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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

May , 2014, Vol. 19, No. 5

 

May Day Marchers Reject Peña Nieto's Reforms

On May Day, International Labor Day, two independent union federations marched and rallied in Mexico City’s zócalo, the national plaza of the constitution, in opposition to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s structural reforms of labor, education, and energy. Earlier in the day, however, the Congress of Labor (CT), made up of the unions that are affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and that support the president, had occupied that same square. The CT’s orators praised the president and his structural reforms.

The National Union of Workers (UNT) and the New Workers Center (NCT), both independent federations, arrived in the zócalo at the same time, but rallied separately. The UNT crowd was made up of telephone, university employees, airline pilots, miners and FAT unions. Most striking were the gasoline workers who marched as zombies with pallid skin and horrible scars painted on their faces. The NCT crowd was dominated by the electrical workers, the dissident teacher caucus, and the streetcar drivers (la CNTE). Spokespeople for each of the independent federations issued statements opposing Peña Nieto’s reforms.

The CT’s “official” labor day demonstration was as usual made up of workers motivated by fear of being fired and the promise of beer and barbeque. But, even so, when their leaders spoke the workers’ whistled at them, the Mexican equivalent of booing. That same day, CT president Ramón Humberto Ojeda Silva attended the annual ceremony with the Mexican President and representatives of private industry. Ojeda Silva said that the president’s reforms would bring sustainable economic growth and improvements for workers. Several leaders of UNT affiliated unions went to Los Pinos to meet with Pena Nieto but, according to La Jornada, the NCT said they wouldn't go to the besamanos.

In Axochiapan, Morelos, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leader of the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), a newly formed political party, told the crowd that he agreed with the priest José María Morelos y Pavón, the revolutionary independence leader of the early nineteenth century (after whom the state of Morelos is named) who in his Sentiments of the Nation had called for higher wages. Two hundred years later the demand still rings true, he suggested. “How can a worker support a family on less than 2,000 pesos a month?” asked López Obrador. MORENA is currently collecting two million signatures calling for a referendum to nullify the recently passed energy reform.

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May First – Ron's Doubts

By Arturo Alcalde Justiniani; translation by Dan LaBotz. This column originally appeared in Spanish at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/05/03/opinion/0

Ron, a Canadian trade unionist, visited us so that he could attend the International Labor Day demonstrations [in Mexico City]. He went early to the Zócalo [the central square] to observe the rally of the Congress of Labor, the corporativist organization, now fallen into decadence, made up of men and women workers who made clear their boredom and irritation. They had been forced by their leaders and their federations which on this one day of the year want to demonstrate that they are not dead. He saw that the officials gave out caps,t-shirts and cold refreshments and took roll of those in attendance. The tedium was only broken by the jokes of some young workers at the ridiculous speeches and the grotesque ceremony in the course of which a medal was given to a leader of the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM). Those who attended would get a day off and some clothing. They were curious to find themselves with some of the affiliates of the gigantic SUTGDF that is made up of the rank-and-file workers of the Government of the Federal District. They wondered why if they were working for a progressive government [of the Party of the Democratic Revolution – PRD], they had returned to the Union Federation of Workers at the Service of the State which belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Ron stayed for the marches of the independent unions and heard their slogans demanding the right of workers to choose their own unions and the right, still denied, of workers to be consulted about their contracts. Article 388 bis was supposed to do away with the so-called protection contracts and the violence of the ghost unions against the firms. He noted that the federal government needed to sign Conventions 98 and 154 of the International Labor Organization, which are related to collective bargaining, as well as the need to attend to that organization’s recommendations regarding complaint 2694 presented by the most important union organizations in the world.

A good many of the banners and slogans referred to protests over low wages, particularly the minimum wage, which has become a shameful issue. Just now there is news that the head of the Federal District Government has called for a national debate over the minimum wage. It’s about time.

The independent union contingents also protested against the government’s economic policies and its failure to fulfill its promises regarding universal social security, which include unemployment insurance and universal pensions. People were obviously bothered by the federal executive’s intention to force workers to pay for unemployment insurance by using their Infonavit [workers housing] funds, an issue where the corporativist unions had been accomplices voting in favor of that in the House of Representatives. The contingents also made clear their rejection of the so-called structural reforms, particularly the energy and telecommunications laws. The workers know how damaging they will be for their own future and for that of their families.

Our visitor noted that the government needed to solve the problem of the unjust firing of the electrical workers and to reject the multimillion dollar campaign of the mining companies, led by Minera México, against the Miners' union and its leader. He told us why the workers in his country have adopted this struggle as their own. The airline workers protested the government’s complicity with Gastón Azcárrag in the bankruptcy of Mexicana Airlines. The flight attendants of Aeroméxico expressed their rejection of the decision regarding an economic issue in their collective bargaining agreement which cancelled contractual right for new generations. Once again the Sandak-Bata workers of Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala marched, and they continue to be heard, despite the massive firing and long strike. The teachers, as always, mobilized and participated.

The Canadian trade unionist was excited to see that the leaders of the independent union movement demonstrated their autonomy through their demands, however, it was strange to him that there were separate marches of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and of the so-called New Workers Center, even though their demands were similar. He was also surprised to learn that several of the independent union officials, together with those who wear the official union logos, had first attended a breakfast with the head of the Mexico City government, later mobilized in the streets to protest the economic and labor policies of the federal government, and then at midday went to Los Pinos [the presidential residence] to greet the President of the Republic and the businessmen who had been invited. He found their behavior a little schizophrenic.

Ron raised several different questions about the Mexican model of labor unionism. We explained the critical situation of workers today who have been beaten down for decades by government policies that don’t promote economic growth, employment, nor well-being and social equity. We explained that work has been converted into a commodity without any protection, the proof of which was to be found in subcontracting and the wage policies promoted by the authorities; that labor right are seen by government and businessmen as issues of the past, the law if not complied with, the system of tripartite labor justice is just a game because impartial and independent judges don’t exist.

It became clear to us that it’s hard for a foreign trade unionist—accustomed to organizations that enjoy internal democracy and autonomy, and which governments consult regarding public policies, as in the case of Canada—to understand a model such as ours which operates against the workers’ interest as well as that of future generations.

On Another Issue:

We give our solidarity to the hunger strike of the six leaders of the Union of the Autonomous University of Colima led by general secretary Leonardo Gutiérrez Chávez, which the state’s governor has refused to recognize because it dared to ask what happened to 300 million pesos in its pension fund.

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Party of Democratic Revolution at 25: Disappointment & Disillusion

By Dan La Botz

The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which was founded in 1989 as the hope of the left, celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary on May 5 amidst expressions of disappointment and disillusion. The hope that the PRD would become a left political party capable of winning the presidency and a majority in the legislature and changing the face of Mexico has not been fulfilled. The principal founder of the party and repeat presidential candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, speaking on the occasion of the party’s twenty-fifth anniversary, said that the Party of the Democratic Revolution is “far from that which we proposed to construct” back in 1989. And its other most important former leader, also a repeat presidential candidate, and the party’s biggest vote-getter, Andés Manuel López Obrador, has left the PRD gone off to found a rival left party, the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA).

While there is no question that the PRD will continue to play a role in Mexican politics, there is considerable doubt about its leftist character and its value to the country’s working people. The Mexican government, the corporate media, and the two major parties—the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN)—have done everything possible to deny the PRD the possibility of winning a presidential election or becoming the majority in congress. At the same time, internal factionalism, bribery scandals, alleged involvement with the drug cartels, and the suggestion from others on the far left that the Mexican political system and all of its parties are corrupt and undeserving of support have, over the years, discredited the party in the eyes of many Mexicans. The PRD’s problems, some would argue, spring from its birth when elements of the PRI joined with Communists and other leftists to create a party focused on elections.

The Origins and Growth of the Prd

In the mid-1980s a new group of “technocrats” trained at universities in the United States took power in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), advocating neoliberal economic reforms such as theprivatization of state-owned industries, open markets, and increased foreign investment, as well as cuts in state social welfare spending and a reduction of the power of the labor unions. In reaction to the PRI’s sudden rightward turn, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of Mexico’s most famous and beloved modern president, Lázaro Cárdenas, broke with that leadership and established the Democratic Current within the PRI. Then in 1988, Cárdenas left the PRI, formed the National Democratic Front (FDN), attracting support from many on the far left, and ran for president, but lost to his technocratic opponent Carlos Salinas de Gortari, in what most observers believe was a stolen election.

Following his defeat, Lázaro Cárdenas and his allies Porfirio Muñoz Ledo and Ifigenia Martínez, left the PRI to found the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). This break from the PRI immediately attracted Mexico’s two major leftist organizations which had already worked with Cárdenas in the FDN: the Mexican Workers Party (PMT) of Herberto Castillo and José Álvarez Icaza and the Unified Socialist Party of Mexico (PSUM) — Mexico’s pro-Soviet Communist Party — led by Arnold Martinez and Gilberto Rincón Gallardo. It also attracted other smaller parties, some of them much further to the left coming from nationalist, Castroite, Maoist, and Trotskyist traditions. The PRD, originally made up of longtime PRI politicians found itself involved with leftists whose work had been among peasants and workers or which, in some cases, had been armed guerrilla groups. While the PRD became somewhat more left with the ingress of the old left parties, the historic left itself virtually disappeared from the Mexican scene.

The PRD took as its symbol the “Sol Azteca,” a yellow, rising sun promising a bright future for the country’s working people. Party leaders pledged to create a party whose leaders would be honest, transparent and responsive to the membership. The PRD’s ideology from the time of its founding until today has been leftist and nationalist, nominally in the tradition of General Lázaro Cárdenas who as president in the 1930s nationalized the foreign oil companies, recognized the industrial labor unions, and distributed millions of acres to poor peasants and indigenous communities. Lázaro Cárdenas also reorganized the state-party by incorporating the labor unions and peasant leagues as its constituent organizations, creating the modern Mexican corporativist state-party. His successors affiliated the PRI to the Socialist International, the organization of the European socialist and social democratic parties.

The General’s son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, represented the living embodiment of that left, nationalist tradition, though acting within the context of the neoliberal agenda being imposed by the United States, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, the son’s pronouncements and practice became center-left. López Obrador followed a similar trajectory, left rhetoric giving way to more conservative practice. For example as mayor of Mexico City, he hired U.S. Republican Rudy Giuliani to help him develop a “zero tolerance policy.” The PRD never pretended to be either a working class or a socialist party; it was a self-conceived people’s party fighting for reform. The PRD’s program was only mildly social democratic, its rhetoric populist in the Mexican political tradition, and its practice increasingly compromised by both political bargains and corruption.

The Prd’s Political Record

During the 1990s the PRD succeeded in electing several congressmen and then senators as well, winning its greatest number of representatives in both houses in 2006. Since 1997 when Cuauhtémoc won the post, the PRD has won every election for mayor of Mexico City. The party, strongest in central and southern Mexico, also succeeded in winning the governor’s mansion in several states in those regions, though it also once won the governorship of Baja California Sur. The PRD ran Cárdenas as its candidate for president in 1994 and 2000 and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2006 and 2012. Like the 1988 election, the 2006 election was also believed to have been stolen.

While achieving enough political success to make it Mexico’s second or third political party—after the PRI and the conservative National Action party—the PRD also appeared to degenerate into just another Mexican political party. The PRD’s internal life became riven by factionalism, the factions generally based on alliances among the various, former left parties that had helped to found the party. If one names only the most important factions, there have been more than half a dozen: the New Left, the National Democratic Left, the National Democratic Alternative, the New Sun Forum, the Political Action Group, the Worthy Fatherland, and the Progressive Movement. In particular, the National Democratic Left faction fought for years to wrestle control of the party from Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and for the political offices and perquisites that come with such control.

Most damaging to the PRD’s reputation were the video-scandals of 2004 in which businessman Carlos Ahumada was videotaped passing money along to various politicians of the PRI, the Mexican Green Ecological Party (PVEM), the PAN, and the PRD. René Bejarano, López Obrador’s personal secretary, was videotaped accepting US$1.45 million. The whole scheme of bribes and tapes seemed to have been arranged in an attempt to discredit López Obrador. Then, in 2009, Jesús César Godoy Toscano, a PRD congressman in Michoacán, was accused of having ties with The Family, the drug cartel that controlled the state’s narcotics business. He fled and, after losing his legislative immunity, remains a fugitive from justice. The PRD’s internal factionalism, the video-scandals, and the presence of a drug dealer in its ranks, seemed to prove that on its fifteenth anniversary it was simply another Mexican party based upon political fear and favors.

While the PRD claimed to be the genuine expression of the Mexican left, it was challenged by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the small group of revolutionaries who had led a peasant rebellion in the southernmost state of Chiapas on January 1, 1994. The Zaptistas, who also placed themselves in the left nationalist tradition, consistently rejected the existing Mexican government and its political parties, including the Party of the Democratic Revolution. EZLN spokesman Subcomandante Marcos spoke scathingly of the PRD and its candidates Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and López Obrador, arguing that they were simply another expression of Mexico’s corrupt political system. For the last twenty years the EZLN has rejected any cooperation with the PRD or any participation in electoral politics, although most other far left groups have critically or uncritically supported the PRD’s campaigns one way or another.

The Prd Challenged

Over the last 25 years the PRD has suffered numerous defections, including of some of its most important leaders: founder Porfirio Muñoz Ledo left in 2000, former Mexico City Mayor Rosario Robles in 2004, and Leonel Cota, former governor of Baja California Sur in 2012. The most important renegade, however, is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the party’s top vote-getter in the presidential election of 2006 when he won 35.3 percent of the vote; in 2012 he received 31.6 percent. He argues that he was the real victor in both “fraudulent” elections. In 2012 López Obrador left the PRD and founded the Movement of National Regeneration pledging to make it the political party of the left. He has already announced that he will be its candidate for president in 2018.

At the PRD’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, Cárdenas criticized the PRD from wandering from its radical, founding ideas. “The discourse about having to create ‘a modern left that distances itself from radicalism’ only serves the interests of the sell-out regime,” he said. “Principles are not just a fashion.”

Commenting on the chasm between the party’s founding principles and its current situation, Cárdenas asked rhetorically, “Responsible? On the one hand, the hostility of the state and the so-called real powers that have fought against the PRD’s project of national sovereignty and democracy, and on the other, all of us who founded and make up this organization are all also responsible.”

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GÓmez Urrutia, Miner Leader, Still Unable to Return to Mexico

The Mexican Miners Union (SNTMMRM) held its thirty-eighth regular union convention at the beginning of May and, once again, its leader had to deliver his remarks by electronic communication from Canada.

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the general secretary of the Mexican Miners Union still fears returning from Vancouver British Columbia to Mexico while the government maintains a warrant for his arrest. He has asked Mexican Secretary of Labor Alfono Navarrete Prida to stop politically persecuting him. Navarrete has responded that all Gómez Urrutia has to do is return to Mexico and appear before a judge.

Over the past eight years the government has presented the same accusation of defrauding the union of US$55 million against Gómez Urrutia eleven times, and each time it has been overturned because there is no foundation to the charges, say Miners Union leaders.

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Dissident Teachers Still Reject Education Reform

The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), which has been meeting with the government, still rejects the recently passed Education Reform Law. During the first week of May, teachers renewed protest demonstrations in Mexico City and in other states and cities.

The CNTE leaders say they are negotiating national salaries with the federal government without forgetting the demands of the states. “We are not going to accept the imposition of the educational reform,” said Enrique Enríquez Ibarra, a spokesman. “The CNTE is united and we have an action plan that we will apply simultaneously in at least 25 of 33 states.”

The dissident teacher leaders say that they are bargaining “not only wages and working conditions, but also have social demands.” They include in that list free uniforms, school supplies, hot breakfasts, and scholarships “to attack the real cause of educational backwardness: dropping out and absenteeism.” Those “social demands,” however, are in many cases the law and are also regular demands of the Teachers Union (el SNTE). So far, la CNTE has little to say about the problems of the educational system in areas such as curriculum.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Mexican teachers, afraid that they will not be able to pass the new evaluations, are retiring early. Last year 27,000 of the country’s approximately one million teachers retired early, compared to 11,360 for the previous year. In 2012 only 1,697 teachers sought early retirement. Those retiring are more experienced teachers who earn higher salaries. In 2012 those retiring early earned on the average 5,419 pesos (US$418) per month.

Teachers continue to come under pressure from educational reform organizations such as Mexicans First (Mexicanos Primero) which recently cited government statistics in a report in which it claimed that while Mexico has 978,000 teachers, some 39,000 of them are ghost workers who do no teaching or are deceased workers whose names remain on the employee lists. They claim that this is costing Mexico about 95 million pesos per day or 95 million pesos per year.

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Labor Shorts: Social Security, Public Sector, Teachers, and Mine Workers,

Social Security Workers Union Wins Recovery of Positions, Promotions

The Institute of Social Security for Workers at the service of the State (ISSTE) and the labor union representing the institute’s workers, reached agreement in early June to reestablish more than 600 lost positions together with a promise that there will be no more posts eliminated. In addition, more than 800 nurses will be promoted to higher job categories based on their seniority.

Workers Verbally and Physically Assault Michoacán Governor

Public employees who are member of the Union of Workers at the Service of the Executive Branch (STASPE), representing over 7,000 workers, verbally and physically attacked governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, claiming he was responsible for declaring their strike to be illegal. The Tribunal of Conciliation and Arbitration (TCA) declared the strike illegal shortly before the union’s actions.

Teachers Want Former Leader Tried for Her Crimes

The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) is demanding that Elba Esther Gordillo, who is in prison for defrauding the union of millions of dollars, also be tried for her crimes against the members, including her alleged role in the killing of Misael Núñez Acosta.

Napoleón Gómez Awarded Arthur Svensson Prize

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, head of the Mexican mineworkers union, Los Mineros, won this year’s Arthur Svensson International Prize for trade union rights. Reported by IndustriALL Global Union.

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Economic Statistics

Economic Growth

Since the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican economy has not grown by more than 2 percent, the lowest rate of growth in 13 years. Mexico’s economy is still expected to grow by only 3.1 percent this year. Last year it grew by 1.1 percent. Manufacturing is down significantly.

Job Creation

In 2013, Mexico created only 402,000 jobs out of a goal of two million, according to the Mexican Institute of Social Security.

Mexico’s Public Debt

Mexico’s public debt soared in 2013 to US$8.372 billion, compared to the previous year’s US$6.26 billion.

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Social Statistics: Women Head 25 Percent of Households

Women are heads of 25 percent of Mexico’s 25 million households according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography. More than six million women are both heads of households and mothers of families.


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Resources

NACLA features Mexico

The featured section of the current issue of NACLA: The North American Congress on Latin America titled “Mexico: The State Against the Working Class” is an important collection of articles on all aspects of the Mexican government and workers.

The Bullet Analyzes Mexico in Light of NAFTA

Mexican Workers in the Continental Crucible by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco The Bullet Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 981
May 11, 2014

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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.

Can you reprint these articles?

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

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

 

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