|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
October , 2012, Vol. 17, No. 10
Contents for this issue:
- Labor Law Reform Stalled as Mexican Congress Debates Process
- The Position of the UNT on the Approval of the Labor Reform
- Mexico's Labor Law Reform Sparks Massive Protests
- Despite Major Legal Victory, Electrical Workers Not Back at Work
- Independent Union Defeated at PKC Plant Through "fraud"
- UAW Organizer, Videographer Arrested and Deported for Filming Prior to PKC Election
- Elba Esther Gordillo Re-elected to Head Teachers Union; First Appointed Head in 1989, She Will Serve until 2018
- Deschamps, Pemexgate Figure, Reelected by Oil Workers
- Mexico: a Prolifertion of Parties, Almost All Moving Right
- Labor Shorts
- Resources: Video with Ben Davis; Film on Guest Workers, Etc.
- Upcoming Events: two Exhibits of Photos by David Bacon:
Labor Law Reform Stalled as Mexican Congress Debates Process
With the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the rightwing National Action Party (PAN) united against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the Mexican Senate reinserted into the bill measures that call for transparency regarding union procedures and finances. There is now a debate in the lower house, the House of Deputies, about whether or not the Senate’s changes have either returned the same bill for further discussion and debate to be decided within 30 days, or whether the bill is dead until a new Congress meets in the New Year. So things stand as we go to press on October 26.
In-coming president Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI want the bill passed, but their unions don’t want to have to submit to public scrutiny, open their books, or provide workers with information. The PRD opposes the bill in general and particularly the sections in the original bill that would restrict workers rights to organize and strike and would permit companies to subcontract, but they are sympathetic to laws that would require greater financial transparency and more union democracy. President Felipe Calderón and the PAN, who pressed to have the bill heard in this session want to see the labor law reform bill passed as a testament to Calderón leadership and perhaps his principal legacy. They would like to pass the pro-employer sections of the bill, but also like the union transparency and democracy sections principally because they believe they would weaken the country’s bureaucratic unions.
The “official” labor unions, bureaucratic, corrupt and often violent, which have worked closely with the government and employers for “labor peace” do not have a united position but most are critical of some sections of the bill – especially the provisions on transparency. The National Union of Workers and other independent unions generally oppose the sections of the bill that would weaken workers’ rights to organize and strike, oppose subcontracting, and many are sympathetic to the transparency and union democracy clauses.
Taken together, the left parties and the independent unions oppose the labor law reform bill now before Congress even if it contains the transparency measures (See for example, the statement by the UNT below).
At the moment, it looks as if the left-right political alliance in the Mexican Congress may have stopped the bill either for a moment or for this session. Whatever the upshot of the current debate about process and the future of this bill, labor law reform will be back on the agenda.
The Position of the UNT on the Approval of the Labor Reform
The National Union of Workers expresses its complete agreement with the addition and reforms introduced to the labor law reform bill by the Senate with regard to articles 364Bis, 371, 373, 388Bis, 390, 391Bis and 424Bis that refer to the themes of union transparency, open books, the right to a free, direct and secret vote, a public registry of unions and contracts, as well as the procedures that must be followed in reaching and signing union collective bargaining agreements through consultation with workers.
Nevertheless, we should make clear that with regard to the bill approved by the legislators of both houses, there remain elements that negatively affect the individual rights of workers, as well as omissions and backward movement with regard to the questions of equity and gender.
Among these we call attention to the following: the legalization of outsourcing, the introduction of contracts by the hour, the authorization of all sorts of ways to dismiss employees, as well as the expansion of probationary and/or training contracts. These are issues that reduce the cost of labor, that promote the super-exploitation of the worker, and that destroy stability in employment.
With regard to equity and gender, it should be noted that even though problems such as sexual harassment and sexual harassment are recognized as problems, there are no legal provisions for the punishment of such behaviors. At the same time, there is no regulation of home work, and in the case of computer and information technology, this will lead to all sorts of abuses, and finally pre- and post-natal leave are left to the discretion of the employer.
The National Union of Workers has repeatedly stated its rejection of all the regressive elements of the bill presented on September 1 by the President. Our federation has been a tireless promoter of the modernization and democratization of the workplace, as can be seen in the two labor law reform bills that we, together with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), have put forward in the lower house in 2002 and again in 2011. This is why we insist that any change in Mexican labor relations should be carried out with the participation and agreement of the Mexican workers, quite different in our judgment than the way the current bill has been introduced on a fast track in the absence of appropriate enabling legislation.
For all of these reasons, the UNT demands that the Representatives of the 62nd Congress analyze the proposed bill in depth, a bill which should include the articles dealing with transparency and union democracy approved by the Senate, but which should exclude all of those clauses that damage or reduce the rights and guarantees of the workers.
FOR THE DEMOCRATIC UNION OF THE WORKERS
México, D. F., October 24, 2012.
Collective Presidency of the UNT:
Ing. Francisco Hernández Juárez Ing.
Agustín Rodríguez Fuentes
Cap. Carlos Manuel Díaz Chávez Morineau
Mexico's Labor Law Reform Sparks Massive Protests
By David Bacon
[This article originally appeared in the October 16, 2012 web edition of In These Times.]
MEXICO CITY-As the Mexican Senate tried to convene last week, unionists, youth protesters from the #YoSoy132 movement and social activists of every stripe blocked the chamber's doors, trying to prevent legislators from meeting to consider the labor law reform bill. On October 2, tens of thousands marched from Tlatelolco (the Plaza of Three Cultures), where hundreds of students were shot down by Mexican Army troops on the same date in 1968, to the Zócalo at the city center. Reverberating chants signaled an equally massive rejection of this deeply unpopular proposal.
The Mexican Senate has begun its 30-day consideration of a proposed reform of the country's labor laws. Its provisions will have a profound effect on Mexico's workers, changing the way they are hired, their rights at work, and their wages. Benedicto Martínez Orozco, co-president of one of the country's most democratic unions, the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), calls it “a monstrous law.”
The basic thrust of the reforma laboral, as the bill is called in Spanish, is greater flexibility for employers. It would replace pay per day with pay by the hour. At Mexico's current minimum wage of about 60 pesos per day, this would produce an hourly wage of 7.5 pesos, less than 60 cents. Employers would gain the legal right to hire workers indirectly through labor contractors. If workers are fired for protesting or organizing against the new regime, or for any other illegitimate reason, employers' liability for back pay would end after a year.
In the ears of U.S. workers, the wages may sound low, but the kind of flexibility the reform envisions has been the norm in workplaces north of the border for decades. Not so in Mexico, however. In the wake of the Mexican Revolution, and then in the radical upsurge that followed in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Mexican workers won a broad set of rights and protections. On paper, the rights of Mexican workers are far more extensive than those of their U.S. counterparts.
In the Federal Labor Law, which the reform would amend, the workday was officially set at eight hours, and workers could only be hired by the day, not by the hour. Minimum wages were set as well. Employers had to give workers permanent employment status quickly, and hiring through contractors was prohibited. If workers were fired unjustly, they could collect back pay for the time they were out of work. If they were laid off, their employer had to pay severance based on their length of service. Companies had to declare their profits, and share them according to a set schedule.
Employers have never liked these laws, but the political offensive to change them grew much stronger as Mexico opened its economy to foreign investors. Over time those rights were eroded in fact, if not yet in law. As the maquiladora factories on the U.S./Mexico border grew to employ two million workers (before the current recession), the actual conditions of employment changed, despite what the law said. Workdays extended well past eight hours. Workers were routinely cheated out of profit sharing. When they tried to organize independent unions, their legal right to bargain and strike was violated with impunity by employers, the government and unions connected to Mexico's old ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI.
Using labor contractors was illegal in theory, but it became the employers' weapon of choice in the fierce labor battles of the past decade. The five-year strike by copper miners in Cananea, just south of the Arizona border, was declared illegal a year ago. Then Grupo Mexico, the huge corporation that owns mines on both sides of the border, brought in contractors using strikebreakers.
Humberto Montes de Oca, international secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), notes bitterly that Cananea was the birthplace in Mexico of the fight for the eight-hour day, in the famous uprising of 1906 that heralded the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. “Now if you go to Cananea,” he says, “you find subcontracted workers in the mine putting in 12-hour days with no overtime pay. In the heart of the town where the eight-hour-day struggle started, workers now have a 12-hour day.”
Montes de Oca's own union suffered a similar fate. In 2009 Mexican President Felipe Calderón dissolved the state-owned Power and Light Company of central Mexico and declared that the union no longer existed. The SME, one of the country's oldest and most democratic unions, has been fighting ever since for the right of workers to return to their jobs, and to regain its legal status.
“Our members were also replaced by subcontracted workers with no union,” Montes de Oca says. “These new replacements had no training or experience, and as a result, there were countless accidents. Some of these workers died. This is the employment model promoted by the labor law reform. What happened to us anticipated the changes the reform will bring everywhere.”
Martínez of the FAT adds, “For workers who don't accept this, and are fired when they try to protest or organize, the employer isn't liable for more than a year of back pay. No one will bring a case against his or her boss because the employer will have such a strong motivation to delay endlessly. Given the Mexican legal system, that will be very easy.”
When the PRI lost the presidency in 2000, proposals for changing the labor law were made by the incoming National Action Party. Some, promoted by the World Bank, were so extreme in restricting the rights of workers and unions that even more liberal-minded employers objected. Independent and progressive unions mobilized opposition, defeated them, and then proposed their own alternatives.
One centered on guaranteeing the right of workers to elect union officials by secret ballot. PRI-affiliated unions have a long history of violence and corruption in the election of their leaders. Another would have ended "protection contracts," the secret agreements signed by corrupt unions to protect employers when workers organize independently. Those proposals had support from Mexico's left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), but not from the PRI.
In last July's national election, however, the PRI regained the presidency. Then in September a reforma laboral proposal passed through the Chamber of Deputies at breakneck speed, pushed by an alliance between the pro-business National Action Party (PAN) and the PRI. The Senate, which must ratify it, has yet to take a vote. But it's likely that the PAN/PRI alliance will pass it there too. Calderón would presumably sign it before he leaves office.
Using the same arguments heard from employers and Republicans in the U.S. presidential campaign, reform supporters argue that removing restrictions on employers will encourage them to hire more workers, producing more jobs. Rosalinda Vélez Juárez, Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare, asserted that the reforms constituted “a watershed” that would generate an additional 400,000 jobs per year. “Even the opposition will eventually see the benefit,” she declared.
Critics point out, however, that 900,000 young people enter the Mexican job market every year. Since the Calderón administration took office in 2006, however, only 1.54 million people have gained formal employment, according to the Social Security Institute that is about 250,000 per year, or less than a third of those needing work. That is just one element of the economic pressure producing waves of migration to the United States. Evaluating the reforma laboral, the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found that it would not create any new jobs, but merely encourage contractors to hire workers already in the informal sector. “We may see an increase in jobs, but they will be very precarious ones at very low pay,” Montes de Oca argues.
What the reform will also do, however, according to unions and other critics, is increase the productivity of the workforce by making workers more vulnerable to pressure by employers. A rise in productivity actually diminishes the need for new workers.
“The ultimate effect will be to impoverish workers even further,” says Martínez. “On the one hand, it makes it much easier to fire workers. On the other, the ability to subcontract workers paid by the hour gives employers a reason to fire permanent employees. This opens the doors of paradise for them.” Unions will certainly find it more difficult to organize workers who increasingly need better wages and conditions, but are even more frightened of losing the precarious jobs they have.
In response to the unions' earlier proposals, one provision added to the reform as it was debated would have given workers the right to elect the officers of their unions in direct, secret-ballot elections. That provision, however, was removed by those deputies who are also leaders of unions affiliated to the PRI or to minor parties backing the reform. One deputy, Lucila Garfias Gutiérrez, speaking for the conservative leadership of the Mexican Teachers Union, asserted, “We say yes to union democracy, but also to respecting the principle of autonomy, only the workers should have the right to decide how to organize [the internal election process in their own unions.]”
She was challenged, however, by the progressive Coordinadora movement in her own union. Francisco Bravo Herrerra, leader of Mexico City's Local 9, told the Mexican daily La Jornada that support for the reform was a criminal act, “the biggest blow against workers of the past hundred years.”
Once the provision was removed, the PRI deputies who are union leaders voted for the reforma laboral. “The supposed worker representatives in the Chamber of Deputies who approved this law betrayed their principles and their own members, and the whole Mexican people,” Martinez fumed. “They handed workers over to the bosses on a silver platter.”
Both Martínez and Montes de Oca predict that the fight against the reform won’t end even if the Senate approves it. In just one indication of the depth of that resistance, workers from the huge Nissan auto plant in Morelos stopped work and blocked the main highway from Mexico City to the coast, to demand rejection of the reforma laboral. Orozco and others believe that the reform is unconstitutional, and plan to challenge it legally.
On October 11 a huge rally of unions outside the Senate brought together both independent unions like the FAT and the SME, and even sections of the PRI unions, to protest the reforms. Fissures are appearing inside the PRI itself, and one PRI senator, Armando Neyra Chávez, who also heads the old-guard union, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) in the State of Mexico, called on the newly elected PRI administration to restore the jobs and legal status of the fired electrical workers, instead of passing the reform bill.
The cost of the reforma laboral will be felt, however, not just in Mexico, but also in the United States. The purpose of increased flexibility is to encourage investment, including from U.S. corporations like Ford, Walmart, Kimberly Clark and others, who already play a central role in the Mexican economy. More U.S. investment also means, though, that more jobs move south. The movement of production facilitated by the North American Free Trade Agreement has already cost at least 800,000 U.S. jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Further job outsourcing to Mexico, spurred by lowered wages, subcontracted work and diminished rights for workers, will create more unemployment and displacement of workers north of the border. But the cost of low wages and increasingly precarious work is displacement in Mexico too. Workers who can't live on 7.5 pesos an hour, or find permanent work in a new world of labor contractors, will have little alternative to migration across that border.
For More Articles and Images, See Http://dbacon.igc.org
Despite Major Legal Victory, Electrical Workers Not Back at Work
If you or your organization wish to sign on to this letter, please email SME’s International Secretary, José Humberto Montes de Oca Luna, at
The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) won a major legal victory in mid-October when a Federal Labor Court ruled that President Felipe Calderon’s administration had failed to show that force majeure required the liquidation of the government-owned Mexican Light and Power Company and the termination of all of its employees.
Force majeure is a legal concept often found in contracts, meaning that some unforeseen development -- often a natural disaster or “act of God”-- has intervened making it impossible to continue the agreement. Calderón justified the closing of the Light and Power Company because he argued it had become uneconomical, something that the unions and others disputed. Clearly force majeure was not the issue.
The union’s contract provided that if a company merged or was bought out, that the successor company had to take on the workers. In this case, the Light and Power Company’s facilities had been taken over by the government’s Federal Electrical Commission which now controls virtually all public power generation in the country. So the court ruled that the CFC should return the fired workers to their jobs.
Nevertheless, the Federal Labor Board (JFCA) has failed to comply with the court’s decision. So the Electrical Workers Union has been carrying out mass demonstrations and sit-ins at the Labor Board demanding that it follow the court’s directive. The SME is also circulating the letter which we reprint below, in an effort to make the Board, the courts, and the government aware of the vast support they enjoy.
Sign on Letter:
DEMAND FOR IMMEDIATE JUSTICE
Mexican Electrical Workers Union.
Mr. Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, President of Mexico.
Mr. Alejandro Poiré Romero, Secretary of the Interior.
Ms. Rosalinda Vélez Juárez, Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare.
Mr. Eduardo Andrade Salaverría, President of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board
The Mexican Diplomatic Corps throughout the World.
The undersigned personalities, social organizations, institutions and national and international unions demand that the Mexican authorities fully implement the Direct Appeal (Amparo Directo) granted by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Labor Matters in favor of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), on Thursday September 13.
This decision represents a historic opportunity for the Mexican government to reestablish legality and restore the human and labor rights of the workers affiliated with SME, who were on the basis of an unlawful decree that eliminated their workplace, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC ), were dismissed without cause in October 2009. Likewise, this decree violated the international conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the NAFTA Agreement on Labor Cooperation, both signed by Mexico. In addition to dismissal without cause, SME members have suffered the social and psychological effects of an ongoing media campaign of criminalization and political repression by the Mexican federal authorities for more than three years, with one of the resulting impacts that 11 workers were incarcerated and still remain in prison. It is time for justice!
The appeal won by the SME overturning the decision of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) which had terminated the existing labor relations and SME's collective bargaining agreement, clearly mentions that:
* There was no proof of a “matter of chance" or "force majeure" as grounds for the dismissal of workers.
* The JFCA issued a decision that violated federal labor law, by terminating the individual and collective relations between LyFC and SME.
* The JFCA ruled in a manner that was premature and illegal by denying the existence of a successor employer.
* The Federal Electrical Commission (CFE) took over the provision of electrical service once provided by Luz y Fuerza del Centro, so that from the beginning is became the successor employer of the SME’s workers.
Based on this, it is clear that the individual and collective labor relationships between Luz y Fuerza del Centro and the workers of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union continue to exist; that the Federal Electrical Commission used the infrastructure of LyFG to provide electrical service and is therefore the successor employer of the SME members, and therefore the reinstatement of the 16,5999 workers who refused severance must proceed immediately.
We urge the Mexican authorities not to be tempted to present new legal obstacles, delaying tactics or other measures in reckless contempt of the law and of society in general. We urge the authorities to once and for all resolve this conflict that has lasted for more than 3 years, whose impact on thousands of workers and their families should not last even one more day.
Similarly, we ask the Mexican government to grant the immediate release of the 11 political prisoners of the SME.
SUCCESSOR EMPLOYER NOW FOR THE 16,599
SME WORKERS IN RESISTANCE!!
The law is not negotiable!
(List of organizations and notables who are signatories)
Independent Union Defeated at PKC Plant Through "fraud"
The Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM), one of Mexico’s “official” unions that works closely with the government and employers to maintain lower wages and labor peace, won the October 18 union representation election at Arneses y Acesorios de Mexico, in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila. The company is a subsidiary of the Finnish PKC multinational corporation.
The rival Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM) insists that the election was won through what its union leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia called “irregularities, fraud and threats.” The Miners union claims that PKC colluded with the CTM to help it win the election. With 7,366 workers eligible to vote, there were 2,546 unused ballots. The independent Miners union received 2,311 votes, while the CTM won the election with 2,509 votes, a difference of 198 votes.
Miners Plan to Challenge Fraudulent Election
The Miners union asserts that it will challenge what it describes as a “fraudulent election” in the Labor Board and courts in Mexico and in international fora. The challenge, spokespersons say, will be based on the illegal actions, coercion, and threats made by the PKC andCTM.
The independent miners’ union contends that the union representation election violated the most elementary rules of legal and genuine democratic consultation, established in Mexico’s Federal Labor Law and the Mexican Constitution as well as in Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labor Organization, and by the Mexican Supreme Court.
The CTM rejects the Miners accusations of collusion and intimidation. Tereso Medina Ramírez, head of the CTM’s autoparts union, told the press that Gómez Urrutia of the Miners was angry because “he had suffered a defeat in his attempt to take over industries outside of the mining and steel industries.”
Pkc Claims Election Was Fair
PKC management called the election fair. “PKC is pleased that this issue has now been officially resolved and that the working conditions in Acuña remained stable throughout the process. This process confirms that PKC has first-rate management practices in Acuña, which has led to low employee turnover, good job satisfaction and, as a result, high customer satisfaction. Acuña is in many ways PKC’s most advanced operating location and has implemented many world-class practices e.g. in relation to health and safety. We are proud of these best practices and intend to implement them gradually at PKC’s other plants worldwide,” says President & CEO Matti Hyytiäinen.
Throughout the process, said PKC management, the company supported the Labor Board’s decision to hold an election, remained impartial and has done everything in its power to ensure a free, fair and transparent vote. “PKC has demonstrated an unwavering commitment of impartiality and refrained from making any public statements regarding the election. The outcome of the vote confirmed PKC’s impartiality as employees freely voted for their choice of union through secret ballot,” according to the company’s statement.
“In our opinion the arrangement of the election was for the benefit of all the parties, and we wish that everyone will accept the result of the vote and allow Acuña’s personnel to continue their excellent work in serving our customers,” Mr Hyytiäinen commented.
UAW Organizer, Videographer Arrested and Deported for Filming Prior to PKC Election
By Pete DeMay
(Although at first Pete DeMay was reluctant to have us include this article because “the PKC story is so important and the injustice we suffered was minor compared with what the workers are dealing with,” we convinced him that it was important to do so because it illustrates the conditions in Cd. Acuña at the time of the election -- ed).
I have spent time in Ciudad Acuña Mexico periodically over the past two years, generally a weekend every two or three months or so, assisting the Steelworkers and CFO (Centro Fronterizo de Obrer@s) facilitate organizing workshops etc. I always liked spending time with the PKC workers because they organized the “right way”, with lots of house-calls, one on one conversations etc. and I found their “Mineros” section 307 to be a legit, highly democratic, worker run organization.
The UAW has always been supportive of the campaign because the shop is huge (over 5,000 workers) and they supply a lot of unionized plants in the US (Ford, Navistar, Freightliner etc.) Obviously, we are concerned about the wages (less than $10 US per day) and the shoddy working conditions.
Once the Mineros filed the "Emplazamiento de Huelga” about a year ago, the company really kicked the anti-union campaign into high gear. They cut a protection deal with the CTM (backdated of course) and the management gringos came down from Farmington Hills Michigan to help coordinate the campaign. Once the company realized that there was going to be an election (recuento) several months ago, they started letting the CTM come in every day to hold captive audience meetings and one-on-one meetings. Supervisors also held one-on-ones with workers. Mostly, they told workers that the plant would close if the Mineros got in – your typical anti-union bullshit. The CTM officials also offered to pay people’s utility bills in one on one meetings, basically saying anything to win.
At about this time the local papers started getting involved, publishing – daily – anti-“Minero” propaganda. Every day there would be an article, Op-Ed or editorial saying that the Mineros were going to close down the plant and that the city would die if the Mineros got in etc, etc. There were never any pro-“Minero” Op-Eds or articles – just constant Mineros bashing. The radio was just as bad if not worse. On television, ads against the Mineros were in heavy rotation for months in prime time. It was extremely apparent that the maquiladora owners, the CTM, the press, and the government were signing out of the same hymn-book. Once, the Mineros tried to buy time (at an exaggerated price) on the radio and the station sent their check back. Indeed, the anti-union message coordination throughout Acuña would have made even Fox news blush.
Consequently, before the recount election I visited the campaign a couple of times to help design street posters and some basic street art, because that was the only way that the Mineros were going to be able to do any campaign advertising. I would also take down paper, printer cartridges and other supplies because the section didn’t have much of a budget.
I returned to Cd. Acuña just prior to the election to film the events leading up to the vote and the actual vote, in order to document everything and possibly prevent violence on election day. On the Tuesday before the recount I crossed the border with a videographer named Carlos Ginard. We told the immigration people exactly what we planned on doing, purchased visas and let them examine out equipment. They let us on through and we started shooting some street scenes near the Mineros’ offices and we interviewed some folks on the organizing committee. We were hoping to produce a nice piece that we could later show to UAW members to educate them about PKC and maybe post something on YouTube in English and Spanish. We then decided to shoot some b-roll that we could incorporate into the video later so we took a drive to the industrial park to shoot the outside of some of the PKC plants. Carlos got out, and shot the exterior of one of the plants from the public street. It only took him 5 minutes but we noticed some plant security guards talking on their phones.
We decided to drive to another plant and immediately noticed we were being followed. We pulled over to try and shake the guards, and then continued on to the next plant. Again from the public way, Carlos shot some exterior footage. There was a sign in front of the plant which said “Amistad” which we thought was funny and ironic so we got some shots of that. Within two minutes Ciudad Acuña Police arrived and ordered us out of the car. More cops arrived and there were close to 8 officers on the scene. The officers asked us what we were doing and we told them. They then proceeded to search our car. PKC officials also came out to the street and started looking inside our car and taking photos of us, which we thought was rather discourteous.
The chief of police started asking if we were there supporting the Mineros or not and we just told him we wanted to see a clean election. The cops held us in front of the plant for close to an hour, just making a big show about having apprehended us. Workers were outside the plant watching everything that was going down – this undoubtedly pleased the PKC managers.
The cops then escorted us to immigration, where we had to wait for like another hour while heavily armed guards looked on. They then took us to the Municipal police station for what seemed like an eternity while the local cops processed our paperwork (which we never got to see). The cops called in a doctor to give us a physical (to prove that we hadn’t been tortured they said) and after quite some time, they took us back to immigration.
Back at immigration it was more of the same. We thought we might get released (after all, we told them exactly why we were there earlier in the day), but we had no such luck. After a couple of hours, we met with a fresh faced government “attorney” who told us that we would have to spend the night in a detention house (whatever that is, he said it wasn’t a jail) and that we would be transported to Saltillo (5 hours away) in the morning. He told us that doing non-tourist things on a tourist visa was a serious offense, and that our processing could take up to two weeks and could involve a heavy fine. We were initially interviewed separately.
I thought this guy might have just been looking for a heavy bribe, but an hour later he said he would give us a “special deal” and let us leave if we agreed to be deported for two years. We kind of wanted to fight it out, but Carlos has Epilepsy and didn’t have meds, and couldn’t really afford to be off work for two weeks. I had my concerns too (“detention house” for two weeks - in the state where the head of the Zetas just got whacked? No thanks.) So we called some folks at the union and they told us to sign whatever and we could fight it out in the US later. We got back to Del Rio at around 11pm. The cops got us at around 1pm.
Carlos and I learned that Ciudad Acuña is a corrupt little place where the Maquiladora bosses rule and dissent is simply not tolerated. We felt the full power of the machine come down on us for taking video in the street. I knew when we got hauled in that the workers would not be given a fair election two days later and sure enough, they weren’t. Acuña had already decided who would win.
The gringo maquiladora bosses are treated likes gods in Acuña and practically run the town. I would like to see them get deported. They are the real criminals. We were just two dudes with a camera.
Elba Esther Gordillo Re-elected to Head Teachers Union; First Appointed Head in 1989, She Will Serve until 2018
By Dan La Botz
Elba Esther Gordillo, head of the Mexican Teachers Union, has been reelected once again. With 3,287 delegates in attendance, Gordillo received 3,205 votes in her favor while it was reported that there were between 22 and 25 voided ballots. If the numbers don’t add up, this is the Mexican labor movement, and no one was surprised by the results.
When, in 1989, teachers throughout Mexico rebelled against their union’s dictatorial leader Carlos Jonguitud Barrios, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari intervened, and with no legal basis for doing so, he appointed Elba Esther Gordillo to head the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE). Gordillo, taking up the rhetoric of the rebellious teachers promised that the union “would never again be controlled by such a dictatorial political boss” as Jonguitud. Yet today, at age 67, Gordillo has become just such a boss. She is one of Mexico’s sempiternal leaders who once in power hold on until they either die or another president comes along to remove and replace them.
Her Evolution Not Surprising
Gordillo’s evolution should not be surprising. She began her union career as a loyal member of the Revolutionary Vanguard caucus headed by Jonguitud Barrios, a corrupt and violent bureaucrat who colluded with the Secretary of Public Education to suppress critical voices and dissident teachers. He was, of course, loyal to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party that had ruled Mexico from 1929 until 2000. His union served as the most important component of the PRI’s electoral machine, able to mobilize its one million members to turn out and vote. He was accused, though never convicted, of having opposition teachers murdered.
Never part of the union opposition movement, not even during the democratic upsurge of 1988-89, Gordillo had remained loyal to the Revolutionary Vanguard machine. She never spoke out against Jonguitud, never joined the dissidents, and did not become the union’s leader through a democratic political process, but was rather appointed by recently elected President Salinas, with the understanding that she would head off the democratic rank-and-file rebellion in the union and keep the union structure and the PRI’s political machine intact. She proved more than up to the job.
The Reconstruction of a Political Machine
Gordillo used all of the resources of the Mexican state to reconstruct a political machine in the union. Like her predecessor, ahe colluded with the Secretary of Public Education (SEP). That provided her with economic resources: lots of money, jobs for her loyalists, and the power to discipline dissidents by having them fired. Hundreds of SEP ghost employees (they’re called “aviators” in Mexico) worked for Gordillo’s union machine rather than in the schools teaching children. Advancement in the workplace, in an educational career, and in the union depended on Gordillo’s approval. Several of those who served in union leadership positions were her relatives and in-laws.
From the PRI to the PAN and Back
She also worked closely with the Institutional Revolutionary Party which she had joined in 1970, during a period when the one-party-state was engaged in violent repression of the country’s labor and social movements. Now a leader of one of the PRI’s most important labor unions she served the PRI as Secretary of Organization of the National Executive Council (1986–1987), General Secretary of the Council of National Popular Organizations (1997–2002), and General Secretary of the National Executive Council, the second highest office in the party.
As a PRI Congresswoman, she headed up the PRI delegation in the lower house until the early 2000s, when Gordillo clashed with the PRI leadership. and turned in the direction of the National Action Party (PAN), becoming a supporter of PAN presidents Vicente Fox and then of Felipe Calderón. In 2005, when she was on the outs with the PRI, her union had also created its own political party, the New Alliance Party (PANAL), as one way to exert political pressure on the other parties. When Calderón’s fortunes began to decline, Gordillo veered back in the direction of the PRI, becoming a tacit supporter of Enrique Peña Nieto who was recently elected president.
Beating Back Dissent
Though her union’s constitution has a clause, typical of Mexican unions, prohibiting reelection, it has been ignored. She has not ruled the union without opposition. During her 23 years in office, she has been constantly opposed by the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), an independent, democratic, and militant opposition within the union, as well as by other opposition groups. The dissidents generally control the union in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and some Mexico City locals, and more recently in Michoacán, as well as having a significant presence in several other states. Yet despite the opposition’s remarkable organization and mass mobilizations of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of teachers in protest marches, strikes, and mass occupations of state capitals and often of the Secretary of Education building and surrounding streets in Mexico City, they have been unable to build a majority movement that could unseat her.
Gordillo has used her tremendous political power to beat back the opposition. She and her loyalists control virtually all of the top offices in the national union and fill all of the union staff positions. When it comes time for national meetings or conventions, the location is usually changed at the last moment to make it difficult for the dissidents to attend or protest. Sometimes, as in the national convention that has just reelected her, the convention site is changed to a remote resort location -- in this case Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula -- far from the dissidents in Mexico City or the states of central, western and southeastern Mexico. Those few dissident teachers who did show up were kept away from the event by the state police. The convention delegates are virtually all Gordillo loyalists and the convention often begins by rewarding them with expensive toys, one year Hummer automobiles and this year a computer for every delegate.
Speaking to the convention, Gordillo told the delegates, “Friends, there is no doubt about it. This union is a democratic, pluralistic union, a strong union, the strongest in Mexico and throughout Latin America.” With the Mexican Congress debating a reform of the country’s Federal Labor Law, including proposals to make unions more transparent, she announced that the convention had approved new statutes that would create an oversight committee and establish full transparency. “We have nothing to hide,” she said. She promised the convention that if the worked hard they could have everything done by Saturday and rest on Sunday at the beach.
Despite the union constitution’s prohibition of reelection, or to bypass it, Gordillo has until now held the position of “president for life.” At this convention, Gordillo created a new leadership body called the Supreme General Council that stands above the union’s other leadership bodies. The new leadership Council has been reduced from 12 to 8 members, and she is the general secretary, the top officer. The national executive committee has 43 officers, all of whom are her loyalists. At the same time, the terms of all union positions were increased from four to six years. She justified these changes saying, “We’re going for a horizontal union, completely horizontal.”
Deschamps, Pemexgate Figure, Reelected by Oil Workers
Romero Deschamps, head of the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM), was reelected general secretary in a closed door session of the union’s top officers by 108 delegates from the 36 local unions. While the union’s twenty-fifth national convention was attended by 3,000 delegates, only the 108 delegates vote for the president.
Deschamps is best known for his role in the Pemexgate scandal of 2001 when it was discovered that the Petroleum Workers Union had illegally transferred funds to the political campaign of Francisco Labastida, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with which the union had long been affiliated.. PEMEX is the Mexican Petroleum Company for which most STPRM members work. Deschamps was found guilty of electoral fraud and violating a public trust. Those found guilty paid a total of US$90 million in fines.
Deschamps, who has held the union’s top office since 1997, was elected for a six-year term that will in end in 2018. He is suffering from colon cancer and is being treated by physicians in Houston, Texas.
Deschamps: a Dictator
Deschamps has run the union as a dictatorship, using his control of the union bureaucracy to attempt to destroy the independent union of Technical and Professional Workers (STTyP) and to suppress members of the National Democratic Alliance, a ten-year old rank-and-file opposition in the union.
Manuel Fuentes, an attorney who represents independent unions said that “The union’s structure impedes workers from directly expressing their will.” Union members must vote by raising their hands in front of the officials, Fuentes explained. There is no secret ballot.
Carlos Rodríguez of the Center for Labor Action and Reflection (CEREAL) said the union was known for its “irregular” elections.
Deschamps is only the latest in a string of corrupt STPRM leaders, the most notorious of whom was Joaquín Hernández Galicia, known as La Quina, who headed the union until January 1989 when President Carlos Salinas sent police and military officers to union headquarters to arrest him due to his support for the political opponents of the president. Firing bazookas, the government agents arrested and jailed La Quina and other leaders of the union. He was replaced by Sebastian Guzman Cabrera who, in turn, was succeeded by Deschamps.
Deschamps heads the union not because the oil workers want him, but because a corrupt group of PEMEX official, PRI leaders, and corrupt union leaders put him in that place to protest their interests.
Mexico: a Prolifertion of Parties, Almost All Moving Right
By Dan La Botz
Over the last forty years, political options in Mexico have narrowed and become more conservative, but political parties have proliferated. In the 1970s, a voter had a choice between parties on the far left, parties in the center, and parties on the far right. Today we see the multiplication of parties in the center while real political options, both on the far left and the far right, have been eliminated from the political spectrum. At the same time, the three major parties—from left to right the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the National Action Party (PAN)—have all moved to the right, adopting some version of the free market economic model. Consequently, what we think of as the “center” of the political spectrum is many degrees to the right of what the center was in 1970 or even in 1990.
Twenty-first century Mexico will be a country of multiple, mostly conservative parties with minimal differences between them.
Parties of Personal Ambition
The proliferation of parties could be said to have begun in 2005, when Elba Esther Gordillo, the sempiternal leader of the Mexican Teachers Union (SNTE) created the New Alliance Party (PANAL) as her personal political vehicle. While her union theoretically supported PANAL, depending on her political dealings at the moment, the union’s members might be mobilized to vote for PANAL, or for the either of the two dominant political parties: the governmental Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the pro-business National Action Party (PAN). In the July 2012 election, PANAL candidate Gabriel Quadri received only 2% of the vote, but this is partly because Gordillo ordered some of her underlings to turn out the vote to Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had run for president in 2006 and lost in an election characterized by fraud, ran a second and far more conservative campaign for president of Mexico in 2012 as the candidate of a left-of-center coalition made up of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Workers Party (PT), and the Citizens Movement (MC – formerly Convergence) and received 31 percent of the vote, losing to the PRI’s Peña Nieto. López Obrador has now confirmed that he will leave the PRD and turn his campaign organization, the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), into a political party by January 2013 so as to qualify for participation in the coming national elections. (http://www.amlo.org.mx/ and http://www.regeneracion.mx/)
The scission of the PRD and MORENA represents a dangerous development for the left, raising the risk of the left’s fragmentation into several parties which, sometimes collaborating and at other times competing, could prove incapable of maintaining a significant left pole, even if that pole has now been moved further to the right. MORENA does not seem to have a political program fundamentally different than the other parties of the left, but aims to break with their political practice, namely with their electoral obsession that has led in the past to opportunism and corruption. López Obrador has defined his—and therefore MORENA’s—positions at this moment as opposition to the labor law reform being promoted by big business and the major parties and to the privatization of the petroleum industry.
While some who support MORENA see it as a genuine expression of democracy and a movement for social justice, others criticize it as the personal vehicle for the ambitions of the caudillo López Obrador.
Non-ideological Cross Class Parties
Another group of politicians has now appeared who are in the process of establishing Concertación Mexicana (CM) or the Mexican Coalition. (http://izquierdaalternativa.mx/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Plan-de-la-Concertaci%C3%B3n-Mexicana.pdf) The founders of this new party come from both the PRD and from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), historically the party of big business. The principal leaders of the new party are René Arce, formerly of the PRD, and Manuel Espino, who comes out of the PAN. Also among the founders is Jorge Carlos Díaz Cuevo, a former leader of the Social Democratic Party, a small and short-lived party of the moderate left. Since the 1980s the PRD and the PAN frequently cooperated in electoral coalitions in an attempt to break the power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, and this new party represents the fruit of such cross-class and ideologically disparate coalitions. The new CM describes itself as a non-ideological party that will be based on a democratic political program.
CM also has also created a parallel social movement Movimiento Izquierda Alternativa (MIA) or the Left Alternative Movement. (http://izquierdaalternativa.mx/concertacion-mexicana/) Putting itself forward as an alternative to the “sectarian left,” and breaking with the Mexican left’s both unconditional and generally uncritical support for the Cuban Communist Party, MIA criticizes government repression of civil liberties in Cuba. At the same time, MIA supported Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI whose successful campaign for president of Mexico was widely criticized for alleged vote-buying and electoral fraud. Apparently both CM and MIA are putting aside the various positions taken by its leaders and activists in the last election and moving forward to create a new, pragmatic and bland political alternative.
A Workers Party?
Meanwhile the Political Organization of the People and of the Workers (OPPT), formed before the July elections by the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and various social movements and left organizations, continues to work toward the creation of a Mexican workers party. (http://optmex.org/) The OPPT supported López Obrador’s campaign for presidency and also supported independent labor candidates on the left, but its political hopes were dashed on all fronts. The OPPT’s social movement base is the Provisional Organizing Committee for a New Workers Federation (Junta Promotora Provisional por una nueva Central de Trabajadores), based like the OPPT principally on the SME and a few local labor unions. The major issue for both the OPPT and the unions that make up its base is the pro-business labor law reform. The creation of a workers party would, like some of the other new political parties, represent a real alternative, but so far its base is narrow and it doesn’t have much momentum.
The Days of Real Differences – but No Chance of Winning
The 1970s and early 1980s were from one angle the real heyday of political democracy in Mexico. On the far left was the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) and just to its right the Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM), which came out of a merger of the Communist Party and a number of smaller left groups. In the center was the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and to its right the National Action Party (PAN), the party of big business and the Catholic Church. And, finally on the far right was the Mexican Democratic Party (PDM), a quasi-fascist party which had come out of the goose-stepping Sinarquista movement of the 1930s. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget the Mexican Green Ecology Party (PVEM), not a Green Party at all, but a just satellite of the PRI.
The events of the late 1980s changed the Mexican political scene. When Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas led the Democratic Tendency out of the PRI, virtually all of the parties of the left joined his National Democratic Front (FND). And after Carlos Salinas of the PRI won the fraudulent election of 1988, almost the entire left fused into the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), eliminating the revolutionary left alternative from the political spectrum. Two years later the Maoists of the Land and Liberty movement formed the Workers Party (PT), which became a political satellite of the PRD. Meanwhile, the party of the far right, the Mexican Democratic Party, its members tired from all the goose-stepping, withered away.
While there were real choices in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Mexican power elite—the permanent government bureaucracy, the party leaders, the corporations, and the big labor unions—had decided that no party on the left would be permitted to win the presidential election. That was made clear by the fraudulent 1988 contest when Cárdenas had been denied his victory. So many on the left decided in 2000 to cast “a useful vote,” as it was called, for Vicente Fox, the candidate of the pro-business National Action Party. Once the power of the PRI was broken, it was thought, then all parties will have an equal chance. That was proven wrong by the election of 2006, when the probable winner, the candidate of the left López Obrador, lost in an election marred by fraud. In 2006 just as in 1988, the left would not be permitted to win a presidential election. López Obrador decided to adopt a more conservative style and program in 2012, but still went down to defeat, with fraud playing a part.
In the next election, voters should have a lot of choices, but I they will range from a moderate social liberalism with a populist style as represented by MORENA and the PRD, to the neoliberalism of the PRI and the PAN. Then of course, there will be the pseudo parties like Gordillo’s PANAL and the Mexican Green Party. Whether or not the tiny OPT, the seed of a leftist workers party will survive, much less prosper, remains to be seen.
Fat Turns 52
FAT celebrates its 52nd anniversary: http://www.fatmexico.org.mx/index.php/accordion-a/historia/47-historia/159-fat-52-anos-de-lucha-.html
Resources: Video with Ben Davis; Film on Guest Workers, Etc.
IndustriALL Video on Labor Law Reform Features Ben Davis
IndustriALL Global Union has produced a short video featuring USW International Affairs Director Ben Davis on the Mexican Labour Reform: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXa2uFRXtSo&feature=player_embedded
Canadian Film on Guest Workers
“The End of Immigration?,” a Film by Marie Boti & Malcolm Guy is a documentary which highlights the Canadian trend where an increasing number of temporary workers are employed in all sectors of the economy. This compelling documentary asks the question - is this shift away from nation-building and permanent residency to temporary worker programs the end of immigration as we know it? For more information about the film, go to www.pmm.qc.ca and/or check out the trailer at http://diffusionmultimonde.com/en/, https://vimeo.com/44838473
Business Week Article
Business Week article on labor law reform quotes FAT Leader Benedicto Martinez and Carlos de Buen: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-10-23/mexicos-eternal-labor-leaders-survive-reform
Upcoming Events: two Exhibits of Photos by David Bacon:
The Oaxaca Institute for Attention to Migrants Invites you to the photographic exhibition
"Surviving: the life of farmworkers and their families in the U.S."
October 8 to November 8
City Hall of Oaxaca de Juarez
Plaza de Danza, Centro Historico
The Economics School National Autonomous University of Mexico, The Postgraduate Study Area for the International Economy, and The Academy of Political Economy and the Project PAPIIT IN304312 invite you to the Photographic Exhibition "The Migration of Mexican Youth to the United States," making visible through images the living conditions of young Mexicans who work in the fields of California.
From October 3 to November 1
In the entrance hall of the Economics Faculty, UNAM
Mexico City, DF