkers (USW)
Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA)
Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI)
IndustriALL Global Union
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
IUF - Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide
Public Services International (PSI)
UNI Global Union
36 Reasons Not to Approve the Labor Law Reform of Calderón
By Manuel Fuentes Muñiz
[Manuel Fuentes Muñiz is a Mexican labor lawyer who frequently advises independent unions and workers. The article was originally published on the Mexican website La Silla Rota and can be found at: http://lasillarota.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=49353:36-razones-para-no-aprobar-la-reforma-laboral-de-calder%C3%B3n&Itemid=189. The translation here is by Dan La Botz.]
1. Because it does away with job security on the pretext of increasing productivity and corporate profits.
2. Because it affects all types of workers: from private companies, federal, state, municipal and Federal District employees.
3. Because rather than creating jobs, it cheapens them.
4. Because it facilitates the imposition of low wages and extended working hours in exchange for continued employment.
5. Because it conditions continued employment on the individual’s higher productivity.
6. Because it does away with contracts at the plant level by annulling the premise that “if work remains, the employment contract remains in force.”
7. Because it does away with the payment of severance pay by legalizing all kinds of temporary contracts, despite the existence of on-going work.
8. Because it allows abuse through the use of probationary contracts, initial training and short stints of work, arrangements that can be continued by simply changing the type of contract or activity.
9. Because legalizes employees signing a blank resignation statements [at the time they are hired] by not prohibiting them.
10. Because it pulverizes wages, making them infinitesimally small by allowing contract hiring by the hour, a form of pay that provides no benefits and no seniority.
11. Because it permits the exportation of cheap labor through hourly or temporary contracts.
12. Because it legalizes subcontracting (through outsourcing companies) and does away with the company’s responsibility to provide benefits for its work force.
13. Because shortens the payment of back wages to one year and gives in return a minimum interest of 2% per month with a limit of 15 months' wages, so that it is workers who will suffer the costs of delay in labor lawsuits.
14. Because it allows arbitrary dismissal without a guarantee of a hearing regarding the claims of the employers’ clients or customers.
15. Because it eliminates all types of protection for domestic workers.
16. Because it allows the employer to move the worker anywhere within the workplace and to multitask that workers under the guise of “related or complementary work” without the proportional payment of wages based on an increased workload.
17. Because it removes the obligation of the employer to inform employees of assignments in writing.
18. Because it removes the penalty against the employer who fails to inform his employee of dismissal in writing.
19. Because it gives more power to the labor authorities to decide whether to allow union registration, permitting the denial of such filings.
20. Because it allows the labor authority to determine whether or not a strike may take place.
21. Because it allows employers or third parties to request binding arbitration after sixty days of the outbreak of the strike.
22. Because it permits the authority to decide whether or not to recognize majority unions within the workplace.
23. Because further strengthens the practice of “protection contracts” to prevent the entry of independent unions.
24. Because it allows the interference of the bosses in defining who is the majority union.
25. Because it facilitates the creation of company unions, also called “white unions.”
26. Because it prevents workers from affiliating with a union when they begin to work by doing away with the exclusion clause regarding commencing and separating [from employment].
27. Because it does away with the Federal Labor Law and Table of Diseases and Accidents, empowering of the Secretary of Labor to make decisions in this area with the advice of the [official] labor unions and the employers.
28. Because it permits an increase in workplace accidents by basing employment on productivity.
29. Because it effectively avoids penalizing employers’ negligent behaviors that affect the health and lives of workers at work.
30. Because it establishes an unequal rule of transparency by not forcing the employer to provide information about their finances, while the unions must provide such information.
31. Because it maintains, to the detriment of the workers, that the workers must bear the burden of proof with regard to workplace health and safety issues.
32. Because it is an initiative that violates the principle of progressivity in human rights and labor law as provided for in Article 1 and 123 of the Constitution and the Charter of the Organization of American States, the American Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights "Protocol of San Salvador" and Convention 87 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on the “Freedom of Association.”
33. Because it does away with the principle of the [the state’s obligation to provide for] the protection of the worker.
34. Because it eliminates bilateral working relationships by eliminating the union’s role.
35. Because it privatizes labor relations by giving the employer the discretion to unilaterally determine compliance with labor standards.
36. Because it will bring more poverty to the general population.
SME Wins Major Victory
On August 13, the Second Circuit Court which specializes in labor matters reversed a labor board decision, ruling in favor of the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME). Two years ago, on August 31, 2010, the labor board had ruled that the successor employer doctrine did not apply and consequently, that the labor rights of all SME members had been terminated.
The court’s decision comes at a particularly important moment, strengthening the SME’s hand in up-coming negotiations with the government as well as in the Congress where the union has been promoting the creation of a new entity which would provide electrical power.
Mexican Electrical Workers End Sit-in in National Plaza
The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) ended its sit-in in the Zócalo, the national plaza in Mexico City, after the Mexican Secretary of the Interior (Gobernación) agreed to attend to the agreement signed with the union a year ago regarding finding employment for the 16,000 of an original 44,000 Light and Power Workers who were terminated in 2009. The others had signed an agreement accepting their termination and received their severance pay.
The SME workers had been in the Constitution Square, as it is also known, since September 1, and some ten of them on a hunger strike since September 2. Some workers had been driven out of the square by the police during the sit-in.
Humberto Montes de Oca of the SME, the Secretary of the Interior Alejandro Poiré and Secretary of Energy, Jordy Hernán Herrera, signed an agreement to renew talks in September. They will also take up outstanding criminal charges against SME members and the return of union dues to retired members.
PEMEX Plant Fire: 29 Dead, 7 Missing, 46 Injured Near U.S. Border
An explosion and an enormous fire at a Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) pipeline carrying natural gas left 29 dead, 7 missing, and 46 injured at a distribution center near the U.S.-Mexico border near the town of Reynosa on Sept. 18. The pipeline carries natural gas from wells in the Burgos Basin to a distribution center.
The cause of the explosion remains unknown at this time, though PEMEX officials speculated that it was the result of an accidental leak, not sabotage. PEMEX and the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM) will be investigating further. The deaths and damage could have been much worse had the fire reached the cryogenic operations that handle both domestic and imported gas.
“The timely response by oil workers, firefighters and the Mexican army was able to control the fire relatively quickly and avoid a real catastrophe of bigger proportions and greater damages if the fire had spread to the center for gas processing, which is right there,” said President Felipe Calderón.
Why Such Accidents?
PEMEX is a state-owned company since 1938, though both the out-going National Action Party (PAN) and the in-coming Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), have called for a greater role for private capital in the industry and in the company. They argue that the Mexican oil industry needs an infusion of capital, probably foreign capital, and technology to make it more efficient and productive. The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and various social movements and labor unions oppose privatization. The issue of workers and public safety has not been a significant part of these discussions.
This most recent explosion, one of four this year and others like it in the past -- some of them even much worse -- have led to speculation and debate about the company’s health and safety record. Some critics argue that PEMEX corruption and subcontracting contribute to health and safety problems, while at the same time criminals sometimes cause explosions by tapping into oil and, more rarely, gas pipelines. Political opponents of the regime have also been known to sabotage wells, though that motive has been discounted by authorities in this case.
The Pasta de Conchos mine disaster of February 19, 2006, the result of a methane explosion, took the lives of 65 miners. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, head of the Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM), called the deaths “industrial homicide.” The Mexican government of Calderón subsequently joined with Grupo Mexico, a mining company, in an unsuccessful six-year campaign to destroy the miners union, leading Gómez Urrutia to flee to Vancouver, British Colomubia from whence he has led the union. So far, the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union leader Carlos Antonio Romero Deschamps, who seldom criticizes the government, has not said a word about the PEMEX workers’ and contractors’ deaths.
Workers Escape Impeded
Workers trying to flee the fire were impeded by the high walls topped with razor wire that surround Mexican oil and gas facilities to prevent thieves or saboteurs from entering the facilities.
Pemex said contractor workers and its own employees were performing routine maintenance at the plant, where pipelines from gas wells in the Burgos Basin, a huge natural gas field, converge.
Esteban Vázquez Huerta, 18, who works for a contracting firm, was inside the plant when the fire erupted, but managed to find a gap in the wire, scale a wall and escape. He told the press as he stood outside the plant, waiting for word of missing co-workers, “We had to climb the wall from that side because the fire, the heat was reaching us.”
Three Earlier Fires This Year
PEMEX claims to have among the safest plants and health and safety record in the industry in the world. (See the brief video at: http://www.pemex.com/informes/social_responsibility/index.html). PEMEX reported in 2010 that, “PEMEX is an international leader among oil companies that operate below the level of 0.5 work accidents per million man-hours worked. During 2009, PEMEX recorded an accident frequency index of 0.42, which represents an improvement of 10.6% as compared to 2008. In 2009, PEMEX registered the lowest frequency index and severity index in its history.” (http://www.ri.pemex.com/files/content/Sustainable%20Responsible%20Business_Annual%20Report%2020091.pdf) (Find other PEMEX reports at: http://www.pemex.com/informes/downloads/index.html.)
Be those statistics as they may, PEMEX had three other notable fires this year leaving four injured:
• On January 18 a fire at Pemex's KU-S platform in its Ku Maloob Zaap field off Tabasco in the Bay of Campeche led to the evacuation of 250 workers with no injuries.
• On August 13 Pemex had a fire in a boiler at the hydro-desulphurization plant at its Madero refinery in Tamaulipas state that was controlled without injuries.
• ON September 3 another fire at the Madero refinery in Tamaulipas injured four workers.
Pemex's Disastrous Historic Public Safety Record
Fires and explosions at PEMEX facilities are common throughout the years (as a simple Google and YouTube search will reveal) and some of those in the past have been horrendous. A gigantic fire at a PEMEX storage facility in San Juan Ixhuatepec (also known as San Juanico), outside of Mexico City killed four, left 1,000 injured and 5,000 temporarily homeless in 1996. (reported in MLNA, Nov. 16, 1996). That accident, however, is overshadowed by an earlier accident in the same town in 1984 which killed 500 to 600 people and left at least 2,000 with severe burns.
Leftist guerrillas have also caused explosions at PEMEX. The Peoples Revolutionary Army (ERP), placed and exploded six bombs at PEMEX facilities in Veracruz and Tlaxcala on Sept. 10, 2007, leading to the closing of 120 industrial plants throughout Mexico, including the Volkswagen auto assembly plant. Authorities evacuated between 10,000 and 20,000 people, though no one was killed or seriously injured by the leftists’ sabotage. (As reported in MLNA, Sept. 2007.)
In 2010, the drug cartels also became involved in PEMEX facilities in the Burgos Basin. In May of that year, cartel gunmen kidnapped five PEMEX workers at the Gigante No. 1 natural gas plant. Some 31 others, all contract employees, have also been kidnapped. To the best of our knowledge, all 36 remain missing. There has been speculation that organized crime may be responsible for illegally tapping the pipelines and sometimes causing fires and explosions.
The PRI Is Back, the Left in Disarray
By Dan La Botz
Please note: This article was originally published in New Politics. For technical reasons we were unable to reproduce the extremely informative and interesting charts. If you are interested, you can view them at: http://newpol.org/node/694.
Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won the Mexican presidential election of 2012 with a plurality of 38 percent of the vote, returning to power the party that for 71 years ruled Mexico as a one-party state. His victory was largely a result of failures of out-going President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN), who led the nation into a war with the drug cartels that took 60,000 lives, persecuted independent unions, and presided over a stagnating economy that grew less than 2 percent over a decade. With the Mexican financial and corporate elite throwing its weight behind him, and the major media promoting him, the youthful Peña Nieto campaigned and won as the leader of a new PRI, promising democracy and reform.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, presidential candidate of the left in 2006 and again in July of 2012, has once again refused to recognize the decision of the Electoral Tribunal which upheld the victory of Peña Nieto. Contending that the PRI bought millions of votes, “trafficking with the poverty of the people,” López Obrador promises to continue a peaceful struggle to rid the country of the current government. Standing before hundreds of thousands of his supporters in the Zócalo or Plaza of the Constitution in the heart of Mexico City on September 10, thanking the 16 million Mexicans who had voted for him as a “decision to abolish the actual regime of corruption, injustice and privilege,” he announced that he was leaving the Progressive Coalition, made up of his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Workers Party, and the Citizens Movement, and that his campaign organization, the Movement for National Regeneration or MORENA would continue the fight for the “moral regeneration” of Mexico. López Obrador’s decision to build his movement and apparently to create a new political party has led to fear that Mexico’s already fragmented left—in addition to the three existing left parties in Congress there are other extra-parliamentary parties and armed movements—could be weakened even more. Nor is it clear how his decision to turn MORENA into a political party would contribute to the tasks of rebuilding the labor and social movements.
Not a Return to the Past
The victory of Enrique Peña Nieto, a man notorious for his repression of a poor people’s movement in the town of Atenco when he was governor of the State of Mexico and known as the public face of the country’s most notoriously corrupt party, represents a defeat not only for the left, but for democracy, decency and social justice in Mexico. But it does not represent a return to the one-party state of the past. Too much has changed in the last several decades to make possible the recreation of the powerful state party. The end of the national economic model, the greater involvement of Mexico in manufacturing for the U.S. and world economy, the sell-off of state industries, the weakening of the industrial unions, the decline in the size of the peasantry, the increase in urbanization, the role of the modern media, and the growth in the power of the rival parties that have actually held power at the national or state level have all undermined the bases of the old political machine.
The PRI, no longer so much a nationalist state party as a purely capitalist party, will push a conservative, pro-business agenda—coinciding in large measure with that of the PAN—calling for the privatization of energy, labor law “reform,” and regressive tax policies. The first item on the agenda is labor law reform which Calderón has now placed on fast track. The proposed reforms would render it virtually impossible to organize genuine unions, make it even more difficult than it already is to strike, and allow employers to subcontract and to hire temporary and part-time workers, practices now prohibited.
The Election Challenge Denied
The election was not entirely free and fair, though that comes as no surprise given the country’s well-deserved reputation for corruption at all levels and the experience of the controversial elections of 1988 and 2006 that several studies suggest were stolen. There is, however, no crisis of legitimacy as López Obrador has suggested. While the Televisa network, representing half the national TV duopoly, unfairly favored Enrique Peña Nieto, and though his party may have spent beyond the legal limits and may have engaged in vote-buying and other electoral fraud, such as inflated ballot counts, the government’s Electoral Tribunal ruled that all of López Obrador’s claims were “insufficient and inconclusive” as well as “vague, generic, and imprecise,” and concluded that such minor irregularities as there may have been would not have affected the outcome of the election which was won by more than three million votes. Most of the public and most independent observers appear to concur with that decision, recognizing that, contrary to López Obrador’s claims, the PRI could not have carried out vote-buying or fraudulent counting on a scale of millions. The notion that millions of Mexicans, however poor, would have sold their votes for as little as $10 and as much as $50, is not only insulting to the citizenry, but for logistical reasons beyond credibility on such a massive scale.
The charge made by López Obrador and by the student movement #IAm132, that Televisa violated Mexican election law in its overt support for Peña Nieto was no doubt true. Yet the process was really very typical of elections today in much of the world, with big corporations and the news media guiding voters in making choices, usually between two capitalist parties, or in Mexico’s case between three. Even so, unless we are prepared to deny voters any integrity, intelligence or free will in the electoral process, we have to recognize most voters chose to vote for the handsome young candidate of an infamously corrupt party rather than for López Obrador, the white-haired champion of the electoral left -- a left also known for corruption and internecine warfare -- because they thought the former would better represent them.
While the Mexican people may not whole-heartedly believe in the legitimacy of this election, with their typical cynicism about politicians, parties, and the government, they by and large accept the PRI’s victory. We should also consider that many in Mexico, after all, have historically seen the PRI as both authoritarian, repressive, and corrupt and on the left in more or less the same sense that López Obrador is, that is, likely to use power to do something to improve the conditions of the majority. The Mexican people had had their fill of Felipe Calderón and his National Action Party, and, rejecting that party’s candidate, Vázquez Mota, turned to a party they thought would better represent their interests, and to most it seemed that that party was the PRI. The voters may not have recognized the degree to which the old PRI is dead and the new PRI is the party of business.
The Mixed Results: the Prd Remains a Force
While the PRI won the presidency, the PRD remains a force in Mexican politics, having captured Mexico City and many new congressional seats. The statistics in the presidential, congressional and state elections provide a complex picture of Mexico’s kaleidoscopic political voting patterns. With 63.02% of registered voters participating in this election, Peña Nieto received 38.2 percent of the vote and López Obrador 31.6 percent, with a 6.6 percent difference between the two, equivalent to 3.3 million votes. Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the rightwing PAN received 26 percent of the vote. Peña Nieto, his victory having been upheld by the Tribunal on August 31, will take office on December 1, returning to power the party that ruled Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000 through notoriously authoritarian, corrupt, and often violent methods.
Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Election Results: Party Preferences by State
Source: Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Prepared by CRS Graphics
In the Congress, the PRI and its satellite, the Green Party (PEVM) will have 241 of 500 seats in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, while the PAN will have 114 seats, giving the two conservative parties together a majority. The PRD is not by any means irrelevant; on the contrary it has significant political power in Mexico City and in the congress. The PRD candidate for mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, a social liberal in the style of his predecessor Marcelo Ebrard, won election with 64% of the vote against 20% for the PRI candidate: A simply smashing victory for the center-left. At the same time, the PRD and its coalition partners, the Workers Party (PT) and the Citizens Movement (MC), made remarkable gains in the lower house, increasing its representatives from 88 to 135. Looked at one way, López Obrador won 31.6 percent of the vote while the PRD’s representatives claimed only 20 percent of congressional lower house seats. But relative to the previous election, López Obrador’s percentage stayed about the same, while the PRD had a 45 percent increase in congressional representatives.
Senate Composition by Party
Source: For 2009, figures are from the Mexican Senate. For 2012, figures are from IFE. Chart from CRS.
Chamber of Deputies Composition by Party
Source: For 2009, figures are from the Mexican Chamber of Deputies. For 2012, figures are from IFE. Chart by CRS.
At the state level, however, the PRI’s powerful patronage organizations either survived the end of its national rule in 2000 or have been rebuilt since, and they made it the force to be reckoned with. While the PRD won the mayoralty of Mexico City (larger than most states in population) and the governorships of Tabasco and Morelos, it lost the governor’s race in Chiapas, and overall the PRI is now dominant in the states. The PRI holds governorship in 19 states, while the PAN holds 8, and the PRD only four and the Federal District. Most Mexicans have voted at the state level—perhaps because that is where patronage machines provide the most direct and immediate benefits to their political clients—to live under the rule of the PRI. The election results suggest that political power in Mexico has become at best democratically divided among the parties, or more realistically fragmented among the competing parties and politicians. They also suggest that the country remains geographically split between the more prosperous North where the PRI or PAN generally hold power and the poorer South where the PRD does well.
Mexico’s 2012 Gubernatorial Election Results
Source: Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Prepared by CRS Graphics.
A Leftist Strategy Tested in the Election
No one would deny, I think, that López Obrador was the candidate of a capitalist party, the PRD, and that his campaign this time was more moderate than in 2006. He dropped his earlier election motto, “For the good of all, the poor first” substituting for it the vapid slogan “loving republic.” He continued to defend the nationalized petroleum and energy industries, but this time he appealed to business and attempted vainly to charm the media by suggesting that he was a moderate, not a radical. He built as an extension of his own personality his top-down campaign organization, MORENA, which represented a multi-class coalition, though he failed virtually completely to find representation from the banks and corporations, so that it was preponderantly a middle class, working class, and peasant movement. Most of Mexico’s left, excepting the Zapatistas who eschew all electoral activity, joined MORENA (not as organizations but as individuals) and backed López Obrador. MORENA represented a modern Mexican popular front, that is, a bourgeois party with radical rhetoric and working class support.
What about the revolutionary left, or that wing of it which believes in participation in elections but rejects capitalist parties? The Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT), affiliated with the Fourth International, together with some Maoist organizations, worked with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and other unions and social movement to create the Political Organization of the People and the Workers (OPT). The idea was that the OPT would avoid the pitfalls of popular front politics, allow workers, leftists, and movement activists to vote for López Obrador for president along with leftist labor candidates on the OPT line. At the same time, the campaign organized by this party would lay the basis for a workers’ party in the future. After López Obrador, the leading figure on the OPT ticket was the candidate for representative, Martín Esparza, both the elected leader and the most prominent public spokesperson of the electrical workers who had been fighting for their jobs for two years. But he too lost his election. The defeat of Esparza, and of other union officials on the left such as Senate candidate Francisco Hernández Juárez, longtime head of the Mexican Telephone Workers Union (STRM), suggests that there was no popular support for the idea of a workers’ party.
López Obrador Rejects Decision
López Obrador, has refused to accept the Tribunal’s ruling just as he did in 2006, accusing the Televisa television network of unfairly and illegally aiding Peña Nieto, charging the PRI with buying votes with supermarket gift cards, and faulting the Electoral Institute for failing to prevent those and other irregularities. When López Obrador lost in 2006 to Felipe Calderón of the PAN by a difference of 243,934 votes or just 0.58% of the total votes cast, his followers numbering between 500,000 and three million people filled the squares of Mexico City and blocked major boulevards for 47 days. Recognizing that the massive demonstrations of 2006 alienated many upper and middle class citizens and also that given the results it is unlikely that such protests could be organized this year, López Obrador and the #IAm132 movement have so far declined to attempt to organize such a massive civil disobedience movement—though that could still happen.
The election poses numerable problems for the Mexican left. The #IAm132 movement which arose so quickly just before the election, manifesting itself so creatively in protests against Televisa and Peña Nieto across the country, seemed to disperse just as rapidly. Some of the more independent labor unions, such as the Miners and Metal Workers, declined to join protests against the legitimacy of the election, apparently looking to see if after years of attack by Calderón and the PAN they might make peace with the new president and the PRI. López Obrador’s decision to transform MORENA into a stronger social movement and a new political party threatens to create political chaos on the electoral left, while it is not clear how that decision to build his populist organization would contribute to building a broad democratic left or increasing the power of working people in Mexican politics. The left stands in disarray in the face of the return to power of the PRI.
1. López Obrador, “Mensaje íntegro de Andrés Manuel López Obrador en el Zócalo,” La Jornada, Sept. 10, 2012.
2. For discussions of the effect of fraud on the Mexican election, see: Mark Weisbrod, “Irregularities reveal Mexico’s election far from fair”; Joshua Tucker, “Could the PRI have bought its electoral result in the 2012 Mexican election? Probably Not”; James Cockcroft, “The Mexican Elite will not allow A López Obrador to be President,” The Real News; and Phillip L. Russell, “Who Won the Mexican Election?,” Truth Out.
3. For an overview of the election in greater detail, see here, and Clare Ribando Seelke, “Mexico’s 2012 Elections,” (U.S.) Congressional Research Service, Sept. 4, 2012. Also see this excellent summary: Harley Shaiken, "Return of the PRI: How did this happen? What does it mean for Mexico?"