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Painting of FAT supporters with signs for socialjustice & free unions in colorful town
Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention
Artist Beatriz Aurora

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

September , 2013, Vol. 18, No. 7


Introduction to this issue:

As we go to press, the Oaxaca teachers led by the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), an opposition caucus in the union, have been on strike and protesting in Mexico City for 40 days demanding that the Mexican Congress overturn the education reform law. La CNTE is demanding that the Mexican government hold talks with the dissident caucus, but the Secretary of Public Education has said that he will negotiate only with the union itself.

Juan Díaz de la Torre, president of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), has called upon the Mexican Secretary of Education and the state authorities to fire those teachers who have been absent from the classroom for more than three days. La CNTE leaders have responded by calling for the arrest and imprisonment of Díaz de la Torre for his complicity in the embezzlement of union funds, as the right hand man of Elba Esther Gordillo who is now in prison for that crime.

The Oaxaca teachers long absence from the classroom had led to some erosion of their support in the communities where children have now missed more than an entire month of school.


Contents for this issue:

Mexican Teachers Win Moral Victory—Struggle Continues

By Dan La Botz

Since school began again on August 19, tens of thousands of teachers have been engaged in strikes and demonstrations throughout Mexico—including seizing public buildings, highway toll booths, and border crossing stations, occupying public buildings and city plazas, and blocking foreign embassies—actions taken against the Education Reform Law and the new Professional Teaching Law and over local demands linked to wages and working conditions. A National Day of Action against the Education Reform saw demonstrations by thousands of teachers in several states. All together the activities of the month of September have been the largest and most militant teachers’ union demonstrations in Mexican history.

The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), an opposition caucus within the Mexican Teacher Union (el SNTE), leading about 200,000 of the nation’s 1.2 million teachers, appears to have won a moral victory, even if it has not yet succeeded in its goal of overturning the new laws. As commentators have suggested, the dissident teachers of la CNTE have largely been successful in discrediting and delegitimizing the unilaterally imposed education reforms as well as in moderating their impact through small concessions granted by the government. Support for the Education Reform Law has, as a result of the protests, had greater political costs for all three of the major political parties. Yet, at the same time, it is not clear where the teachers’ strikes are going. It is not clear how long these strikes and protests can continue without exhausting the teachers and their parent and student supporters if there is not some intermediate goal short of overturning the new education laws.

The Largest Teacher Protests in Mexican History

Driven by opposition to the education reforms based on teacher evaluations linked to student performance, the traditional annual protests of tens of thousands of teachers from Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Federal District (Mexico City)—that have taken place for the last forty years at the beginning of every school year—grew this year to include large numbers of teachers from the states of Michoacán and Veracruz as well as from about 20 other of the country’s 31 entities, including mobilizations by many teachers in areas controlled by the official union, el SNTE. Throughout the country, teachers received support from some students and parents, from university employees, and from a few independent labor unions.

For a few hours on September 13, it seemed as if the Oaxacan teachers’ occupation of the zócalo, the national Plaza of the Constitution in the center of Mexico City, might lead to violent repression of the movement. But violence was averted when teachers voluntarily abandoned the zócalo for the Mexican Independence Day celebrations. Still, the teachers’ demonstrations continue in Mexico City, choosing new targets—public spaces, private corporations, foreign governments—every day.
Yet, while the teachers have won a moral victory, the entrenched political system they have been fighting for four decades, as well as the recent reforms that threaten their employment security, continue in place. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Education Reform and the Professional Teaching Law remain in place, the president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) continues to have a plurality in both houses of Congress (a majority with its small satellite parties); the president, of course, controls the federal Secretary of Public Education; and the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) remains loyal to the PRI-government. While the protest demonstrations by approximately one-sixth of the teachers have been spectacular, they have not succeeded in having the national political impact that the teachers desire.

As the teachers have been engaged in these impressive nationwide strikes and protest demonstrations, various labor organizations including the UNT and FAT have issued statements of support and many workers have participated in the rally called by MORENA. However, no other section of the labor movement has gone into motion either over its own issues or in sympathy and solidarity with the teachers. Controlled by the churros, the labor bureaucracy loyal to the PRI and to the government, both public sector and private sector workers have quietly gone about their work. Surprisingly, not even a single local union of public sector workers has rallied to the teachers’ union’s call for opposition to Peña Nieto and the PRI.

The teachers remain engaged in an impressive and at times spectacular struggle, but it is one taking place in relative isolation from the rest of the labor movement which remains inert. While the dissidents remain a minority within the teachers union—even if an impressively large minority—and while the rest of the labor movement remains quiescent, there appears to be little chance of the teachers’ forcing the government to backtrack on its education policy.

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Left Coalition Opposes President Peña Nieto's Petroleum Plan

Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, both former presidential candidates of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), have joined together to oppose President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed energy reform at the center of which is a plan to permit private investment in the petroleum industry. López Obrador, who last year left the PRD to create the Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA), a new proto-political party, decided to join with Cárdenas, who remains with the PRD, in what is in effect a broad coalition of the left.

At the center of their concern is Peña Nieto’s plan to permit private and foreign corporations, including American companies, to participate in the petroleum industry. President Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in alliance on this issue with the conservative National Action Party (PAN), has more than enough votes to pass the energy reform. If López Obrador and Cárdenas hope to stop this they will have to build a tremendous national campaign and mobilize millions Mexicans to oppose it. Their first step together will be a national demonstration on October 6 in the zócalo, the national plaza in the center of Mexico City.

Defending a Nationalized Oil Industry

Mexico’s oil used to be in private and foreign hands. The petroleum industry was first developed in Mexico in the early 1900s by the American Edward L. Doheny together with other American oilmen and by Weetman Pearson, Lord Cowdray, a British industrialist. In the 1920s, they sold their holdings respectively to Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. On March 18, 1938, in the culminating act of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated and nationalized the properties of Standard Oil, Royal Dutch Shell and other foreign oil companies and created the Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX). This was an act that became symbolic of Mexico’s new-found political and economic independence from foreign powers. Since then, the country’s ownership of foreign oil has been virtually sacrosanct and attempts to touch it represented a third-rail of Mexican politics.

Proposals to privatize the Mexican oil industry were first raised by the PAN in the 1980s and soon joined by some in the technocratic wing of the PRI. Under both PRI and PAN governments, small parts of the Mexican petroleum and related chemical industries were opened up to private and foreign companies through administrative measures. President Peña Nieto’s government is the first to both propose a major reform of the energy industry—both petroleum and electrical power generation—and to have the votes to pass it.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) led a National Front Against Privatization. It included other labor unions, peasant and community organizations and succeeded in organizing large protests against attempts to privatize energy. When on October 10, 2009, President Felipe Calderón sent police and army units to seize the Light and Power Company facilities, liquidated the company, and terminated 44,000 workers -- most of them members of the SME -- he effectively also destroyed the National Front Against Privatization that the SME had led. The SME, though it continued to lead 16,000 workers in a fight for their jobs, ceased to exist in the workplace and was no longer in a position to lead the national coalitions as it had before.

Both López Obrador and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas have a long history of opposition to privatization. Cárdenas, of course, is defending the legacy of his father, Lázaro Cárdenas, who originally expropriated and nationalized the industry, as well as the nationalist economic policies that form the core of his political ideology. Since August, López Obrador, also an economic nationalist, has been leading huge protest demonstrations in Mexico City, some in conjunction with the striking teachers. Throughout the coming months, both political leaders will be attempting to rebuild a national movement to prevent the private and foreign companies from returning to Mexico and, in effect, undoing the major achievement of the Mexican Revolution.

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Notes for Understanding How the New Structural Reforms Will Affect Us

This document was prepared by the UNT with contributions from the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), Union of Telephone Workers of the Republic of Mexico (STRM) and National Union of Technical and Professional Petroleum Employees (UNTyPP) for the meeting of the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance where a powerpoint overview was presented by UNTyPP - Editor

Federal Labor Law

New forms of hiring are now permitted. Now the bosses can hire us as probationary employees: this means that upon signing a contract as a new employee, the bosses can assign us a task for a few months, and after those months they will rehire us with another slightly modified contract, saying that we are now doing a new task, which, though it may be minimal, legally appears as a different job, and with this trick they can go on for years treating us as new-hires.

We can now also be hired by the hour. This was the thing the bosses were most hoping for because, in times of crisis, when they have to shut down a plant for maintenance or re-tooling, they don’t have to pay the contractual wage, but rather they can pay us for the hours worked, even if that means one or two hours.

Subcontracting is also now legal. This already existed, but now that it is being legalized, it is also being promoted. What happens is that when we are subcontracted, now we are not company employees, even though our work benefits the company. In this way the bosses get rid of all responsibility for us, that is, they do not have to recognize our seniority nor pay us profit-sharing. Should we want to make some claim against them, say for an unfair firing, now we have to make the claim against the subcontractor, which is generally a company without any resources or even a fixed address. So even if we should win a claim for unjustified termination, there will be no one who can pay us. Nor do we have a right as a subcontracted employee to a collective bargaining agreement.

The new law also limits claims for lost wages. Before, when we were unjustly fired, we could demand reinstatement. The companies felt pressured by the fact that if they unjustly and arbitrarily fired us, and if they lost the case at the labor board, they would have to pay us wages for all the entire time that the case had gone on. With the reform, the law only obliges them to pay up to one year of lost wages, even though the cases often last several years.
Seniority is also eliminated as a basis for promotion. Now only productivity, as decided by the boss, determines the basis for promotion.

Telecommunications Law

The Telecommunications and Radio Broadcasting Law came along at the same time. They have been converted into an indispensable instrument for economic and social development. They are a detonator that will produce profound changes in the economy, generating new productive processes and the creation of new services.

1. Communication and information technologies are part of this process and, together with telecommunications, they permit access to information and knowledge. They have created the so-called “information and knowledge society,” and they are creating the so-called “new economy.” They are a factor that explains the phenomenon of globalization because they permit the exchange of financial and commercial information in real time, thus creating the so-called “world factory.” At the same time, they have accelerated and promoted the phenomenon of the so-called, “neoliberal economy” with its characteristic inequality and poverty.

2. Telecommunications established a new division of labor where nations were divided into countries creating new products and services of greater value added and of scientific-technological innovation and other countries where transnational investment disposes them to light manufacturing and assembly, providing abundant labor at low salaries.

3. We telephone workers have been part of this process, being part of an enterprise immersed in this change, dedicating itself to telecommunications as part of the productive vanguard and of advanced services and jobs that demand quality and training linked to technological innovation in order to confront the new needs of the new production and labor spaces. These are the companies that are generating high investment, high profits and the greatest growth and expansion.

4. Since privatization, Telmex (the Mexican Telephone Company) has gone through these processes and the workers have responded with proposals to make labor and the company more productive, making Telmex one of the most important telecommunications companies in the world. Also since privatization we have realized that we had to confront a process of economic opening to the market and competition and we have prepared ourselves as workers to confront it, we have created one of the most important productivity programs in the country where productivity is linked to fulfilling goals and is linked to economic rewards for fulfilling them.

5. The economic market opening and deregulation went through various processes over time. A first step was the opening of long distance, with competition from companies that came to fight for this market; then, in the 1990s, came the internet and the transmission of data and images over one medium, what has been called “technological convergence,” and which means the coming together of various previously separated sectors into one new sector. This required regulations and legal decisions to regulate the new sector, the so-called “telecommunications and radio broadcasting” sector.

6. Since the proposal of this new law of telecommunications and radio broadcasting, we telephone workers have been involved in the issue, because it directly affects production and our employment.

7. International developments have shown different development paths in the área of telecommunications and there exist different models of development of this sector, such as those of Japan and Korea which have arrived at universal coverage of services of band width of 100 megas by their national companies, in contrast to the model of the United States where the break-up of AT&T meant a relative step backward for the sector, with its burden of layoffs and the disappearance of companies, ending up with regional firms in competition with each other and with cable companies that invested in their networks.

8. The Mexican government responded by adopting the OECD (Organization for Economic and Development Cooperation) or European model that seeks foreign investment as the motor and the creation of markets whose immediate effects, apparently, lead to very rapid coverage. Later, however, the sector stagnated leading to unemployment and a lack of quality services. But they support a supposed “level playing field” for competition and the creation of markets, although they concentrate on high consumption sectors, abandoning low income groups.

9. In Mexico under the last two presidents [Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, both of the conservative National Action Party] the Mexican government followed the path of favoring the cable and television companies, establishing a strategy of legal decisions and public relations that favored the television monopoly [really a duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca]. The framework was unfair and led to sacrificing Telmex and its workers.

10. All of these provisions, in spite of favoring these companies, have not led to the investment and technological changes necessary to achieve a process of broader competition. They have permitted the television companies to transform themselves into a genuine monopoly with many favors such as concessions and all sorts of permission that allow them to make enormous profits without any sort of social responsibility. They have created a whole structure of regulation opposed to the telecommunications industry, leaving aside radio broadcasting, and especially favoring Televisa.

11. There is a provision in the constitutional reform we have mentioned which has been approved and is in effect that establishes that no economic entity in the telecommunications sector can have more than 50 percent of the market. Telmex now has 85 percent of the country’s fixed lines and that presents the grave risk that the company might be divided into two or more firms, with serious implications for workers which could include, among other things, the layoff of workers linked to the part above 50 percent and placing the collective bargaining agreement and employment security at risk.

12. The recently approved Constitutional Reform of Telecommunications took up these arguments and has been the subject of enormous interest by the workers. We have studied the possible effects and we have noted that they can create totally adverse circumstances against the workers. Our efforts with various legislative groups led us to comment that the way the legislative initiative had been written could have grave consequences for the workers. Unfortunately none of the various parliamentary groups considered these implications, even though we brought them to their attention.

13. Fortunately, despite the difficulties and the fact that it wound its way through the House of Representatives, we did achieve the inclusion, during the final step in the Senate, of a clause that requires respect for workers’ rights. Though this give workers a little breathing room, the dangers still persist of regulations that could include errors and omissions that would make a firm unviable and put in danger the network that currently provides modern and efficient telecommunications to the majority of Mexicans.

The General Law of the Professional Teaching Service

The so-called “education reform” is nothing more than an extension of the labor law reform to workers in the field of education. In addition, it contravenes certain constitutional provisions with its retroactive character to the detriment of those who are now working in grammar school and high school education. In particular, it violates Article 14 of the Constitution. It repeals all of the rights previously acquired (in the Second Clause). The authorities can annul rights “without the need of a judicial declaration.” (Arts. 32, 40, 44) and it eliminates the word “workers” replacing it with the term “administrative subjects,” violating Article 123 of the Constitution.

Four issues—hiring, promotion, salary increases, and job security are now “administrative conditions” and cease to be labor rights. The role of the union is not considered in the process of observation during the evaluations. (Art. 7 XV). In regard to these four issues, the role of the union or the teachers’ coalition is simply annulled. The four themes are no longer considered to be “General Working Conditions.”

The Job of Teaching is now replaced by the Professional Teaching Service and the teacher is treated as an administrative subject isolated from the state structure. The labor courts have been replaced with administrative courts in cases of disputes regarding those four issues. (Art. 84)

The status of permanent employee has been eliminated both for those who had that status and for new hires. (Clause Eight). The status of permanent employee is eliminated for those who have any management function and is now based on unilateral evaluations (Clause Fourteen)

The new phrase “fixed term” contracts of a temporary nature replaces the phrase permanent employee. (Arts. 23, 30 and Clause Eight). For vacancies filled for less than six months the phrase “provisional employment” has been created. (Art. 4 XVII). The “compacting process” allows hiring “by the hour” and by doing so breaks up the teachers’ pay. (Arts. 42 c and Clause Twelve).

The right to permanency of employment is eliminated.

It establishes an authoritarian procedure that permits immediate dismissal without any guarantee of the right to a hearing as found in the existing labor legislation. (Art. 70) The refusal to participate in the evaluation process is grounds for discharge without considering the seniority or academic level of the employee. (Clause Eight).

Similarly, refusal to participate in documentation programs is grounds for dismissal without regard to seniority or academic level. (Clause Eight). In none of these cases can the authorities be held responsible.

Employees may also be terminated if they receive low scores in the first or second stages of evaluation and will not be incorporated in the documentation process and seniority and academic level will not be considered. (Clause Nine) Similarly, low scores in the third process of evaluation can lead to unilateral termination. (Clause Nine). In none of these cases can the government be held responsible.

The right to reinstatement in employment or to indemnification in the form of lost wages in the case of an unjustified discharge is eliminated. (Clauses Eight and Nine). Eight other additional grounds for termination of employment are established without recourse to the Federal Labor Board, and in none of those cases can the government be held responsible. (Arts. 69 and 74)

Separating an employee from his or her position is a unilateral decision and the authority that applies the sanction is the same one that hears the appeal, converting the authority into judge and jury. (Art. 80)

Proposed Reform of Pemex' Fiscal Regime

The Preliminary Conclusion of the UNTyPP Regarding the Proposed Reform
1. The Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) becomes just another operating company, solely a producer of crude oil.

2. The sale of products remains in the hands of a marketing company of an undefined character (it could be private). A super-PEMEX Marketing Company (PMI) is created (encompassing all products, not just exports).

3. The Secretary of Energy (SENER) will be directly in charge of the production contract for crude oil. PEMEX will be just another contracting company.

4. Available information suggests that PEMEX will be converted into a pilot company with regard to its operating and tax scheme (quotas for concessions, royalties, profit sharing, taxes on earning or ISR [capital gains tax – Ed.]).

5. A system of concessions will be introduced such as that which now is practiced in the Mexican mining industry. PEMEX will be assigned concessions which will then be turned over to the transnational companies dedicated to the extraction of crude oil. This plan could go into operation as soon as the first transnational contracts are signed.

6. At the same time, a constitutional reform dealing with concessions is being prepared.

7. The disappearance of the rest of PEMEX, the part that is industrial will be based on the timetable for scrapping the plants and laying off the workers; this explains the reiteration of the issue of pensions and retirements for the drastic reduction of the workforce.

8. With regard to PEMEX Exploration and Production, the part of PEMEX that today is worth billions, corruption in the signing of joint venture contracts will guarantee that with concessions or without them, oil profits will be transferred in their great majority to the transnationals.

9. By that time, the disappearance of PEMEX will be quite possible in the medium or long-range (perhaps 15 years), if the tax system permits it for these imitators of Santa Anna. [Santa Anna, the president of Mexico in the 1840s, is discredited in Mexico for having ceded half of the country to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War - Ed.]

The Proposed Energy Reform

The Energy Reform that Enrique Peña Nieto presented on Monday, August 12 [2013], proposes to modify Constitutonal Articles 27 and 28. It eliminates Paragraph 4 of Article 28, which designated petroleum and other hydrocarbons, the basic petrochemical industry, and electricity as strategic areas. This means that petroleum, other hydrocarbons, basic petrochemicals and electricity will cease to be strategic and therefore might or might not continue to be the property of the nation-state.

Government representatives said that they weren’t going to privatize even a screw and yet at the Pajaritos plant they privatized 60 percent of the petrochemical complex. What awaits us if these reforms are approved? In the petrochemical sector they are also dealing with Mexichem in Pajaritos, Unigel in Morelos, ALFA in Cangrejera, and Chemical Solutions in Cosoleacaque. Braskem, IDESA, and other corporations have also been mentioned.

With the opening of refining to private investors, the future of our refineries is uncertain. The cancelation of the construction of the bicentennial refinery is an indication of what’s coming. The transnationals will build their own refineries and ours will continue operating without proper maintenance, growing older until, just as occurred with the railroads, they are closed and junked, or as happened with petrochemicals, they are dismantled one by one and sold as junk, or given away through “alliances” such as PPQ (Pigments and Chemical Products - Ed.]

We are told that the workers will not be laid off and that they will respect our rights. Does anyone believe it? If they close the refineries one by one, what will happen to us? Will the private transnational refineries hire us? Will they respect our seniority? Will they respect the collective bargaining agreement? For how long?In addition, we have to remember that we don’t have pension funds: el FOLAPE is in the red. How are they going to pay pensions to retirees since we have not paid into either the private sector or the public sector social security system (IMSS or ISSSTE).

The proposed energy reform of the PRI is not only an attack on our national sovereignty and not only puts at risk the future of our country, but it is also an attack on our source of employment, our labor rights, a just wage and pensions that permit us an old age with dignity.

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Death of 99% Pemex Tax Soothes Oil Monopoly Fate

Mexico Week In Review: 09.23-09.29, a service of the Committee of Indigenous Solidarity (CIS). To view newsletter archives, visit: http://lists.mut

President Enrique Peña Nieto's plan to reduce state-owned oil producer Petroleos Mexicanos's tax burden while giving it first rights on prospects is enriching investors with Mexico's biggest bond-market gains. Pemex's $2.3 billion of notes due in 2035 have returned 9.9 percent in September, the most among $84 billion in outstanding dollar-denominated bonds issued by 120 Mexican corporate borrowers. The advance is also quadruple the 2.4 percent gain for the Bloomberg USD Emerging Market Corporate Bond Index.

Peña Nieto's proposal last month to end Pemex's 75-year monopoly on oil production came with perks, including cuts to an effective tax rate that exceeded 99 percent last year, the highest among the world's biggest oil producers. The bill also gives Pemex priority in the choicest drilling blocks, helping to assuage concern it would be penalized as the government sought to attract outside investment, Bank of Nova Scotia said. "It's now clear that the major parties agree that the government must seek other sources of revenue besides Pemex's sales," Alejandro Urbina, who helps oversee $800 million at Silva Capital Management LLC, said in a telephone interview from Chicago. "When you have this type on consensus among the main parties around an issue, like Pemex taxes, then you can expect it will be part of the new law."

Officials in the press department of Mexico City-based Pemex didn't respond to a request seeking comment on the performance of the bonds. Pemex estimates the tax cuts could reach at least $10 billion a year, almost 15 percent of the $69 billion that it paid in 2012. The oil producer paid 99.5 cents for every dollar of $71 billion in pre-tax revenue it generated last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average for integrated oil producers was 35 percent, while Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil's state oil company, paid 25 percent, the data show.

Peña Nieto is trying to attract investment from private companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. by giving them the chance to pump crude oil in Mexico for the first time since 1938 through changes to the constitution. While parts of the government's proposal have met with opposition from the two main opposition parties, there's agreement on the plan to reduce Pemex's tax burden. "All the proposals favor Pemex," Araceli Espinosa, a fixed-income strategist at Bank of Nova Scotia in Mexico City, said in a telephone interview.

Pemex's bonds have gained along with Mexican government notes, which have advanced this month as the federal reserve opted to maintain its $85 billion of monthly bond purchases. The flood of cheap money known as quantitative easing has suppressed borrowing costs and pushed investors into emerging markets seeking higher returns. Pemex is rated Baa1 by Moody's Investors Service, the same as the Mexican government. Even so, the extra yield investors demand to own Pemex 2022 bonds instead of similar-maturity Mexican government notes decreased by 0.05 percentage point to 0.67 percentage point this month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That gap could narrow by 0.3 percentage point more after the reforms are approved, said Espinosa.

Energy Minister Pedro J. Coldwell said Aug. 12 that under the proposed industry revamp, Pemex would get the right to choose which fields to keep -- a process known as "round zero." In addition, the company won't be obligated to participate in other drillers' projects. The system "lets Pemex choose the most profitable projects without competing against private companies," Alejandra Leon, a Mexico City-based analyst at IHS CERA, said in an interview. Pemex is expected to keep most projects in the shallow waters off the Gulf of Mexico coast "because that's the area where they already have the experience and technology."

The extra yield investors demand to own Mexican government dollar bonds instead of Treasuries widened three basis points to 205 basis points at 10:13 a.m. in New York, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The cost to protect Mexican debt against non-payment for five years with credit-default swaps rose five basis points to 119 basis points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent if a borrower fails to adhere to its debt agreements. The peso fell 0.4 percent to 13.1209 per dollar.

Source: Bloomberg: 09/27

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Pope Francis: Where Is the Catholic Church Headed? What Does It Mean for Latin America and for Mexico

By Dan La Botz

In the six months since Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine cardinal, became Pope Francis, it has become clear—particularly from his recent interview—that he is a reformer who intends to turn the Catholic Church away from some of the rightwing attitudes and elitist style of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Through his posture and attitude, Pope Francis is attempting to create a new, more positive and open, image of the church intended to overcome past scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, irregularities at the Vatican Bank, and, above all, the rigid orthodoxy of his precursor that alienated so many Catholics and others.

Yet, despite the press play and the public perception, it would be a mistake to think that his reformist rhetoric and positive gestures represent a move toward fundamental change in the Catholic Church. Nor should we think that it will lead to a resurgence of the Theology of Liberation that once flourished in Latin America. Pope Francis is committed to limited reforms intended to make the church more successful in addressing the challenges of contemporary life, not to changing the theology or basic institutions of the church. He is a mild reformer, not a radical innovator, and certainly not a revolutionary, though it is not impossible to imagine that he might lead the church to more significant reforms than any pope since John XXIII.

Francis’s rise to pope is in many ways remarkable. His antecedent, Pope Benedict, became the first pope in 600 years to resign, because, “God told me to,” thus making way for Bergoglio. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first Latin American pope, and the first pope from the Global South. He has become pope at a perilous moment in church history, taking command of an institution shaken by moral and institutional crises and challenged by the accelerating tempo of technological change and post-modern intellectual and cultural fragmentation. He becomes the head of a church challenged by feminism, the gay rights movement, by rival Evangelical churches in Latin America, and by pervasive secular humanism in Europe. He also becomes pope as governments continue to deal with the effects of the greatest world economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The pope’s liberal and reformist rhetoric alone will have an important impact, but key questions include: How will the Church change under his leadership? And what will change in the Catholic Church mean for Latin America and in particular for Mexico?

The Son of Immigrants

Pope Francis’s populist rhetoric owes something to his plebeian origins. He was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, the son of Italian immigrant parents, his father an accountant and his mother a housewife. They fled fascism in Italy only to suffer through the Great Depression in Argentina. He attended a Catholic grammar school and a public technical secondary school where he earned a diploma qualifying him to work as a chemical technician, which he did briefly before entering the Immaculate Conception Seminary.

After a brief flirtation with a young woman, he went off as a Jesuit novice to study humanities in Santiago, Chile. He earned a B.A. in philosophy at a college in Buenos Aires, and subsequently taught literature and psychology in Catholic high schools in different Argentine cities. After he became a priest in 1969, he studied philosophy and theology in Argentina and then finished his education in Spain. Returning to Argentina he quickly rose to become Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina in 1973. He continued studies of philosophy and theology in Germany in the 1980s and was named cardinal in 2001.

A Typical Jesuit

In many ways, Pope Francis represents the classical Jesuit, the intellectual and highly educated fighter for the Catholic faith. Originally founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534, the Society of Jesus, “soldiers of God,” became the shock troops of the counter-reformation, a league of intellectual priests whose job was to counter the arguments of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other protest theologians who had broken from Rome and created independent churches.

The Jesuits not only fought back against Protestantism in Europe, they also engaged in missionary expeditions to Russia, the Americas and Asia, particularly China. In Latin America they created a virtually independent theocratic and quasi-socialist state in Paraguay and Brazil. Threatening the interests of other Catholic orders and the papacy itself, they were suppressed in 1773 and not restored until 1814. The Jesuits returned to the bosom of the Catholic Church chastened, contrite and became Catholic conformists.

Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, as the most important teaching order of the Catholic Church, the Jesuits represented religious orthodoxy: monasticism, medieval Thomistic theology, Catholic dogma and rigid personal rules of behavior. When John XXIII convened Vatican II in 1962 and began to reform the church, the Jesuits embraced the newly reformed and more popular Catholicism enthusiastically. In Latin America, where the Vatican II reforms led to the development of the radical Theology of Liberation, the Jesuits also became advocates of the new theology’s “preferential option for the poor.”

Thus, within a few years, the Jesuits moved from the right to the left of the Catholic Church—though still remaining very much Catholics. In the United States, Latin America and parts of Asia, over the last forty years one could find the Jesuits involved in progressive popular and labor movements, including putting themselves in harm’s way for the cause. Bergoglio was part of that trend. Though never a radical himself, he was sympathetic to Liberation Theology and focused his work on helping the poor in the Argentine slums.

A number of years ago, Bergoglio was falsely accused in court and in the press of having cooperated with the Argentine military dictatorship in the kidnapping of two priests who were disappeared and tortured, though in fact he had tried to protect them. As one of the two priests later explained, a colleague of theirs who had become a guerrilla had, under interrogation, provided their names to the military, leading to their arrest. Bergoglio, he said, had no involvement in the affair.

Why did the cardinals choose the 76-year-old Bergoglio to be the new pope? First, he was an outsider untainted by connections to the Vatican and the alleged financial corruption and cover-ups of sexual misconduct. Second, he was from the church’s fastest growing and increasingly important region, the developing world of the southern hemisphere. Third, he was a quietly charismatic man whose modesty and humility represented an apparent antidote to the poisonous atmosphere created by Benedict’s pomp and dogmatism. While the Italian cardinals arrived at the conclave in their Mercedes Benz limousines, he walked across town.

In his remarks in Italian to the cardinals during their meeting to choose the pope, Cardinal Bergoglio talked about the need for reaching out of the church toward the “peripheries,” a word in Italian suggesting the poor, and he called for a “new evangelizing.” Ultimately, he was backed by a coalition of Latin American, African, American, and European cardinals and he proved acceptable even to the conservative “Ratzinger bloc,” that is, the followers of the retiring Pope Benedict XVI. (1) He chose the name “Francis” after Francis of Assisi so long identified with the poor.

A Popular Pope

From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis began to create an image altogether different from his predecessor and the long tradition of papal luxury. Instead of living in the sumptuous papal suites, he decided to stay in the rooms of a modestly furnished religious guest house. He also continued to drive his 1984 Renault 4 automobile.

Instead of always moving through crowds in the pope-mobile, he gets out of the car and walks among the people. When he received an interesting letter from a young man, he called the man on the phone to thank him and talk with him, and has made similar calls to others. Most important, he argued in several informal conversations and then in a lengthy official interview for a different set of priorities for the Catholic Church.

In the interview, published in English in America: The National Catholic Review, Pope Francis declared that the Church must not be focused on the hierarchy or on the church bureaucracy, and must not be guided by rigid rules, but must instead emphasize spirituality and salvation through Jesus. The interview makes clear that he admires Pope John XXIII and the Vatican II reforms and places himself in that reformist tradition. He believes that the Church is made up not only of the Pope, the Bishops, but also of all of the people of the Catholic faith. “We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the Church.”

Pope Francis calls for a new openness, writing, “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing….Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith become an ideology among others ideologies.” As opposed to such doctrinal rigidity, Pope Francis argues that we must “seek God in every human life,” including those whose lives have been destroyed by vices or drugs.

The new pope’s idea of the Church is popular, that is, based on the faith of the common people. “I see holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard to live a hidden sanctity.”

“This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal Church to the nest protecting our mediocrity,” says Pope Francis.

Comparing the Church to a field hospital after battle, the pope declares, “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds….and you have to start from the ground up. The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

A Change in Style--or in Substance?

We see this new rhetoric and style in the pope’s discussion of homosexuality. Pope Francis said on the flight back from his visit to Rio de Janeiro, “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” In the recent interview he elaborates: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person.’ We must always consider the person.”

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent,” says Pope Francis. “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently….We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Yet, it is clear that Pope Francis is talking mostly about a change in style not a change in substance. He says, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” [My italics. – DL]

Pope Francis continues to uphold the Catholic doctrine that homosexual acts, sex outside of heterosexual marriage, the use of contraceptives, and the practice of abortion are all sinful, are prohibited and are condemned by God. Though, it is interesting to note that in Argentina during a debate over the question of marriage rights Cardinal Bergoglio, while opposing gay marriage, supported civil unions. As pope, under pressure from Catholic conservatives, Pope Francis recently condemned abortion.

The pope is not an advocate of full equality for women in the church. Women, for this pope, have “a different make-up than a man.” He accuses some or what he calls “female machismo,” presumably referring to the aggressive demands of women for equality in the church and in society. For this pope, women are essential for the Church, but not in roles that would make them the equal of men. On the question of the celibacy of priests and nuns, a spokesman for the pope says that that is open for discussion. This reflects a realistic and pragmatic outlook intended to address the church’s shrinking number of priests.

The Pope's Views of Contemporary Capitalism

On economic issues, Pope Francis said in a speech in the Vatican, “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

Pope Francis maintains the Catholic position of supporting capitalism, but calling for economic regulation. He is critical of “ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” He continues, “There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone,” he said. “Money has to serve, not to rule.”

This position is fully consistent with Catholic social teaching from Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 to John Paul II’s encyclical Laborum Exercens of 1981 and represents no new or radical departure. The Catholic Church accepts and supports the capitalist system, but calls for a more just sharing of the wealth between the capitalists and the workers, and supports the rights of workers to organize unions in order to win a larger share of the wealth and a working life of greater dignity.

A New Theology of Liberation?

Will Pope Francis’ reformist rhetoric, populist style and gestures encourage the existing remnant movements of the old Theology of Liberation of the 1970s in Latin America or will they lead to a new religious liberation movement? At present this seems unlikely.

The Theology of Liberation arose in Latin America, including Mexico, at a particular moment, not long after the Cuban Revolution, the Soviet-Chinese split, and not long before the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia; that is, it arose at a time of great social ferment and political upheaval. The Theology of Liberation of the 1970s in several countries, and in particular in Nicaragua, became a kind of Christian socialism, with some priests and many Catholic lay people becoming involved in organizing working class communities, forming labor unions, and even in guerrilla movements and revolutionary upheavals.

The left shift in Latin America—Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, the Kirchners in Argentina—is very significant, but it is quite different than the most dramatic changes of the 1960s and 70s, the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions. Any new religious movement will have to develop within the new context of "Twenty First Century Socialism" in Venezuela and of the indigenous government of Morales in Bolivia. It is possible that a new generation will take Pope Francis’ reformist rhetoric more seriously than he does himself, creating a new more radical Catholicism. The rise of new reformist currents in Catholicism under the impact of the new pope’s rhetoric, should that occur, could help to encourage progressive developments not only in Latin America, but throughout the developing world. Even so, Catholic support for capitalism and its notion of sharing the wealth between capitalist and workers will be a barrier to be overcome by more radical Catholic activists.

Additional resources

See the excellent article on the choice of the new pope by Stacy Meichtry and Allesandra Galloni, “Fifteen Days in Rome, How the Pope Was Picked,” in The Wall Street Journal.

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Mexico's "Disappeared" Continues to Rise

Mexico Week In Review: 09.23-09.29 'Mexico Week In Review' is a service of the Committee of Indigenous Solidarity (CIS). To view newsletter archives

Mexico's mountain of unsolved disappearances continues to rise despite President Enrique Pena Nieto's promise to tackle the problem which has devastated thousands of families since 2006. The disappearance of four people within six days close to the US border recently exposed the cruel mix of state corruption and organised crime still blighting the lives ordinary folks on Mexico's mean streets. "Mexico today has the worst crisis of disappearances in Latin America, arguably the world," Nik Steinberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. "That there is still no single unified definition and many state authorities have no idea how to investigate disappearances shows the government has failed to take the problem seriously."

The recent cluster of disappearances in and around the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, bears the hallmarks of previous cases documented by local and international human rights organizations. In the early hours of July 29, Jose de Jesus Martinez Chigo and 17-year-old Diana Laura Hernandez Acosta were stopped by marines at a checkpoint while driving home. A relative, one of several eyewitnesses, saw marines force the pair into a military vehicle and then drive them to a nearby base. Their families rushed to the base, but were told no civilians were being held. The next day, 17-year-old Raul David Alvarez Gutiérrez was stopped by marines at a different checkpoint in the same city. Several eyewitnesses described to the teenager's family how marines apprehended him. But the federal prosecutor's office refused to accept the family's complaint because the witnesses were too frightened to provide official statements.

Four days later and 40km away in the town of Colombia, Nuevo Leon, several witnesses saw 33-year-old Armando Humberto del Bosque Villarreal dragged from his car by marines as two local police officers watched on. He was witnessed being taken to the navy base on the edge of town, where a captain initially told del Bosque's father his son was being questioned. An hour later, he denied the arrest had ever taken place. Another naval officer later claimed del Bosque was last seen driving to Nuevo Laredo, yet another said he had escaped during the arrest. None of the victims have been seen since being detained. The navy, which answers directly to the president's office, denies any involvement despite eyewitness accounts. "There is no more information on their whereabouts or fate. The last we heard the cases were languishing with the PGR [Federal Attorney General] in Nuevo Laredo," Rupert Knox, Amnesty International's Mexico researcher, told Al Jazeera. "Prosecutors want the families to provide more evidence while they do nothing to further the investigations. They say the eyewitness accounts prove nothing as naval authorities deny responsibility. The military have simply stonewalled; the government has ignored all requests for an official response."

In February 2013, Nieto's government revealed that 26,000 people were reported missing or disappeared between 2006 and 2012 - on top of the 60,000 killed - and authorities had no idea what became of them. The figure, along with the acknowledgement that authorities had so far failed to properly investigate, was a major step forward. It came after six years of denial and downplaying by the previous president Felipe Calderon. The state - police, army or navy - were directly implicated in half of the disappearances documented by bothAmnesty International and Human Rights Watch in reports published earlier this year. Even when the state was not directly involved, it consistently failed to carry out even the most basic of investigations. Criminal inquiries remain unopened in 40 percent of the 26,000 cases, according to the Interior Ministry. In 2012, the National Human Rights Commission reported 16,000 unidentified bodies across the country.

The government is reviewing and revising the disappeared "list" so those who returned safely or died are taken off, but so far there has been no progress report or transparency about its methodology. Their task is impeded by the fact there is still no reliable national database of disappeared people or unidentified human remains, many of which were found in mass graves. "The failure to carry out even basic investigations into these disappearances, old and new, has not fundamentally changed since Pena Nieto came to power," Steinberg said. "There are exceptions when authorities have done what they ought to do, but these are exceptions that prove the rule. On the whole the status quo remains." In 2009, four families whose relatives disappeared in Coahuila amid warring cartels and strongly suspected state collusion, formed FUUNDEC (United Forces for our Disappeared in Coahuila). This movement helps families carry out their own basic investigations and resist intimidation or pressure from authorities to give up their search. It demands and gets regular meetings with prosecutors and uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness. The movement has gained momentum across Mexico and given many families the strength to keep fighting.

Adrian Domínguez Rolón, a federal police officer, disappeared from the Hotel Regis in Uruapan, Michoacán, on February 17, when state authorities were deeply infiltrated by the ruling cartel La Familia Michoacana. Dominguez, 33, was part of a federal operation known as Michoacán Seguro (Secure Michoacán) tasked with guarding the airport. He spoke with his uncle Victor Rolón from the hotel, which served as the federal police HQ, at 5pm just before dinner. Then he and another colleague disappeared. "Nobody saw or heard anything," Rolón told Al Jazeera. "A hotel occupied by the federal police and no one would talk. The authorities didn't open an investigation for three days until Adrian's mother went looking for answers."

The government failed to conduct a basic investigation, leaving the family to piece together what had happened. "We asked to see the CCTV from outside the Regis, but first they said the camera didn't exist and later that it wasn't working," said Rolón. "We are sure he was sold to a cartel by his commanding officer and so we hold the authorities completely responsible for his disappearance, and the failure to find him. "The only hope we have is ourselves and FUNDEM [United Forces for our Disappeared in Mexico]. As for the government, Adrian is just a number."

In another case Gino Alberto Campos Ávila, an 18-year-old graphic design student, was taken from outside his grandparents' home in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon on June 8, in what his family said was a case of mistaken identity. "Can you imagine what it's like not being able to rely on the authorities to find your son, it undermines your strength to fight," his distraught mother Angelica Ávila told Al Jazeera. "Sometimes the pain and sorrow makes you so ill, I have no idea if he's alive, but I cannot lose hope - I must carry on come what may." Thousands of families are still missing mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and thousands of bodies remain unclaimed in mortuaries across Mexico.

President Peña Nieto's government has taken some important steps to tackle the disappearances. Twelve investigators have been assigned to a new dedicated unit in the Federal Attorney General's Office. Mexico is now nine months late submitting information to the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappeared (CED) regarding what exactly it is doing to meet its obligations under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it ratified in 2008. Luciano Hazan, CED member, told Al Jazeera: "We await the government's report, but we are seriously worried by the information we have collected from victims and civil society groups."

Source: Aljazeera: 09/29

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Labor Shorts: Tri-National Solidarity Alliance Plans Actions for the Coming Year

Approximately 25 representatives from various Mexican, US and Canadian unions, several GUFs met in Mexico City on September 20. They were joined for a discussion about the 20th anniversary of NAFTA by several representatives from environmental and trade organizations.

Following reports from the three countries and discussions, the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA) formulated a plan of action for consideration by member organizations. Among other things, the plan includes actions that tie the 20th anniversary of NAFTA to current labor struggles and the TPP and support for the process initiated by IndustriALL, CSA and ITUC regarding protection contracts.

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Back to Table of Contents of Mexican Labor News & Analysis articles.

Archived MLNA issues.


Arturo Silva Doray


"The relationship that we've had with international organizations
-- thanks to ties with UE   --  is hugely important.

"After each international meeting, we feel more and more encouraged by the knowledge that we're backed by outside organizations as strong as the UE."

-- Arturo Silva Doray
General secretary of municipal workers union in Juarez, Mexico
& of Federation of Municipal Workers for Chihuahua, Mexico



For more Information

For information about submission of articles and all queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: or call (513) 861-8722. The mailing address is: Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.

Can you reprint these articles?

Most MLNA articles may be reprinted by other electronic or print media. If the article includes a byline, republication requires the author's approval. For permission, please contact the author directly. If there is no byline, republication is authorized if the reproduction includes the following paragraph:

"This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE)."


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