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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

January , 2014, Vol. 19, No. 1

 

Mexican Labor Year in Review – 2013

By Dan La Botz and Robin Alexander

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) led by President Enrique Peña Nieto returned to power in January 2013 and in one year succeeded in passing a series of constitutional amendments and laws that represent a victory of capital over labor of historic proportions. Despite some of the largest labor demonstrations and political protests in decades, Peña Nieto and the PRI, in alliance with the conservative National Action Party (PAN), rolled over the political opposition, swept away the last vestiges of the Mexican Revolution and its nationalist economic model, and finished the work of installing the neoliberal economic structures first initiated by Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94).

In the period between 1988 and 2013 Mexico’s political economy has been completely transformed: nationalized industries were privatized, state barriers to foreign capital majority investment and ownership were dismantled; tariff barriers and quotas eliminated; and Mexico’s insertion into North American production chains and into international financial markets completed. At the same time, these changes sent almost one 500,000 Mexicans to look for work in the United States each year, the great majority without legal documents, and led ten percent of all Mexicans to settle permanently in the United States. Mexico is today a fundamentally different country than it was twenty-five years ago, its financial system modernized, industrially developed in certain sectors, and yet half of all Mexican still live in poverty and in a society that has become insecure and in some areas seems to be decomposing socially.

The Labor Opposition

Peña Nieto’s administration began with the announcement that he and the two major opposition parties, the pro-business PAN and the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) had signed the Pact for Mexico, agreeing to pursue together a number of common objectives. The Pact both solidified the alliance between the PRI and the PAN and compromised and weakened the PRD, making it complicit in the administration’s pro-business and anti-working class policies. Above all it created the impression that Peña Nieto was in charge, putting the parliamentary opposition in an even weaker position than its usual third of the vote.

There was a popular opposition to the enactment of neoliberal reforms as there had been since the 1980s, led by the labor unions. Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón of the PAN, had already done much to weaken the organized labor opposition. Back in October of 2009 Calderón had used the police and military to seize the facilities of Mexican Light and Power, liquidated the company, and fired some 44,000 members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME). The SME had been the leader of a National Front against Privatization and in general an opponent of the PAN’s and PRI’s pro-business policies. While the SME remarkably continues to lead 16,000 of its members in a fight for their jobs and to play a leading role in fighting privatization and the package of reforms, its numbers and strength have been reduced by the government’s attack.

Calderón had also, in alliance with Grupo Mexico, worked to break the power of the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM). Calderón’s government forced the union’s leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, to flee to Canada, although the miner’s delegates continued to elect him to run the union. Calderón and Grupo Mexico were successful in virtually eliminating the union at Cananea, the country’s largest copper mine, although Los Mineros succeeded in maintaining their union and most of its excellent contracts.

Los Mineros began the year with a visually stunning march in February on the anniversary of the Pasta de Conchos mine disaster, when they marched down one of Mexico City’s principal avenues carrying coffins symbolizing the dead miners, but have kept a low public profile since then. Although Peña Nieto agreed to recognize Gómez Urrutia as the union’s leader, he remains in Columbia, British Vancouver.

In February, Peña Nieto’s Attorney General arrested and jailed Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) and for decades one of the most important political figures in Mexican politics. She was charged along with other union leaders of el SNTE with embezzlement of millions of dollars in union funds in what was widely viewed as punishment for opposing the education reforms.

Gordillo’s arrest sent a powerful message to both “official union” and independent union leaders and to activists in other social movements that the government was prepared to use all of its power to against any opponent of its political program. Her own union did little to defend her and the public, including teachers’ union members largely applauded her arrest; she was despised for her arrogance, her corruption, and her conspicuous displays of her wealth and power.

Yet labor opposition to the reforms continued. The progressive movement within the Teachers’ Union, the Coordinating Committee of the Mexican Teachers Union (la CNTE)—mobilized hundreds of thousands of teachers in about half of all of Mexico’s 32 states in an unprecedented series of militant demonstrations. Teachers used their traditional tactics though on a scale not seen before, occupying the Mexico City zócalo and other public squares with tens of thousands of teachers, seizing buildings, blocking highways, and shutting down access to Mexico City’s international airport. The teachers’ protests, principally aimed at stopping the implementing legislation for the Education Reform, went on for almost two months, until the union and its members were exhausted, the public had become frustrated with empty classrooms and blocked thoroughfares, and the government moved in to evict and arrest the teachers.

The National Union of Workers (UNT), an independent labor federation, strongly opposed Peña Nieto and his allies, although it had been weakened during the Calderón years by the defection of the National Union of Social Security Workers (SNTSS) (Valdemar Gutiérrez Fragoso first took his union out of the UNT in 2008 and then stood as the PAN candidate for a seat in congress in 2009). The Mexican Pilots Union (ASPA) now plays a larger role and the Mexican Telephone Workers Union (STRM) and the Independent Union of Workers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (SITUAM) remain two important pillars of the UNT and continued to stand firmly against both Calderón and Peña Nieto. The Authentic Labor Front (FAT), known for its role in defending union independence and democracy, also remains active and continues to stand firmly against the neoliberal reforms of both Calderón and Peña Nieto.
To their credit, Mexico’s independent labor unions continued to march, rally, demonstrate and protest against Peña Nieto, the PRI and PAN, and their program. But taken all together the independent unions represent only a small percentage of the Mexican working class, and labor’s resistance would ultimately prove ineffective in stopping any of Peña Nieto’s reforms. However, the independent unions that opposed the law succeeded in eliminating some of the worst provisions in terms of restrictions on freedom of association prior to passage, a remarkable accomplishment that still leaves a tiny space within which independent unions can operate.

Fighting for survival in a hostile political climate and a depressed economy, unions organized the Tri-National Solidarity Alliance (TNSA) which is composed of most of the significant labor organizations in Mexico, Canada, Quebec and the United States an important development in all of the countries. For the past three years, unions and their allies have organized a week of action in solidarity with the independent unions in Mexico, targeting embassies and consulates in as many as fifty countries around the world.

These actions laid the groundwork for steps taken by IndustriALL, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Latin American Union Confederation (CSA) in following up on ILO case 2694 which had been filed by IndustriALL and the Mexican Telephone Workers, Los Mineros, the Union of the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico, and the FAT’s metal workers union (STIMACHS) and had resulted in strong recommendations regarding protection contracts.

In an August, 2013 meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto and Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida at the Los Pinos Presidential Palace in Mexico City, the government conceded that protection contracts were an issue and agreed to consult with the ILO Director General regarding a technical review of the labor laws. The Peña Nieto administration also agreed to work towards a resolution of the dispute involving SME; stated that the General Secretary of Los Mineros was free to return to Mexico; and said it would take steps to ratify ILO convention 98 that protects the right to bargaining collectively. While these statements represent a rare government recognition of labor rights and even rarer promise to do something about them, there is little reason to hope for positive change from a government that has clearly demonstrated its commitment to pursue neoliberal policies and to attract foreign capital.

While the Mexican unions continue to wage an uphill battle and the Tri-National and other labor initiatives are significant, the Mexican independent labor movement is weaker today than at any time in the last 25 years. What Mexican workers need if they are to overturn the labor, education and other regressive reforms is a rank-and-file movement among workers across sectors, industries, and unions with the economic power to really disrupt private sector production and profits, together with a mass political movement for a democratic socialist alternative. We have yet to see such a movement emerge.

Peña Nieto's Reforms

Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI administration succeeded with the aid of the PAN in passing all of the major reforms on its agenda.

• Following Peña Nieto’s victory in the election, but before he took office, the Mexican Congress passed a Labor Law Reform act in November of 2012, strengthening the hand of employers, weakened that of unions, and reduced workers’ rights.

• A year later Congress passed the Education Reform that gave the Secretary of Public Education greater control over hiring, required teachers to take regular competency exams, to undergo evaluations based on performance, and to be promoted on the basis of merit. The law weakened the power of the union and made teachers’ jobs less secure.

• In mid-December of 2013 Congress passed the Energy Reform that would allow private and foreign involvement in the petroleum and electric power generation industries.

The Energy Reform is the centerpiece of the Peña Nieto project and deserves explanation at some length. Mexico’s proven oil reserves are 10.7 billions of barrels.

What Is Changed by the Energy Reform

The new law overturns one of the greatest achievements of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 and ended in 1940, the country’s takeover of the foreign oil industry. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 in its Article 27 gave the nation control of all land and water and of the subsoil, that is, of the minerals and petroleum. On the basis of that article, in March of 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated (with compensation) and nationalized the foreign oil companies in Mexico, principally the U.S. Standard Oil Company and the British Royal Dutch Shell, as well as several others.

The nationalized companies were unified as the Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) with representation on the board by the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM). PEMEX was the largest employer in Mexico throughout most of the twentieth century and represented one of the largest sources of the country’s GDP as well as providing most of the revenue for the Mexican government. PEMEX’s top officials came, until the PRI’s defeat in 2000, from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which also controlled the notoriously authoritarian and corrupt oil workers' union. The wealth produced by PEMEX provided the funds that built Mexico’s national highways, hospitals, and schools during the oil boom of the 1970s, but it also provided the slush funds that oiled the PRI’s political machine.

Private and foreign companies were, for decades, forbidden from involvement in exploration, drilling or refining, though over the years they became involved in peripheral aspects of the industry. Proponents of the law argued that by forbidding foreign involvement Mexico was failing to develop deep water off-shore oil reserves as well as potentially rich shale deposits. They claimed that only an influx of foreign capital and technology would be able to take advantage of the existing natural resources. Foreign oil companies, particularly the Americans who have been involved peripherally in the past, were anxious to see the energy reform pass, though the European oil companies have also expressed great interest.

Mexico also has proven shale oil and gas reserves and there is industry interest in fracking.

What the New Law Permits

The new energy law will effectively grant concessions to foreign oil companies, though that term is not used because of its association with the earlier period of private domination of the industry in Mexico. While Mexico’s oil reserve will remain the property of the nation, companies will be given contracts or licenses to drill for oil; these will be for services or on a profit-sharing or production-sharing basis. That is, companies will share both risks and profits, receiving a percentage of the crude oil produced.

PEMEX now becomes a for-profit company that will have to compete with private domestic and foreign oil companies. The new law also removes the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union from the board of directors of PEMEX.

Under the new law, the Mexican electricity sector is also open to private investment. All Mexican energy generation and distribution is now in the hands of the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), a national company created over several decades by the absorption of smaller private and public electrical companies.

American companies most interested in exploring and drilling for oil in Mexico are Chevron, Exxon, and Shell. These are, in fact, the successors to Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell, the very companies expropriated and nationalized in 1938. So, one of Mexico’s proudest historical accomplishments has now been reversed.

The Political Power That Made It Possible

The PRI’s legislative victory was based principally on political arithmetic; together with their satellite party the Mexican Green Ecology Party (PVEM) and the PAN they control the Congress. With the July 2012 elections, alleged by many to have been fraudulent, the PRI became the powerhouse of Mexican politics winning not only the presidency but also dominating the Senate, the House, and the governor’s mansions. The PRI reclaimed several northern state that had previously been controlled by the PAN.

The PRI absolutely dominates the Mexican Congress. In the House of Representatives, with 500 members, the PRI has 212 seats while its satellite the PVEM has 29, that is, a block representing 48 percent of the vote. The PAN has 114 votes. The PRD has 104 while its allies the Workers Party (PT) has 15 and the Citizens Movement has 16. The PRI and the PAN together control 69 percent of the vote which makes it possible to pass any constitutional amendment or law.

The PRI controls 42 percent of the votes in the House while the PAN has 23 percent. The PRI and the PAN have even greater power in the Senate where the PRI has 57 seats and its satellite the PVEM has 2; the PAN 38; the PRD has 23 and its ally the PT has 2. The PRI also controls the vast majority of the governorships.

The PRI, which is no longer a political machine based on its control of nationalized plants, the collectively owned ejido fields and the labor unions and peasant leagues whose members worked in them, has won its commanding political position through the support of the corporate media and above all the television duopoly, Televisa and TV Azteca.

When Carlos Salinas’ government auctioned off most of the state industries in the 1988-94 period, it sold TV Azteca in 1993 to Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego, head of Grupo Salinas, and the 34th richest person in the world with US$17.4 billion. Televisa is owned by the Azcárraga family and its current president is Emilio Azcárraga Jean. He is the 512th richest person in the world, worth some $2.3 billion. The two major television corporations which own channels throughout the country exert an enormous influence on public opinion and have supported the last three victorious presidential candidates: of the PAN and now the PRI.

The Economy

Mexico has for some time been integrated into the U.S. and world economies. Despite this and despite the modernization of finance, manufacturing, and service in many areas, the Mexican economy does not perform as well as its owners and managers would like. Mexico has been able to achieve a growth rate of just about 1.3 percent, which is far below the desires of the business class and the needs of the Mexican people for jobs, income, and an improvement in their standard of living.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that Mexico has negative productivity growth. What accounts for that? Two reasons seem to be likely. First, while Mexico has some very modern sectors such as auto and auto-parts that must be integrated into world production chains and financial institutions which must be linked to markets around the world, there also continue to exist older industrial plants operating with the technology of the mid-twentieth century and artisanal shops from another era altogether.

Second, as a result of the uneven technological development in various sectors, the diversity of technological levels of industry, services, and agriculture impedes the integration of the economic system as a whole. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Mexico has declined dramatically from $24 billion in 2012 to $12.7 billion in 2013, according to the Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA/CEPA). One authority argues that Mexico’s falling FDI is due to the lack of commodity exports, the monopolistic character of industries that discourages investors, and violence. Foreign investors may be deterred to some degree by the high levels of violence, though it is principally doubt about the Mexican economy that leads foreign investors to shy away. The reform package was intended in large measure to win them back.

Mexico’s ruling party remains sanguine about the economy, arguing that having passed the reform package, things will improve dramatically. Not everyone shares this enthusiasm. The Economic Intelligence Unit predicts steady but very low growth far into the future.

Mexico's Rich, It's Ruling Class

Despite slow growth, low productivity, and falling FDI, Mexico’s economic system continues to function to enrich its elite who can be defined simply as its billionaires. Carlos Slim, Chairman of America Movil telecommunications and owner of Grupo Financiero and Grupo Carso, is worth $73 billion and remains not only the richest man in Mexico but also the richest in the world. His fortune grew by $4 billion last year. Mexico’s 15 billionaires—up from 10 last year—have a combined net worth of $148.5 billion, up 18.4% from the previous year.

Mexican social classes, as described by the Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), look like this: at the top is the upper class which makes up 1.7 percent of the population; below them are the middle class who constitute 39.2 percent; and at the bottom of the social pyramid the working classes which represent 59.1 percent.

The middle class earn incomes averaging 120,000 pesos per year or US$9,159. Only 29 percent of the middle class send their children to private schools—usually the first aspiration of a middle class family—and only 9 percent pay mortgages. (2) These statistics make clear the tenuous situation of the Mexican middle class, much of which live lives of genteel poverty while a good part hovers on the slippery edge that leads down into the working class.

The Mexican minimum wage is 65 pesos or US$5.10 per day in Mexico City and slightly lower in regions with a lower cost of living. Most Mexican workers earn two or three minimum wages per day, that is, very roughly between $2,500 and $3,750 per year. Wages in Mexico (like wages in the United States) have remained stagnant while wages in China, for example, have increased dramatically.

Some 59 percent of Mexicans work in the informal economy, that is, they work in unregistered and unregulated employment. Oaxaca is the state with the highest level of informal employment, amounting to 80.5 percent of all workers. Many informal workers are self-employed in jobs such as street vendors, while others work in underground shops that pay no taxes, provide no social security, and have no labor unions. Some may make higher wages in the informal economy than they would in the formal economy.

Mexico’s informal economy is the third largest compared with other nations (India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, China, Turkey, and Russia).

Poverty

Mexico’s population today is approximately 117.3, of whom some 53.3 million live in poverty. This represented 45.5 percent in 2012, according to the latest figures available from Coneval Institute in Mexico. That is a decline of 0.6 percent over the previous two years. There was a more significant decline of Mexicans living in extreme poverty between 2010 and 2012, from 13.0 million (11.3 percent) in 2010 to 11.5 million (9.8 percent) in 2012. Poverty in Mexico is greatest in the countryside and especially among the indigenous people. In 2012. the two poorest states were Michoacán and Chiapas.

Peña Nieto has announced that he will propose a Reforma del Campo, a Reform for the Countryside, and new programs that will “really turn around the scenes of poverty and marginalization, not only for the seven million Mexicans who suffer hunger but also for the 53 million who live in different situations of poverty.” So far no details have been announced.

Security

Mexico continues to be, as it has been since President Calderón launched his war on drugs in 2006, a country of great insecurity. The Mexican government’s official statistics, which do not separate ordinary homicides from drug war deaths, indicate that since 2007 some 135,000 people have been killed and 25,000 have disappeared. While President Peña Nieto claims to have changed to a more effective strategy for dealing with the drug war and with crime in general, there is general agreement that there has been no significant or measurable change so far. (1) One source says that while homicide rates have declined, kidnapping and extortion rates have risen.

Kidnappings seem to run at about 1,500 a year, though the figures are not consided reliable because many go unreported. Victims and their families fear reporting kidnapping because the police are so often involved and they fear the police-kidnappers will retaliate. Most of the violence has been concentrated in six states, according to the National System of Public Security (SESNSP): Guerero, Tamaulipas, México, Michoacán, and Veracruz.

One recent response to the rampant violence and the failure of the Mexican federal government to address it has been the rise of community police or self-defense groups that may involve hundreds. One group, numbering five thousand, recently marched in Guerrero. In Michocán battles between the self-defense group and Knights Templar drug cartel led to serious property damage—as the Knights burned homes, businesses, and automobiles—and to one death. The complex struggle between drug cartels, local police sometimes allied with the cartels, federal police and army units, and the independent community police and self-defense organization has led to a chaotic situation, but not to less violence.

The Business Coordinating Council (CCE) recently warned Minister of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong that despite its success in passing its reform program, Mexico will see no growth if there is not an end to organized crime’s pervasive violence. The CCE is particuarly concerned with extorsion and kidnapping which affects its members. They also expressed their opposition to the extra-legal community policing.

Prospects for Labor and the Left

The Mexican elite and its ruling parties’ success in passing the various reforms—labor, education, and energy—completes the imposition of the neoliberal project, meaning that we now enter what is definitely a new economic and political period that will require new analyses, concepts, strategies, and organizations on the left.
The weakness of the left can be seen in the vacillations of the PRD, deeply divided into an oppositional and a more opportunistic wing that is continually seeking compromise with Peña Nieto.

At the same time, the more intransigent populist and social democratic National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had not yet completed the process of becoming a new political party, though it did play a leading role in organizing the largest protest demonstrations. MORENA’s leader. Unfortunately, López Obrador suffered a heart attack in early December taking him out of the last stages of the battle.

One could argue that the MORENA, now in the last stages of the certification process for the creation of a new party, may be well positioned to speak to the new challenges that Mexico will face. Rebounding from his recent heart attack, López Obrador has called for the creation of a national front of the opposition to overturn the reforms. However, one has to wonder: Can a party that comes out of the nationalist traditions of Lázaro Cárdenas of the 1930s and led by a man twice defeated for president, in 2006 and 2012—even if fraudulently—really be the standard bearer for Mexico’s future?

One of the small parties of the far left, the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) played a key role in another attempt to create the left of the future. In the 2012 election the PRT joined with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), other left organizations, unions, and social movements to create the Political Organization of the People and the Workers (OPPT or OPT). Though the OPT supported López Obrador’s PRD candidacy, it represented an attempt to create an independent working class party. What appear to be irreconcilable differences that developed after the election make it unlikely that this organization can play the future role that its organizers had hoped.

Labor and the Movements

Felipe Calderón’s six year war on the workers, particularly his attacks on the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM – Mineros) have, as we have already discussed, weakened the labor movement.

In an attempt to create a new “independent and class conscious” federation, the SME and the Coordinating Committee of the Teachers Union (la CNTE) are proposing to join with other unions and organizations in the creation of la Nueva Central de Trabajadores, the New Workers Federation which will hold its founding convention in late February. Whether or not this federation will have the size and capacity to change the direction of the labor movement remains to be seen. However, at a minimum it represents a continuation of the divisions that have existed among the independent unions and a fairure to come together in a single body.

We know from previous periods in Mexican history that such profound changes as are now taking place in Mexico’s political economy must also lead to further social dislocations and therefore to movements from below. We saw that with the Chiapas Uprising of 1994 led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. We will see new social and political movements and they may face the greatest challenge yet: confronting the Mexican and international capitalist class in a country which has completed the process of full integration into the American and world economy.

Notes

(1) See these sites for discussions of statistics on Mexican violence:
a) http://blog.chron.com/bakerblog/2013/10/is-drug-related-violence-in-mexico-on-the-decline/
b) http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/11/the_battle_over_mexicos_crime_statistics.html
(2) See these two articles for discussion of the Mexican middleclass:
a) http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21587828-politicians-and-statisticians-hunt-middle-class-middle-worth
b) http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2013/06/mexico-s-middle-class

Back to January , 2014 Table of Contents

Twenty Years since the Chiapas Rebellion: the Zapatistas, Their Politics, and Their Impact

By Dan La Botz

The Chiapas Rebellion led by the Zapatistas took place twenty years ago this month. What was the importance of the rebellion and of the Zapatistas? What was their impact at the time? And what has been their political legacy?

Twenty years ago, on the morning of January 1, 1994, the Chiapas Rebellion began in Mexico’s southernmost state led by a then unknown group, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and its mysterious spokesman subcomandante Marcos. Some 3,000 poorly armed, mostly Mayan guerrilla soldiers marched out of the jungles and seized a half dozen towns and briefly took the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The EZLN had chosen January 1 because on that day in that year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an international treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, took effect. The EZLN rebels called for the cancellation of NAFTA, the overthrow of the Mexican government, and the convocation of a constituent assembly to write a new Mexican constitution. Some of the guerrilla troops told reporters they were fighting for socialism.

The Chiapas Rebellion had an enormous impact at the time, not only in Mexico but around the world. The EZLN had led the first leftist, armed rebellion since the fall of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union just a few years before, suggesting that contrary to claims about the death of the left and the “end of history,” a new left had arisen in the Lacandón Jungle of Chiapas. The rebellion also signaled that all was not well in Mexico, where outgoing president Carlos Salinas had been claiming that by joining the GATT, forerunner of the World Trade Organization, in 1980 and by joining NAFTA, and through his privatization of hundreds of state companies Mexico was leaving the Third World and entering the First World of modern capitalism. The Chiapas Rebellion and the EZLN Manifestos pulled back the veil revealing to the world Mexico’s rural poverty and especially the oppression of the indigenous people.

President Ernesto Zedillo, who had taken office only a month before, responded immediately by sending the Mexican army and air force to suppress the rebellion. Throughout Mexico, tens of thousands of people responded by going to the zócalos, the public squares, to protest, demanding that Zedillo stop the military attack on mostly Mayan rebels. Within 12 days, Zedillo halted the attack and the EZLN agreed to a truce, the beginning of what has been a twenty-year standoff in Chiapas.

When, several months later, the Zapatistas held a consulta, a kind of survey or referendum, asking what role they should play in Mexican society, hundreds of thousands responded, the majority voting that the EZLN should lay down its arms and participate in Mexican social and political life. The initial protests against Zedillo’s use of the army and the results of the consulta suggested that the Mexican people rejected armed violence on all sides. Nor is this surprising. In the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, one million had died and one million had emigrated in a nation with a total population at that time of 13 million. The memory of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence seemed to live on in the public consciousness and apparently few wanted to repeat that experience.

Armed revolution in Mexico, it seemed, was not on the agenda. The Zapatistas declined to lay down their arms, but, on the other hand, for the last twenty years, neither have they used them. The EZLN’s continuing struggle took other forms.

Who Were the Zapatistas?

The Zapatistas were founded in November of 1983 by a group of leftist activists in northern Mexico. The Mexican left had inherited a long tradition of armed rebellion, one could say going back to the conquest, though certainly the Mexican Revolution’s nationalist legacy was most significant. In addition there was the impact of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s foco theory (which had been popularized by the French intellectual Régis Debray) and which had had such disastrous consequences throughout Latin America.

Throughout Mexico in the 1970s and into the 1980s one could find small rural and urban guerrilla groups, many calling themselves “Marxist-Leninist” and usually combining a leftwing version of Mexican nationalism with the Cuban foco theory ideas or sometimes with Maoist ideas of a prolonged people’s war. Hundreds of such young men and women were disappeared and murdered by the government during Mexico’s secret war in the 1970s. The Zapatistas had their origins in that political milieu. Initially called the National Liberation Forces, a name that had become popular on the left after the Algerian Revolution; later, after moving to Chiapas, the group added “Zapatista” to their name after Emiliano Zapata, the leader of the revolutionary peasant movement during the Mexican Revolution.

In the 1980s the group decided to move its operations to Chiapas in southern Mexico, a state with a very large indigenous population made up of several different Mayan groups. As in the rest of Mexico at the time, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), controlled government at all levels and controlled the labor and peasant unions and various indigenous organizations. There was, however, a developing social alternative. Since 1959 the Bishop of Chiapas had been Samuel Ruíz, who had participated in Vatican II (1962-1965) and in the Latin American Bishops’ Medellín Conference (1968) and who was completely involved and identified with the Theology of Liberation, the idea that the Church should be on the side of the poor.

Under Ruíz’s direction the Catholic Church in Chiapas took an interest not only in the salvation of the souls of the indigenous, but also in improving their material conditions and their social and political treatment. The Church’s catechists became not only carriers of the Gospel but also organizers of the indigenous peoples’ incipient social movements. It was in this milieu that the Zapatistas now inserted themselves and, with Ruíz’s tacit support, often worked closely with the catechists and other indigenous leaders. Ruíz said that while he shared the Zapatistas’ goals he did not support their strategy of armed rebellion. Yet, at the same time, he did not prevent the EZLN from organizing. So during almost a decade the Zapatistas established their organization in Chiapas, recruited Mayan and mestizo activists to their organization, and laid their plans for an armed uprising.

What Did the Zapatistas Believe?

What did the Zapatistas have in mind when they revolted on January 1, 1994? The Zapatistas apparently believed that if they ignited a spark in southern Mexico it would unleash a wildfire across the entire country. Whether or not they were familiar with the concept or the term, this is very like the nineteenth century anarchist notion of the “propaganda of the deed” and also bears a resemblance to the foco idea of the dedicated revolutionaries in the sierra who will ignite a revolution in the plains. The idea is that the people, exploited and oppressed, are simply waiting for a heroic example of revolutionary struggle to show them the way, and that then they will rise up and overthrow capitalism. The Mexican people, as was demonstrated in the early months of 1994, were not prepared to follow the Zapatistas or to rise up, and while millions sympathized with the poverty and indignities suffered by the indigenous, they rejected the idea of armed struggle. Mexico was no different than any other country where social change tends to come not from heroic actions of a few but from years of organization, education and propaganda, and many concerted smaller actions at the base of society before people are prepared for revolutionary change.

In August of 1994 the Zapatistas called a convention in their jungle redoubt to which they invited some 2,000 Mexican intellectuals, writers and artists, academics, and social movement activists, as well as a few official delegates from the United States of whom I was one. Once in San Cristóbal we traveled to the convention on public buses donated by the state government and attended the ceremony where the stage was lit by stadium lights which must also have been provided by the state and the Federal Electricity Commission. Marcos spoke before an enormous Mexican flag, perhaps 40 by 20 feet, as the Zapatista soldiers, some wearing boots but most in huaraches and a few barefoot, marched before the platform, most carrying wooden rifles, not real firearms. The huge flag and Marco’s rhetoric suggested that the EZLN were radical nationalists and advocates of indigenous rights; while there was a call for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, there was no talk of socialism. Really, this was not a convention, just a few speeches until the event ended in a tropical downpour of Biblical proportions that put out the lights and swept away our tents. The EZLN’s politics were still in evolution.

The Zapatistas failure in launching a revolution and the Mexican army’s siege of the zone in which they operated forced them to retreat and fall back on the indigenous and other poor people in the canyons where they had their base. The Zapatistas now did more openly what they had been doing clandestinely for years, organizing their indigenous and mestizo supporters into communities that constituted a kind of liberated zone—though interspersed with other indigenous and mestizo communities that did not support them and surrounded by the army which sometimes harassed them.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s the Zapatistas organized remarkable protests by indigenous women who came out in their traje, their indigenous dress, and literally pushed the armed soldiers out of their villages. The EZLN called indigenous meetings in Chiapas and inspired the convocation of national indigenous meetings that led to the creation of the National Indigenous Congress. After months of negotiation, on Feb. 16, 1996, the Zapatistas and the government of President Ernesto Zedillo signed the San Andrés Accords, a treaty granting autonomy, recognition, and rights to the Mayan people in Chiapas. The Mexican Congress, however, didn’t adopt the accords and the Zedillo government soon violated them. The Zapatistas announced they wouldn’t, therefore, hold any further negotiations, withdrawing again into the canyons.

The Zapatistas and their supporters claimed that they had created new democratic forms of organization in the villages in which women had an equal role. Marcos and other EZLN spokespersons argued that they were reconstituting society from the bottom up a village at a time. Eschewing the state institutions controlled by the PRI, the Zapatistas created their own schools and local governments—though they had few if any economic resources—as an alternative to government institutions. Marcos and the Zapatistas began to develop a new rhetoric and to proclaim a new ideology summed up in the phrase “mandar obedeciendo,” to lead by following. This suggested that the people were deciding and the leaders merely expressing their views and carrying out their desires. Here, it was suggested, was the socialism from below that many of us believed in and had been working for.

In the late 1990s lawyer and sociologist John Holloway popularized and elaborated on the Zapatistas’ ideas and his book Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico became a best seller on the left. He suggested that, in part under the influence of indigenous ideas, the EZLN had rejected the old Marxist paradigm of the proletariat struggling for state power, putting on the agenda a new theory and practice of revolution that seemed to have more in common with anarchism: anyone from any social class could begin to make the revolution by asserting their dignity and forming a liberated community where they were. The Zapatistas seemed to be building such a communitarian alternative to capitalism in the remote communities in Chiapas.

Yet it was very hard for outsiders to see and to understand exactly what was really taking place in villages in the canyons of Chiapas where a group of armed men were working among the native people. The continued existence of the EZLN as an armed guerrilla group alongside and among indigenous people led one to ask: How democratic was the movement? How were decisions really made? Who were the real leaders?

The Zapatistas and their supporters offered answers that had to be taken on largely on faith given—at least for most of us—the impossibility of entering physically, intellectually, and psychologically into the world of indigenous politics in Chiapas.
The Zapatistas, as interpreted by Holloway and others, had an enormous impact on the new Global Justice Movement that began in the 1990s and culminated at the Battle of Seattle, the joint environmental-labor protests against the WTO in 1999. Everywhere, young people wore the balaclavas and red bandanas of the Zapatistas over their faces and identified themselves with anarchism. Every major city and many colleges in the United States had Zapatista support groups. Mexican American youth of the Southwest were particularly inspired by the Zapatistas. The combination of the romance of masked men and women, of armed struggle, and of the anarchist utopia of an immediate march to an egalitarian future held sway throughout the decade, inspiring many young people to become activists. Then, suddenly, the enthusiasm for the Zapatistas declined along with the Global Justice Movement as a result of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and the War on Iraq, leading to a sudden rightward shift, new levels of government surveillance and repression, and an instantaneous upsurge in American patriotism. Other armed fighters now held the public attention.

The Zapatistas and the Movement

In Mexico during the first couple of years after the rebellion the Zapatistas had enormous moral authority. Much of Mexican society admired the Zapatistas for their courage and for speaking out with and for the indigenous. Many were charmed by subcomandante Marcos’ sardonic wit and great creativity both as a speaker and a writer. Mexican youth from the wealthy neighborhoods of Mexico City to the poorest neighborhoods of the border towns adopted a new Zapatista swagger as they painted radical graffiti on the walls. The Zapatistas attempted to capitalize on their moral authority by projecting themselves as a force in the broader Mexican society.

Living in Mexico in those years, I attended in Mexico City and in Tijuana meetings of the Zapatista Front for National Liberation (FZLN) which held a founding of the national organization in 1997. The Zapatistas, however, seemed to have no interest in a real front, that is, in a coalition of various left organizations and movements. EZLN leaders found the give and take of coalition building difficult in a country where there were scores of social movements, labor unions, and left political parties. The EZLN’s insistence on dominating the supposed front that they had created meant that it never grew or became popular and never had an impact in Mexican society at large.

The EZLN also attempted at about the same time, with the aid of leftists in the labor movement, to organize a Zapatista workers’ organization. The labor union activists I knew and with whom I spoke told me that the Zapatistas opposed participation in the existing labor unions, not only because they believed they were bureaucratic, but also in part because the unions held elections and the EZLN didn’t believe in elections and voting. With an unwillingness to deal with the unions and their existing structures and with longstanding rank-and-file labor organizations, the Zapatista labor organization was stillborn. The Zapatistas’ attempt to turn themselves into a political force in Mexican society failed utterly, and they withdrew again to the canyons of Chiapas.

The Zapatiasta were more successful in Chiapas and in some other areas in organizing their autonomous municipalities which they called Caracoles y Juntas de Buen Gobierno. While almost all of these communities were in Chiapas, the Zapatistas did inspire some in other states and in the Plan Realidad Tijuana of 2003 proposed to unite the archipelago of liberated communities in Mexico into one emerging free nation within the nation. Though the plan never proved successful nationally, the Zapatistas did continue to organize their own autonomous communities in Chiapas.

The Ezln and the National Elections

When the 2000 elections approached, the EZLN announced that it would not support either of the two rightwing parties—the National Action Party (PAN) or the Institutional Revolutionary Party—nor would they support the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Cárdenas, who had been a presidential candidate in 1988 and 1994, remained enormously popular on the left. Many hoped that the Zapatistas would support him, though organizations of the revolutionary left were divided over the issue of whether to support Cárdenas or back some independent socialist candidate. The EZLN, however, rejected elections in general and Marcos excoriated Mexico’s political parties of all stripes as compromised and corrupt.

Yet the election proved not to be irrelevant to the Zapatistas. When Vicente Fox of the PAN won the election by a large plurality and became president, ending the PRI’s more than seven decade hold on government, the Zapatistas decided to take advantage of what was apparently a new political opening. The Zapatistas traveled to Mexico City and its representatives, in an historic act, actually spoke to the Mexican Congress, asking that it fulfill the principles embodied in the San Andrés Accords. While Fox showed some sympathy with the EZLN, nothing new was forthcoming from the Mexican Congress.

"the Other Campaign"

In 2006 when the next presidential elections took place, Marcos and the EZLN adopted a different approach. Once again, most of the Mexican left hoped that the EZLN would support the left candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, who was speaking out strongly against NAFTA, neoliberalism, and the corruption of the PRI and PAN. The EZLN, still rejecting both elections and the existing parties, had other plans. Marcos announced the organization of la Otra Campaña (the Other Campaign). Unlike other political parties, the EZLN would not put forward its own candidates and would not support the candidates of other parties, but would instead organize a campaign that would travel around the country speaking out against the Mexican government and against capitalism.

The EZLN’s Other Campaign was joined by several other left groups, from the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) to the followers of Albanian Enver Hoxa in the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPML). The Campaign took place during a period of a number of dramatic social conflicts, most important the civil unrest in San Salvador Atenco in the State of Mexico. When police suppressed flower sellers and other street vendors, the Peoples Front for the Defense of the Land called upon the EZLN for support. Marcos and the EZLN showed up bringing thousands of supporters. During the Other Campaign, Marcos and other speakers held moderately successful meetings and rallies around the country, sometimes speaking to thousands against the evils of capitalism. Everywhere they went, the CPML’s giant portraits of Stalin hung in the background, casting doubt in some minds about the meaning of it all.

Meanwhile the PRD’s left candidate López Obrador addressed crowds of up to a million, mostly working class and poor people, with his populist rhetoric. When it became clear that President Fox and the ruling PAN party were violating election law and preparing an enormous fraud, which in fact took place on election day in July, there arose an enormous protest movement in defense of a fair election and the right of citizens to have their votes counted. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands in Mexico City joined the protests blocking the boulevards and occupying public plazas.

Several of the revolutionary left groups involved in the Other Campaign went off to join the election protests as a matter of principle; even if they hadn’t liked the parties and candidates offered up in the election they felt the citizens had the right to vote and have their vote counted. Marcos and the EZLN, opposed on principle to elections, refused to participate in the defense-of-the-vote protests. So they withdrew and retired to Chiapas. The Zapatistas’ sectarian attitude toward that movement did enormous damage to their reputation among those in the broad left and those on the far left. They lost much of the moral authority that still clung to them since the 1994 uprising.

Questions Posed for the Left and for the EZLN

During the last twenty years, the Zapatistas have had a huge impact on Mexican society and on the left both in Mexico and internationally. When the left seemed moribund, they revived it. Where the indigenous had been downtrodden, they had inspired them to rise up. Their example enthused radicals throughout the Americas and in Europe and at their international meetings in the Chiapas jungle one could find leftists from dozens of countries exchanging experiences and perspectives. In retrospect, it is surprising that no organized international tendency, no “new international” came out of it. Despite all of the vicissitudes of their twenty-year long career, the Zapatistas remain both a local social movement in Chiapas and the standard bearers of a certain radical politics in Mexico associated with local organizing, support for the indigenous, and political abstentionism.

The Zapatistas’ experience raises important questions for the left. There is no doubt that in a capitalist system and its liberal democratic state, as it is called, in which political parties operate, elections function primarily to both buttress the system and to regularly place representatives of capitalism in power. It is also true, however, that elections by parties which are genuinely independent provide an opportunity for the left to propagandize for its ideas and to use elected positions to contribute to the organization of social movements.

The Zapatistas are right that the Party of the Democratic Revolution and its candidates Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and López Obrador were representatives of social democratic and populist variants of capitalist politics. The PRI, the PAN, and the PRD have all proven to be quite corrupt, it is true. But what if the Zapatistas had used the enormous moral authority that they had in the first years after the rebellion to help to organize—not to insist on controlling—a national social movement and a genuinely independent national political party? How much greater could their impact have been during these last two decades in which, partly under the impact of the NAFTA treaty that they opposed, the power of Mexican capital has grown so much greater and the forces of working people become so much weaker?

To me, the Zapatistas remain opaque and their politics a mystery. I wonder: Does there still exist at the core of the EZLN a hardened cadre who hold the classical guerrilla politics of the 1970s and 1980s—or did the Zapatistas under the influence of the indigenous and their own experiences really become some sort of anarchists? What is the real nature and significance of the Caracoles y Juntas de Buen Gobierno? Can the Zapatistas ever overcome their sectarianism both to project themselves as an ideological and organizing force in Mexican society—or will they continue to cut themselves from other sections of the far left?

After twenty years the Zapatistas have not gone away, remaining a challenge to both the government and to the established political parties and the parties of the revolutionary left. The new and deeper integration of Mexico into the U.S. and the global economies which has been achieved by the passage of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s structural reforms will raise new challenges and very likely produce new movements. We will see in this new period whether or not the EZLN’s experiences and ideas prove relevant to a new generation of radicals.

Back to January , 2014 Table of Contents

We Are Disposable: Twenty Years after Nafta, the Plight of Mexican Maquiladora Workers Like Rosa Moreno Has Worsened.

by Melissa del Bosque

It was Saturday night, and, as usual, Rosa Moreno was getting ready to work the night shift at the factory.

On this night, Feb. 19, 2011, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, a premonition that perhaps she shouldn’t go. But she needed the money. It was the final shift in her six-day workweek, and if she missed a day, the factory would dock her 300 pesos. She couldn’t afford to lose that kind of money. Her family already struggled to survive on the 1,300 pesos (about $100) a week she earned. Unable to shake the bad feeling, she’d already missed her bus, and now she’d have to pay for a taxi. But the thought of losing 300 pesos was worse. She had to go. Rosa kissed her six children goodnight and set out across town.

In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, the hundreds of maquiladoras that produce everything from car parts to flat-screen televisions run day and night—365 days a year—to feed global demand. Rosa worked from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. at a factory called HD Electronics in a sprawling maquiladora park near the international bridge that links Reynosa, an industrial city of 600,000, to Pharr, Texas. Like the 90,000 or more workers in Reynosa, the 38-year-old Rosa depended on these factories for her livelihood. In the 11 years since she moved to the city, she had welded circuitry for Asian and European cell phone companies, assembled tubing for medical IV units to be shipped over the border to the United States, and worked on a production line assembling air conditioners for General Motors.
This was her second month at HD Electronics, a South Korean firm that had moved to Reynosa in 2006 to produce the metal backing for flat-screen televisions made by another South Korean firm, LG Electronics—a $49 billion corporation. LG also has a plant in Reynosa and could scarcely keep up with the North American demand for its plasma and LCD televisions.
At HD Electronics, Rosa operated a 200-ton hydraulic stamping press. Every night, six days a week, she fed the massive machine thin aluminum sheets. The machine ran all day, every day. Each time the press closed it sounded like a giant hammer striking metal: thwack, thwack, thwack. The metal sheets emerged pierced and molded into shape for each model and size of television. At the factory, 20 women, including Rosa, worked the presses to make the pieces for the smaller televisions. Nearby were 10 larger presses, each of which took two men to operate, to make backings for the giant-screen models.

Rosa was glad to have the work, but it was exhausting. Her husband was serving a five-year sentence in prison. She wouldn’t talk about what had put him there. Whatever happened, she was on her own. Thankfully, her two oldest were already grown and married. But she had six children still at home to clothe and feed. She especially worried about her youngest—9-year-old twins Rosita and Lencho. They had scarcely spent time with their father before he’d gone away. And now she was always at work, or tired or stressed about money.

At the plant, the line leader urged the workers to move faster. “You work without stopping because you have to reach a set goal,” Rosa said. “You can’t even go to the bathroom. And your feet start to ache and your back hurts because you’re standing in the same position the whole time.”

Complaining wouldn’t do any good. There was always another worker who would take her place. The modest labor and safety protections that workers had fought for in the 1990s, with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), had been lost after the maquila industry was battered by the automotive crisis that began in 2000 and then the recession of 2008. Multinational corporations competing in the global economy wanted cheap, compliant labor that they could hire and fire at will. The Mexican government and the business community, not wanting to lose an important sector of the economy, did everything they could to abide by industry demands. Rosa had to comply or be replaced.

At 1 a.m., the women in her section were excused for their 30-minute break to eat. Rosa had brought tamales to share. She wasn’t happy about being moved to machine 19 but she kept her thoughts to herself. Another worker had been moving too slowly, so the line leader had moved Rosa to machine 19 to speed up production. “No one liked to work on that machine, because everyone thought it was too difficult,” she said. “But the way it works is that the person who moves the fastest is moved to wherever the material must be produced.”

After the break, Rosa returned to her station. She rolled her gray woolen gloves up to her elbows to prevent cuts from the thin metal sheets she fed into the massive press. After an hour, the line leader came by to ask Rosa how many pieces she had produced. “I said, ‘1,500 pieces,’ and he said, ‘No, you need to go faster because they need to ship these pieces by morning.’” Rosa picked up the pace. “This machine was different from the one I usually use. You had to push the piece in with both hands and make sure it was perfectly centered.” After that, she would press two buttons, one with each hand, to lower the press. “I was very concentrated, really focused on getting the work done,” she said. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Rosa was centering a piece of metal in the machine when she heard something metallic give way.
Rosa’s friend Cira Mesa was working on another machine a few feet away. “I heard a single, high-pitched scream,” she said. “I looked over, and it was Rosa. The machine had fallen on her hands.”

The difficult, often dangerous working conditions that Rosa and at least 1.3 million other Mexican workers endure in the maquiladora industry were supposed to get better. That’s what political leaders on both sides of the border had pledged in 1994 with the passage of the continent-wide trade agreement. NAFTA, it was promised, would drive up workers’ wages, improve working conditions and spur job growth, creating hundreds of thousands of new middle-class citizens on both sides of the border.

The seeds of NAFTA were cultivated in Texas during numerous discussions between Mexico’s young Harvard-trained President Carlos Salinas and President George H.W. Bush. In 1992, at a historic meeting in San Antonio, Salinas, Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney posed for a photo while their top negotiators ceremoniously signed the agreement at the Plaza San Antonio Hotel.

The maquiladora industry was instrumental to NAFTA. Multinational corporations from developed countries like the United States and Canada could import raw materials to be assembled and manufactured at maquiladoras in free-trade zones along Mexico’s northern border. Mexico would provide the corporations with low-wage workers and charge minimal tariffs.

Maquiladoras had been Mexico’s primary economic development strategy since the late 1960s. Under the repressive one-party rule of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, or PRI, the labor unions had been largely coopted to favor the business sector. By the early 1990s, Mexican President Salinas, a member of the PRI, had become an unabashed cheerleader for NAFTA, telling Fortune magazine the agreement would “Create additional jobs and make wages grow. …If we do not create additional jobs in Mexico, Mexicans will merely walk across the border looking for jobs in the north.”

But NAFTA also had its detractors. U.S. labor unions, environmentalists, human-rights advocates and other opponents on both sides of the border predicted the loss of American manufacturing jobs and deteriorating conditions for Mexican workers. Mexico, with its lax pollution regulations and labor enforcement, would become a magnet for multinational corporations looking to cut costs, critics argued. The debate polarized both countries. During a 1992 presidential debate, independent candidate and billionaire Ross Perot struck a chord with many critics when he described U.S. job losses to Mexico under NAFTA as “a giant sucking sound going south.”

In early 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton, under pressure from labor unions and other critics, pledged to re-open negotiations on NAFTA, promising better labor and environmental protections. Again Texas played a crucial role. A frustrated President Salinas, who had spent three years negotiating the agreement with Bush, hastily requested a meeting with the president-elect, according to Maxwell A. Cameron and Brian Tomlin in their book The Making of NAFTA: How the Deal Was Done. Not officially president yet, Clinton couldn’t meet with Salinas on Mexican soil. With the help of Texas Gov. Ann Richards, they met in Austin to discuss changes to NAFTA that would include more protections for workers. NAFTA was ratified in 1994.

President Clinton praised the agreement’s benefits for workers. “There will be an even more rapid closing of the gap between our two wage rates,” he said. “And as the benefits of economic growth are spread in Mexico to working people, what will happen? They’ll have more disposable income to buy more American products, and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.”

Clinton estimated NAFTA would produce 200,000 new jobs in the United States within the first two years. Salinas had similar glowing predictions. There were some positive economic indicators. Foreign direct investment in Mexico surged, and the country’s exports tripled. Meanwhile, Americans found they could buy imported goods more cheaply.
But for workers on both sides of the border, especially those without a college degree, NAFTA was a devastating blow. The great “sucking sound to the south,” as Perot had so bluntly put it, had begun. Between 1994 and 2010, nearly 683,000 U.S. jobs were lost—the majority of them in manufacturing, according to a study on NAFTA by the progressive Economic Policy Institute. Workers from the higher-paid manufacturing sectors in the U.S. were forced to take lower-wage service industry jobs, losing retirement and health-insurance benefits.

In Mexico, the number of foreign-owned maquiladoras doubled, but government policies kept wages from increasing. Meanwhile, cheap U.S.-subsidized corn flooded the Mexican market, putting small farmers out of business and forcing them to leave their towns for larger urban centers in search of work. Mexico’s economy grew at a sluggish annual per capita rate of just 1.6 percent between 1992 and 2007—one of the lowest rates in Latin America, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Very little of the wealth generated by the maquiladoras was invested into Mexican society to alleviate poverty. The global economy favored a few. In 2010 Forbes magazine named its first Mexican citizen, Carlos Slim, as the world’s richest man. Yet 45 percent of the Mexican population lived in poverty, according to government figures.

Like many, Rosa was struggling to put food on the table. Working six days a week she took home 5,200 pesos a month, about $400. To make a little extra money, she also sold cosmetics and face creams. In Reynosa, like other border cities, the cost of living wasn’t cheap. Food in the supermarkets cost as much as it did in the United States. The public elementary school in Rosa’s poor, working-class neighborhood was so overcrowded it divided the school day into two shifts. Her 9-year-old twins Rosita and Lencho waited until the morning shift was over so they could attend school in the afternoon. Rosa and other parents were expected to pay a registration fee, and for books and uniforms. The mortgage on her tiny two-bedroom home wasn’t cheap, either. Every month she paid 2,500 pesos, nearly half her monthly income, for her concrete-block home on a dusty side street.

At the same time, life in Reynosa was becoming more dangerous. In 2006, the government launched a military campaign against drug cartels and violence exploded, especially in working-class neighborhoods like Rosa’s. It wasn’t unusual for cartel gunmen to hijack the buses taking workers to the factories and use them to blockade the roads during gun battles with the military or a rival cartel. Workers were sometimes killed in the crossfire. Working night shifts was especially dangerous because the gunmen were most active at night. Foreign owners and upper-level managers of the maquiladoras curtailed their own travel to the city, holding management meetings across the river in Texas, where many of them lived. The inequality gap now had a new dimension involving personal safety: Upper management stayed on the U.S. side of the border and away from the weekly gun battles, while the workers remained to run the factories—and dodge the bullets.

Working the night shift, Rosa at least felt better that her children were at home asleep while she worked and not on the streets. She knew it was dangerous to leave for work late at night to take a bus across the city. But she always felt safe once she reached the factory.

Jose Olmos was working one of the large stamping presses when he heard the screams. By the time he got to Rosa, “some of the women had fainted,” he said. “But Rosa just stood there silent. I imagine she was in shock. A maintenance man was pressing the buttons, trying to get the hydraulic press to open.”

“It felt like I had plunged my hands into boiling water—they were burning,” Rosa said, her words tumbling out quickly as she relived the accident. “I tried to control myself so that I didn’t panic or get too scared. My biggest fear was that if I lost consciousness, I wouldn’t know where they’d leave me. I thank God. He’s the one that helped me stay conscious. It was my faith that pulled me through.”

It was well known among workers in Reynosa that the maquiladora bosses didn’t like sending injured employees to the government social security hospitals, where physicians were required by law to report workplace accidents. This would mean that the offending maquiladoras would have to pay more into the government’s social security system. It wasn’t uncommon for a worker with serious injuries to be offered first aid at the factory or be driven to a private clinic rather than be taken directly to the nearest hospital.

Ten minutes had already passed when Olmos and a few of the other men struck upon the idea of creating a makeshift jack. Using a steel pole, they pried the press open just enough for Rosa to pull out her hands. “I’ve seen many things in my life,” Olmos said, his voice lowering. “But this really had an impact on me.”

“I wasn’t bleeding very much because the press had actually forged the ends of my arms to the metal sheet,” Rosa said. “The piece was attached to my hands. I remember saying, ‘Take the piece off. Take it off.’ But they didn’t want to.”

The factory nurse came running. She covered Rosa’s hands with a white sheet. Again, some of the women fainted. The metallic clanging of the presses in their area had fallen silent, but in the rest of the factory, people kept working to meet their production quotas. “The nurse said I needed to be taken to the infirmary, but I asked what could she possibly do for me there?”

Two of the workers ran to get a stretcher. One of the men said he would drive Rosa to the social security hospital himself. “In the car, the nurse told me they’d take me to the general hospital or to the Red Cross, but I told her no,” Rosa said. “Like the other workers, I paid into the social security system, and I wanted to be taken to the social security hospital. She was very annoyed with me. But I insisted.”

At the government hospital, Rosa steeled herself for the worst. She knew her hands were destroyed and would have to be amputated. She was already thinking about the future, playing through the various crises that would unfold if she couldn’t work. She knew intimately what hunger felt like. That was why 11 years ago, she’d brought her children from the State of Mexico, in the center of the country, to Reynosa, traveling nearly 700 miles by bus so that she could work in the maquiladoras so her family would never go hungry again.

While Rosa was in the hospital, Cira went back to HD Electronics to try to discover what had caused the accident. At the factory, the general manager told Cira and the other workers that Rosa was at fault because she’d been too tired and wasn’t paying attention. But the machine had safety mechanisms to prevent accidents like the one Rosa had suffered. A worker had to press two buttons simultaneously to lower the press. This ensured that a worker didn’t have her hands inside the machine when the 200-ton press came down. Cira said she spoke to a maintenance man at the factory who confided to her that machine 19 hadn’t been properly maintained for months because taking it offline would slow production. Cira said she begged the man to come forward and testify on Rosa’s behalf, but he was too afraid of losing his job.

Five days after the accident, the bills were piling up at home. Rosa checked herself out of the hospital and went directly to HD Electronics to speak with the manager. He seemed shocked to see her in his office, her mutilated arms wrapped in white bandages. “He said, ‘Señora, why don’t you go home and rest.’ I said, ‘No, I want to have a meeting because you need to give me compensation. How will I feed my children?’”

The general manager said the company could offer her 50,000 pesos, approximately $3,800 in U.S. dollars, as a settlement. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to accept that. I’ve lost both of my hands, how will my family survive on 50,000 pesos?’”

“That’s our offer,” the general manager said, according to Rosa. “Stop making such a big scandal about it and take it. It will help your family.”

But she refused. As a single parent, she had to do better for her family than 50,000 pesos. But the law wasn’t on her side. Mexico’s federal labor law mandates that the loss of each hand was worth 75 percent of two years’ wages. Rosa made $4,800 a year. That meant under the law her settlement should be about $14,400, much higher than what the company was offering but scarcely enough to replace a lifetime of lost wages.

Undeterred, Rosa, accompanied by Cira, set out to find a lawyer who would advocate for her in a settlement. They went from one law office to the next in Reynosa but were turned down by every attorney they spoke with. The two women, through another worker, learned that an employee at HD Electronics had been crushed to death in one of the larger presses two years earlier and his family had taken a settlement of 150,000 pesos, approximately $11,538. “The lawyers advised me to take the money because it was all they were required to pay under the law,” Rosa said.

There was also confusion about which company was responsible for Rosa’s compensation. In the past decade, many maquiladoras have outsourced labor contracting to outside companies to cut costs. These labor recruiters are charged with keeping the factories stocked with an unending supply of workers who will work without complaint no matter the conditions.

In the past dozen years, working conditions in maquiladoras have worsened. In 2000, foreign–owned companies began leaving Mexico and moving to China, where the average monthly wage for a factory worker is $160—less than half the wage of a Mexican worker. At least 200,000 Mexican workers lost their jobs, the majority of them in border cities like Reynosa.

Those still on the payroll were given more tasks and expected to work faster. A normal workweek became 48 hours, which is legal under Mexico’s labor laws. Eventually, companies began to return. Wages in China had quadrupled to bolster the emerging Chinese middle class, while Mexico’s wages had stagnated. Asian companies began to view Mexico’s northern border, with its infrastructure already in place, low tariffs and a skilled low-wage workforce, as a desirable location for expanding their market share in North America.

In 2006, HD Electronics moved from South Korea to Reynosa to service its main client, LG Electronics. LG had acquired the formerly U.S.-owned Zenith plant in Reynosa in 2000, launching its “Life’s Good” campaign in North America. The world’s second-largest supplier of liquid crystal and plasma televisions, LG announced in 2012 that its Reynosa factory made $2.5 billion in sales in the North American market. This year it plans to earn $3 billion.

Like most factory workers, Rosa was employed under temporary contracts with a local labor-staffing agency rather than as a full-time employee of the factory, where she might have received benefits. At the time of her accident, Rosa was an employee of neither HD Electronics nor LG Electronics. She was actually an employee of a Reynosa-based employment agency called Human Resources.

The owner of Human Resources declined to comment for this story. After I left several messages at the office of HD Electronics in Reynosa, Antonio Zapata, a human resources manager, said his company had no comment about Rosa’s case.

It’s unclear what corporate relationship, if any, there is between HD Electronics and LG Electronics. On HD’s website, LG Electronics is listed as its only client. John Taylor, vice president of LG Electronics USA, Inc., said HD Electronics is not a subsidiary of LG. “It is a separate company. One of the tens of thousands of LG’s vendors around the world,” Taylor wrote in an email.

Trying to navigate the various corporate entities was difficult. So Cira suggested Rosa go to the union for help. Every maquiladora worker is required to join a union and pay dues. The Industrial Union of Workers in Maquiladora Plants of Reynosa represented Rosa and other workers at HD Electronics. But when the two women arrived at the union office, they received little welcome. Cira said, “A man told us, ‘The person in charge is not here, what do you want?’ I said, ‘Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you see the person standing next to me?’” The man seemed unmoved by Rosa’s plight, Cira said. So the women left in disgust.

Rosa decided to try one more lawyer, who advertised around the city and had an upscale office in the nicer part of Reynosa. Again, Cira accompanied Rosa for moral support. “This was when I really lost faith,” Cira said. “This lawyer in his fancy office told Rosa, ‘You know what you should do, señora? Go up to the international bridge and put a cup out and people will help you. With your injuries you’ll make a lot of money.’” Cira’s face turned red remembering the meeting. Rosa stared at the floor. She couldn’t talk about it. “I couldn’t eat all day after that I was so upset,” Cira said. “I couldn’t imagine how anyone could say something like that.”

It was time to do something drastic. Cira convinced Rosa to call the local television station. A reporter came to Rosa’s house and interviewed her on camera about the accident. Other reporters followed, and the story got significant airplay in northern Mexico. The morning after Rosa’s first interview aired, an attorney from Human Resources arrived at her home. According to Rosa, the woman was upset with her portrayal of the factory and Human Resources. “Why did you go on television and tell lies about us?” the woman asked, according to Rosa. “Now, we’ll lose clients. We’ve made you an offer for a settlement, and we won’t offer another peso more.” Rosa declined the monetary settlement, but accepted the company’s offer of prosthetic hooks. Rosa sent her measurements to Monterrey and anxiously awaited their arrival. But when they came, the cheap prosthetics were too heavy and unwieldy to use, she said. “I would get so tired trying to make them work, and they would make my shoulders hurt, so I stopped using them.”

The night Rosa’s story aired on television, Paulina Hernandez, a maquiladora worker and longtime labor-rights activist, saw it, and vowed to find Rosa and help her. Hernandez is one of nine promotoras, or social workers, in Tamaulipas who works for the nonprofit Comite de Apoyo (Committee of Help) to educate maquila workers about labor laws and their rights. Ed Krueger, a retired minister from the Rio Grande Valley, worked with the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee to create the nonprofit in 1980. Now retired, the 82-year-old still visits Reynosa and neighboring Rio Bravo, dodging potholes and muffler-mangling speed bumps in his battered Ford Escort. Anyone who knows Krueger compares his easy affability to Mister Rogers, but with an iron will to get things done no matter the obstacle. Back in the 1980s, Krueger had been so effective at educating laborers about their rights, he’d received threats from corrupt union bosses and felt it prudent to stay out of Reynosa for nearly a decade. But in recent years he has resumed his regular visits. Even after gun battles erupted in Reynosa in 2010 among drug cartels and the military, and a number of Mexican reporters were kidnapped and killed and most Americans stopped crossing the border, Krueger wouldn’t stay away.

After Hernandez tracked down Rosa, she immediately called Krueger. He set about finding people who might help. I found Rosa through Austin photographer Alan Pogue, a longtime friend of Krueger.

In September, I accompanied Krueger to visit Rosa. As we drove up to a military checkpoint in Reynosa in Krueger’s Ford, he smiled and waved cheerily at the group of soldiers wearing dark sunglasses and draped in assault rifles. They waved us through with scarcely a glance.

Krueger is trying to raise money to bring Rosa to Texas, where she could be fitted for high-tech prosthetic hands that would allow her to support her family again. Meanwhile, unable to find anyone in Mexico who would represent her, Rosa filed a lawsuit in U.S. court against LG Electronics, Inc. John Taylor, spokesperson for LG, said in an email that there was no basis for the lawsuit.

“Ms. Moreno’s injuries were tragic, and LG Electronics extends its sympathies to Ms. Moreno and her family. At the same time I want to emphasize that in no way did LG Electronics cause or contribute to Ms. Moreno’s injuries, and LG Electronics bears no responsibility for them. LG Electronics had no control over the machine that apparently malfunctioned and caused Ms. Moreno’s injuries. All that LG Electronics did was to purchase a part manufactured by [HD Electronics].”

The lawsuit is pending. These days Rosa receives the equivalent of $200 a month in government disability benefits. It has been nearly three years since she lost her hands. When I met with Rosa in September, her house was about to be repossessed. She couldn’t make the monthly payments on the tiny cinder-block home she and her husband had taken a mortgage on through the government-run Infonavit housing program. She worried she might end up on the streets soon, a cup in front of her, just as the lawyer had suggested.

She has little recourse. The NAFTA side agreement negotiated by Salinas and Clinton to protect workers 20 years ago never panned out. Under the agreement, workers, like Rosa, with grievances can request a hearing at a government entity called the National Administrative Office. From there, the complaint is sent to the respective country’s labor secretary for further consultation and eventually resolution.
But the system was set up to fail, according to NAFTA’s many critics. The handful of cases submitted were never resolved. A decade after NAFTA took effect, the UCLA Center for Labor, Research and Education found workers were already abandoning the process. “They are disillusioned and frustrated by the weak outcomes of ministerial consultations and the governments’ refusal to pursue even the best-documented cases,” the center concluded. Rosa, Paulina Hernandez and nearly a dozen other maquiladora workers I spoke with weren’t even aware that a grievance process through NAFTA existed.

There’s no shortage of need. Having spent more than 30 years advocating for workers’ rights, Hernandez emphasized that what happened to Rosa isn’t unique; what makes Rosa different is her tenacity and willingness to speak out publicly. In three decades, Hernandez had seen dozens of illnesses, injuries and even deaths. Seldom had she seen a worker receive adequate compensation or government officials crack down on worker-safety violations. Maquiladoras wanting to protect the bottom line often underreport workplace injuries and fatalities so it’s difficult to get an idea of the true scope of the problem. In 2011, the year Rosa had her accident, the Mexican Social Security Institute, which oversees the government-run hospitals, reported just 17,302 workplace accidents. Advocates say that is likely a gross undercount. That same year, the United States, albeit with three times the population of Mexico, reported 2.8 million workplace accidents.

After visiting with Rosa, Krueger and I drove to the neighboring town of Rio Bravo. We arrived at a semi-desolate neighborhood of Infonavit-funded homes in the middle of a former sorghum field where many maquiladora workers live. Maquiladoras pay 5 percent of their payroll taxes into Infonavit, the Spanish acronym for the Institute for the National Fund for Employee Housing, to help workers buy homes. But the agency has become infamous in Mexico for shoddy housing, cronyism and an inflexible bureaucracy.

The recently built rows of identical concrete homes felt impermanent and at the same time hopeful. It was an improvement over the makeshift shantytowns so many workers lived in on the outskirts of the city. But the neighborhood was a microcosm of the problems currently afflicting Mexico. Some homes were boarded up or had for-sale signs in the front windows advertising rock-bottom prices. Their former owners had lost their jobs and, unable to pay their mortgages, abandoned their homes. The families who remained—most of them first-time homebuyers—had painted their homes in hopeful blues or vibrant greens and planted decorative trees in front, trying to make the most of it.

But at the entrance to the neighborhood, men hawked black-market gasoline stolen from the government-owned oil monopoly from a flatbed truck. And nearby, state police armed with high-caliber assault rifles had set up a roadblock and were randomly stopping vehicles, especially those containing young men, pulling them out of their cars to be searched and sometimes detained.
In the living room of a bright-green house with a sparkling tile floor, we met with some of the other Comite de Apoyo promotoras and seven of their fellow maquiladora workers. One woman had her arm in a sling. She told me she was in acute pain after years of working in a U.S.-owned wheelchair factory and would have to have surgery, but the maquiladora wouldn’t acknowledge her injury as work-related. Another man had been exposed to dangerous solvents for years and had not been given any protective equipment. A man in a red baseball hat was so furious about the union’s refusal to help him in a work-related dispute that he spoke in rapid-fire bursts as if he might explode. During their years working in the maquiladoras, they told me, they’d seen numerous accidents, even deaths, and the conditions for workers were deteriorating.

“It’s our own government that has sold us out,” said the husband of the woman with the sling. His wife, like the other women at the meeting, seemed to be taking her difficulties in stride, but her husband, like the man in the red cap, could barely contain his rage. “They’re enslaving us,” he said. “But what can we do? We have to eat. When we get hurt, they forget us. We are disposable.”

Afterward, on the way back to the international bridge, we stopped at a red light near Rosa’s house. Between the idling cars, a middle-aged man with no legs propping himself up on makeshift crutches held out a cup for change. Another man, who looked to be in his mid-20s, hobbled up to the car on his one leg and offered his outstretched hand. The light turned green, and a cacophony of car horns erupted. The young man stared blankly as the cars passed him by.

Please help Rosa Moreno obtain prosthetics.

Published on Thursday, December 5, 2013, at 2:15 CST by the Texas Observer and reprinted with their permission. Alan Pogue’s work, including the photos in this story, is currently on display at La Peña Gallery as part of “Alan Pogue: A 46-Year Retrospective of Peace & Justice Photography.” For more information, visit www.lapena-austin.org.

A fund has been established to help Rosa Moreno. You can make a donation.

Back to January , 2014 Table of Contents

Mexican Petroleum Techs and Professionals on Energy Reform

Position of the National Union of Petroleum Technicians and Professionals (UNTyPP) in the Forum on the Energy Reform of the PRD

For the National Union of Petroleum Technicians and Professionals, UNTyPP, a trade union registered with Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare, it is very important for us to disclose our views in this forum, since in the media debate on the energy reform, the voice of the workers has been absent.

For us, energy is not an economic sector, rather a structural dimension of the economy, with an impact on all social life; it is a strategic sector, not a common good or commodity, which makes it a question of sovereignty and national security. For that reason, we are opposed to the modification of paragraph 4 of article 28 of the Constitution, since it would eliminate petroleum, the rest of the hydrocarbons, basic petrochemistry, and electricity from the “strategic areas.”

As has become evident in these forums, the data on the reality of PEMEX is convincing: in revenue, it is the 13th largest business in Latin America and the 34th worldwide. It is the 13th largest business for crude oil reserves and the 5th largest producer of crude oil in the world. It has the lowest crude oil extraction cost ($6.84 per barrel, compared to $13.62 at Petrobas), the lowest operation cost (9.8% in 2011), and a labor-to-revenue ratio of 4.59%, compared to Norway’s 25.29%. It is the business with the biggest investments in our country (more than all Mexican businesses’ investments combined, as listed in the Mexican Stock Exchange), and its contributions to the Treasury (901,786 million pesos in 2012, and 6,400 billion pesos during the two National Action Party [PAN] presidencies) make it indispensable for national development.

It is obvious that PEMEX does not require associates, strategic alliances, private investment through multiple-service contracts/comprehensive contracts, or the opening of a part of its capital in the Stock Exchange, being that it generates enough to develop and repair plants, and buy the necessary technology. For that, it is enough for the Treasury to tax other big Mexican corporations and leave them 10% of their total revenue, in order to start restoring the systems that, due to negligence or intentionality, have been abandoned.

In allowing private corporations to refine oil, as proposed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) initiative, the future of our refineries becomes uncertain. The multinational corporations will build their own refineries and ours will continue without maintenance, declining until they are closed and converted into junk, as occurred with the railways; or, the plants will be dismantled and their parts sold as scrap metal, as is already happening with some petrochemical labs.

The energy reform initiatives of the PRI and PAN not only attack the national sovereignty and put the future of our country at risk, but they also attack our way of work, our right to work, and our right to a fair salary and pension that will allow us to have a respectable old age.

It is argued that workers will not be fired and our rights will be respected. Does anyone believe them? If refineries and petrochemical labs are closed, what happens to us? Will the refineries and petrochemical labs of the private corporations give us work? Will they respect our seniorities? Will they respect the collective bargaining agreement? For how long? We don’t have funds for pensions. Who will pay the pensions for retirees if we haven’t given our share to the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE), or the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS)?

We are not lying to ourselves in saying that, our future, if the proposed initiatives are passed, will be the same as that lived by 85 million workers, who are currently under contract by outsourcing in over 400 private multinational corporations that work with Pemex:
- Job instability
- No social security
- Low or null benefits (bonuses, vacation bonuses, etc)
- 12-hour (and even 16-hour) workdays
- Lower salaries than PEMEX employee salaries

We Do Not Believe Your Propaganda:

- You said you wouldn’t sell a single screw of PEMEX and you’ve sold 56% of the Pajaritos petrochemical complex.
- The administrative union agreement Number 10717/2013, between the National Union of Petroleum Workers in the Mexican Republic (STPRM) and PEMEX, prepares the combination and elimination of positions and departments, and voluntary and mandatory retirements, through a so-called downsizing.
- The magnified media portrayal of PEMEX is ongoing, thus preparing the destruction of the pension regimen.

We reiterate that we oppose any attempt to privatize PEMEX or to give the petroleum yield to the multinational corporations. In hopes of retaining national interest we have developed an alternative project with 8 main ideas that, in the interest of time, we will summarize in a few points:

First:

The social national development must be the priority in the distribution of petroleum yield.
- Halt privatization and rescind the transfer of operations and petroleum yield to the private sector.
- Conserve a percentage of generated revenue for PEMEX, in order to finance strategic projects in exploration, production, and industrial transformation.
- Expand programs in communities near refineries in order to apply with social justice the benefits of petroleum wealth.

Second:

Energy security and national economic development as planning priorities in the short and long term.
- Assure the cooperation between Mexican petroleum workers and the Federal Commission of Electricity in order to reach the optimal national energy balance.
- Do not increase crude oil exports, to avoid the overexploitation of deposits, always prioritizing giving the refinery the necessary petroleum for it to work at its maximum capacity.
- Determine the prices of the subsidiaries of PEMEX, not over the international reference base prices, but over its production costs.
- PEMEX should return to being the detonator of productive chains; the reindustrialization of Mexico and national employment.

Third:

Technological development of Mexican petroleum workers and of the Mexican Institute of Petroleum (IMP).
- Accomplish long-term technological efforts for the competitiveness of exported products, and develop environmentally-friendly technology.
- Remove IMP labor from mercantilism logic and reorient it according to the strategic character of the petroleum industry, for which it will have to be 100% dedicated to basic and applied research, with public resources.

Fourth:

Exploit and transform the hydrocarbons in a rational and efficient way.

In exploration and production:
- Immediately suspend the nitrogen injection in Cantarell and Jujo-Tecominoacán, for the damage it causes to the quality and recuperation of hydrocarbons.
- Prioritize the exploration of prospects on land and on shallow waters, before going to deep waters.
- Cancel the comprehensive contracts on exploration and production in mature fields, Chicontepec and deep waters, because they give the petroleum yield to multinational corporations, thus violating the Constitution.

In refining:
- Supply to the National System of Refining 1,690,000 barrels of crude oil daily, which is its installed atmospheric distillation capacity, to reduce gasoline imports in the short term.
- Reactivate the construction of Bicentennial Refinery (RefineríaBicentenario) and build three new refineries, to process an additional minimum 900,000 barrels of crude oil daily, which are necessary to reach auto-sufficiency in petroleum products.

In natural gas:
- Reduce the use of natural gas as fuel, instead using it in the development of productive petrochemical chains.
- Cancel the multiple-service contracts for gas exploitation in the Burgos Basin, because they are unnecessary, unaffordable, and unconstitutional.
- Advance the exploration and quantification of shale gas reserves, but no exploitation until environmentally-friendly technologies are invented.

In petrochemistry:
- Recover the property and the whole national operation of the petrochemical industry.
- Reactivate the production in the petrochemical complexes of Petróleos Mexicanos and achieve the required expansions according to the internal demand of petrochemicals.
- Cancel the alliance of Pajaritos petrochemical complex with the private business Mexichem, since the administrative Council of PEMEX exceeded its legal rights when it leased NATIONAL PROPERTY.

Fifth:

Administer with autonomy, efficiency, transparency, and sustainability.
- Reconvert PEMEX into one comprehensive business.
- Simplify and make transparent the administrative processes, especially purchasing, and workforce hiring and services.
- Accomplish commercialization on a national and international level, in a direct and transparent form through Mexican Petroleums. The holdings of businesses PMI ComercioInternacional, S.A. de C.V. must be reconfigured under the authority of PEMEX, or disappear.

Sixth:

Operate the petroleum industry with security and respect for the environment and the communities.
- Strengthen programs with sufficient resources in order to maintain optimal levels of security in operations and industrial processes.
- Assume and prevent environmental debt with communities near refineries, particularly regarding illnesses and soil, subsoil, and aquifer contamination.

Seventh:

Define a new regulatory framework that will optimize the relations between executive personnel, middle management (technicians and petroleum professionals), and the operating manual.
- Reform the regulatory law of Article 123 and whatever else may be necessary in order to legalize the Collective Contract of Professional Technicians and Petroleum Workers (CCTyPP), to favor an efficient performance for this sector, which is the key sector for the modernization of Petróleos Mexicanos.
- The administration of Petróleos Mexicanos must respect human labor rights, established in international agreements and the labor laws of the country and, in particular, the right to organize and union liberty.
- Denounce and punish, in an exemplary manner, the representatives of the administration and unions involved in acts of corruption.
- Guarantee training programs at all levels.
- Halt unjustified dismissal of professional and technical personnel for asserting the most basic human rights, to organize and to liberty, which are enunciated globally.

Eighth:

Petroleum resources used for the development of villages. Energy as a human right.
- Cancel Mexico’s participation in the Association for the Security and Prosperity of North America (ASPAN), in order to break all ties with the vices of current petroleum politics that subordinate Mexico to the interests of the United States.
- Half Mexico’s asymmetric and subordinate energy integration with the United States, and drive the integration with Latin American countries.

WE DEMAND:

- Respect for the Constitution.
- No modification of Articles 27 and 28.
- Reinstatement of PEMEX technicians and professionals dismissed for having formed our union.
- Total recognition from the administration of Petróleos Mexicanos of the national executive committee of the National Union of Petroleum Technicians and Professionals.
- No fracking.
- Cancel the alliance of Pajaritos petrochemical complex with the private business, Mexichem.

The future of the petroleum industry is in the hands of the Mexican people. President Lázaro Cárdenas’ affirmation in 1938 is very applicable: it is urgent to launch the “defense, conservation, development, and use of the riches in petroleum deposits,” the petroleum infrastructure and the qualifications of its workers. We, the petroleum workers of today, are responsible for the re-expropriation of the Mexican petroleum industry “for public utility and the benefit of the nation.”

For An Integrated And National Petroleum Industry, With Service To Our Country!!

National Union Of Petroleum Technicians And Professionals

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

Archived MLNA issues.

 

Arturo Silva Doray

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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

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

 


 

For more Information

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

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

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

 

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