|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
August , 2014, Vol. 19, No. 8
Contents for this issue:
- Grupo Mexico Responsible for 'Worst Environmental Mining Disaster'
- Railroad Workers’ Welfare Funds Bankrupt
- Former Braceros Demand Their Social Welfare Funds
- Mexican Social Security to Incorporate Domestic Workers
- Women Workers Speak Out Against Violence
- Mexico Debates the Minimum Wage
- Left Leader López Obrador Collects Signatures, Calls for President's Resignation
- An Open Letter to Andrés Manuel López Obrador
- Labor Shorts: Pemex Has a Year to Reach Agreement with Union
- Economic Shorts: Mexico Creating Too Few Jobs
Grupo Mexico Responsible for 'Worst Environmental Mining Disaster'
Buenavista del Cobre, better known as the Cananea Mine and owned by Grupo Mexico, spilt 40 million liters of toxic residues into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers in Cananea, Sonora on August 6, creating what Juan José Guerra Abud, the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) calls “the worst environmental disaster of the mining industry in the country.” He attributed the toxic spill that poisoned the rivers to “neglect.”
The Permanent Commission of the Mexican Congress made up of representatives of all political parties in the legislature called for the suspension of all activities at the mine. They also called upon the Mexican Attorney General to bring appropriate charges against the company for environmental damage.
The Mexican government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, however, ruled out closing the copper mine which is the largest in Mexico and one of the largest in the world.
Miners' Strike Closes Mine
On August 20 some 800 members of Local 65 of the National Union of Miners and Metalworkers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM or los Mineros), blocked the three principal entrances to the mine, carrying out a strike which had been declared illegal by the labor authorities. Sergio Tolano, the leader of Local 65, said, “This crime against the inhabitants of Sonora has to be stopped. When three years ago we declared the mine to be unsafe and unhealthy, federal forces were sent to throw us out of the mine.”
The National Water Commission (CONAGUA) reported that the spill was caused by a broken polyethylene pipe at one of the mine's leachate tanks and by a faulty valve at another tank. CONAGUA placed the blame for the disaster directly on the company.
Buenavista del Cobre, the Grupo Mexico subsidiary, claimed that studies showed the spill was caused by an unforeseeable increase in rainfall, which triggered a rise in the level of water and copper sulfate at a holding tank under construction at the copper mine. Guerra Abud said that that there had been no rain and that the company’s claim was “absolutely false.”
David Korenfield of CONAGUA said that his agency had taken 1,020 samples which had been analyzed in certified laboratories and that they had detected the presence of arsenic, cadmium, led, copper, aluminum, and iron, with levels “beyond ecological and health norms.”
The disaster affects about 24,000 people who live in the area, five of whom have reported health problems so far. Such chemicals can cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and weakness, as well as long term damage to liver and kidneys.
Railroad Workers’ Welfare Funds Bankrupt
Two welfare funds of the Union of Railroad Workers of the Mexican Republic (STFRM) are bankrupt: the pension fund, which should have assets of 14.5 billion pesos, and the life insurance fund, which is missing 345 million pesos. (1 peso – US 7.6 cents) The life insurance fund has made no payments to widows of railroad workers since 2012, while the pension fund is now unable to make payments.
The Brotherhood of Retired Mexican Railroad Workers blames union head Victor Flores Morales and has filed criminal charges against him. Flores Morales, for his part, blames the state bank, Nacional Financiera (Nafinsa) which, since the railroads were privatized, has managed the union’s social welfare funds.
The funds were contributions both from the employer and from the workers. Some workers continued to make payments to the life insurance fund even after it went bankrupt and could no longer pay their survivors.
Former Braceros Demand Their Social Welfare Funds
The Binational Coordinating Committee of Ex-Braceros, representing some 4,600 workers who labored in the United States from 1942 to 1967, organized a series of national marches to Mexico City to demand that President Enrique Peña Nieto fulfill what they say is the legal mandate to replenish the ex-bracero fund. The former braceros who worked mostly on farms but also in mines, on railroads, and in factories in the United States, claim that the government illegally misappropriated the braceros’ welfare funds.
When the braceros worked in the United States during World War II and in the post-war period up until the mid-1960s, the Mexican government deducted a percentage of their pay to create a social welfare fund for their future retirement. But when it came time to retire, it was discovered that the funds had disappeared. So in May of 2005, under pressure from the former braceros, the government created a special Social Support Fund for Ex-Mexican Migratory Farmworkers with initial assets of 38 million pesos for some 190,000 of the 3,233,755 who had once worked in the fields and factories of the United States under the bracero program.
But, say the ex-braceros, when Peña Nieto became president, he neglected to provide any funds in the 2013-2014 budget.
Mexican Social Security to Incorporate Domestic Workers
The Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) will begin to incorporate domestic workers into its system which provides health care and pensions to industrial workers. The incorporation of these workers—overwhelmingly women who work in the homes of Mexico’s middle and upper classes—represents a significant development for working women.
Women with a number of previously existing conditions, however, may be excluded from the program. Those conditions include: malignant tumors, Gaucher’s disease, chronic liver problems, chronic kidney insufficiency, cardiovascular issues of various sorts, and chronic pulmonary obstructions leading to respiratory insufficiency. Also excluded are those with connective tissue diseases, alcoholism or other substance abuse, mental problems such as psychosis and dementia, and congenital or HIV-acquired immune deficiency illnesses.
Those covered by the system will be entitled to disability pensions and retirement at an advanced age (60) or old age (65), as well as benefits for widows and orphans.
Women Workers Speak Out Against Violence
Mexican working women spoke out in a public hearing in Mexico City on August 5 protesting against the violent situations in which they often find themselves. The workers—airline flight attendants, metro ticket-takers, domestic workers, and sex workers among others—spoke out against the violence that they suffer from corrupt authorities, labor union officials, organized crime and others.
The metro ticket-takers, for example, complained that they were subject to false accusations of stealing money, sexual harassment, discrimination, and character assassination by the head of the Mexican metro system union Fernando Espino Arévalo. They also provided evidence of a pamphlet which he had written accusing them of being scabs and urging union members to shun and harm them. The women such as Nélida Reyes, said they were harassed for wanting a democratic union.
Mexico Debates the Minimum Wage
Like other countries since the economic crisis of 2008 and the large scale social movements that followed, such as Occupy in the United States, Mexico is now carrying on a debate about poverty, economic inequality, and wages, in particular the minimum wage. Mexico has the lowest minimum wage in Latin America, lower even than the small, poor nations of Central America. In the Western Hemisphere only Haiti’s minimum is lower.
Miguel Ángel Mancera, the former mayor of Mexico City and a leading figure in the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), one of Mexico’s left-of-center parties, has called for raising the minimum wage from 67 pesos per day, where it is now, to 82 pesos per day immediately and eventually to 171 pesos per day. To put it in U.S. dollars, this would be a raise from US$5.11 per day to US$6.26 and eventually to $13.05.
Mancera argues that the minimum wage has lost 77 percent of its purchasing power in the past 35 years. “This means that in Mexico City, we can only acquire 23 percent of what we could buy in the 1970s,” Mancera told the media on Aug. 5.
Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) called the proposal dangerous, saying it would lead to inflation, reduce economic growth, and undermine productivity.
Interestingly, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which is generally allied with business interests, has organized its members to carry out a popular “consulta,” that is a survey on the question, which they surely know will lead to demands to raise the wage.
The Business Coordinating Council (CCE), the most important employer group in Mexico has stated its opposition to attempts to raise wages “by decree” and thus avoiding the logic of the markets.
Agreeing with Mancera on the need to increase the minimum age, the National Union of Workers (UNT), an independent labor federation, has called for doing away with the “obsolete” National Commission of Minimum Wages and replacing it with a National Institute of Wages and Productivity.
Left Leader López Obrador Collects Signatures, Calls for President's Resignation
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leader of the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA) announced in August that his organization had already collected 1,800,000 signatures calling for a citizens’ referendum on the energy reforms passed by the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
MORENA’s leader is also calling for the resignation of Peña Nieto, saying that since he took power the Mexican economy has stagnated leading to unemployment and violence.
An Open Letter to Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Translation by Dan La Botz; Spanish text online at: http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a193190.html
Gerardo Fernández Noroña, a longtime leader of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Mexico’s center-left party, has written an open letter to Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), leader of the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), a new political party, arguing that AMLO’s strategy has failed. AMLO has been the acknowledged leader of Mexico’s left since the early 2000s and this is the first significant challenge to his leadership arising from within his party’s own ranks, albeit from a former member.
Fernández Noroña argues that it is time now to launch a national civil disobedience rebellion with the goal of driving Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto from power and overturning the “counter-reforms” that his administration has passed opening Mexico’s national oil and energy sectors to private foreign investment.
The author of the letter has a long and stormy political career. Fernández Noroña, born in 1960, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the Autonomous Metropolitan University’s Azcapotzalco campus in the 1980s. He became an activist in the National Union of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (SNTSS) and in 1988 was a candidate for congress of the Mexican Socialist Party (PMS) which had roots in Mexico’s Communist Party. He then gave up his candidacy and joined the National Democratic Front to support Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in his bid for the presidency. In 1989 he became a founding member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in which he became the party’s secretary of communications and its official spokesman.
In 1996 he was an organizer of a national debtors’ movement and of the protests against Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo in Cancún that year, for which he was briefly jailed. Fernández Noroña played a leading role in organizing the huge protests against electoral fraud in 2006, arguing that López Obrador had won the election which had been stolen by the political establishment. He was elected as the candidate of the Workers Party (PT), a small party with Maoist roots allied with the PRD, and served as Federal Congressman from 2009-2012, during which time he was one of the most active speakers in the Congress.
A controversial figure in the PRD, Fernández Noroña fought intensely and publicly against the party’s leaders who pursued a path of negotiation with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN). Once while attending a political event where Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calerón, was also present, Fernández Noroña described her as having “given up her body for a little bone.” He was officially condemned by the PRD for making sexist remarks and many PRD legislators called for his resignation, though he did not resign at that time. He later resigned from the party in 2008 because, he said, Jesús Ortega’s victory as PRD leader was not legitimate.
Ferández Noroña’s open letter represents a serious political challenge to López Obrador’s leadership of the left, though whether or not it will find a following among the members of the Party of the Democratic Revolution and the new Movement of National Regeneration, and more importantly in Mexican society, remains to be seen. López Obrador has so far declined to respond to Fernández Noroña’s open letter. We print an English translation of the letter below. For more background on Mexico’s left see my recent articles on the Zapatistas, the PRD, and Morena.
An Open Letter to Andrés Manuel López Obrador
From: Gerardo Fernández Noroña
México, Federal District, August 12, 2014
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Yesterday, with the official publication of the laws implementing the energy counter-reform, the greatest plunder of our nation in its entire history was consummated. I don’t exaggerate in saying that it is a greater plunder than the theft of half or our territory that we suffered in the nineteenth century [after the Mexican American War of 1846-48 when the United States took half of Mexico’s territory].
I think it unnecessary to argue the grave consequences that turning over the Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) and the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE) to the transnational corporations will create for the country, given that you have been an active defender of our patrimony and in particular of the enterprises of the people of Mexico.
I have seen how you characterize as traitors to the country all of those who intervened in this decision against the national interest, from Peña Nieto and his clique to the members of the Mexican Congress who approved such a plunder.
I think that today, more than ever, Constitutional Article 136 should be applied to this clique that lives off the people and betrays the people. [Article 136 deals with the inviolability of the Constitution.]
Nevertheless, I am worried that not only has it been impossible to stop them in their perfidious enterprise, but that, until now, they have suffered no political cost whatsoever, in spite of the terrible damage that they have done to the nation.
Why is it that the people have not risen up against such an offense? There are many reasons that can be put forward: media manipulation, the success of the rightwing rhetoric, disinformation, a situation of defeat, the division of the left, the collaboration of the leadership of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)—and we could go on making a long list of hypotheses.
I think that it could be these and many other reasons which we would doubtless have to analyze. But I think that a central reason is the fact that our people, up until now, have not assumed and are not conscious of the enormous power that they have, and therefor do not exercise, and always depend upon a leadership to throw themselves into struggle.
That leadership determines their behavior, defines their action, and shapes the activities that the people carry out to address these offenses.
That leadership has been until now in your hands. And far from promoting a line of struggle and resistance, you've decided on a line of non-confrontation.
Since the great mobilizations of 2008 that you headed to stop the energy counter-reform promoted by [former President Felipe ] Calderón, you have hidden the defeat that we suffered with the approval of this legislation that violates the Constitution and that opened the door to the transnational corporations as never before, arguing that yes, we had stopped them.
But in this last constitutional “reform,” that has handed over the most important natural wealth that we have to the foreigner and that has liquidated our national sovereignty, you haven’t even promoted a line of struggle.
We have lost precious weeks and months of time in many mass meetings where you evaded putting forward a clear plan of resistance to the energy counter-reforms throughout 2013, and it was only in December that you called for an encirclement of the Senate which your health problems kept you from leading. [López Obrador suffered a heart attack at that time.] Not only did you call for this too late and too weakly, but on top of that you designated your own eldest son to head up the demonstration, as if our movement were a hereditary monarchy. You even failed to respect the formal leadership of your party, the Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA).
During the 2013 mass demonstrations, you sharply criticized the strategy of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and of the PRD of promoting a plebiscite on energy issues in 2015. You correctly pointed out that the plebiscite should take place before any constitutional changes dealing with these issues.
Nevertheless, today, not only do you exclude any possibilities of calling large demonstrations repudiating such robbery, but you are contesting with the PRD in gathering signatures to carry out just such a plebiscite in the coming year.
Do you really believe that they will respect the signatures and carry out a plebiscite once they have turned over the oil and electric energy to the transnational corporations?
In the very remote case that they should carry out such a plebiscite, do you really think that they would respect the results, which without a doubt would be a rejection of the counter-reform laws and which, in implementing the popular will, would throw the transnational oil companies out of the country?
I am sure that you don’t believe that that would happen. And while I don’t reject out of hand any initiative of struggle, I believe that a leadership of the importance and the scale that you represent cannot be permitted to play with the people’s expectations.
But worse yet, it seems to me that what is implied in your declarations is that you attempt to generate the impression that upon winning the presidency in 2018, that you will overturn the neoliberal counter-reforms. They robbed you and the people of Mexico of the presidency of the Republic in 2006 and 2012. Do you really believe that in 2018, with the transnational corporations sacking the country they will respect your winning the presidency of the Republic?
If they didn’t respect your victory in 2006 when the petroleum countries were partially involved in the country, or in 2012 when the transnational corporations had become more seriously involved, why would they do so in 2018, when the transnationals have absolute control over our riches and can count on constitutional “endorsement”?
Frankly I believe that you are committing an error but that you can still correct it. I am convinced of the path of civil disobedience, but you are not obliged to call for it. But you are obligated to call for a serious line of struggle and resistance. If in place of collecting signatures the men and women comrades who follow your initiatives were organizing a non-violent rebellion, you would be opening the way to a defeat of these neoliberal counter-reforms. On the contrary, great human and economic resources are being used to carry out a task that it already condemned to failure and which will not promote a line of commitment and struggle among the people who come in contact with it. Getting a signature does not create consciousness in the person who signs and does not generate a commitment to greater struggle. It strengthens the comfortable attitude of waiting for someone who will resolve the great national problems for us.
You lead a movement of free men and women, and for that reason you should be open to criticism and to the proposals of those free men and women. Your responsibility at the present moment is enormous. I don’t minimize that of the rest of the patriotic men and women of this country, but being their leader, your responsibility is great.
For all of these reasons, I urge you to modify your position and to participate in a broad movement unifying all the progressive, nationalist, democratic, and left forces in the country to first stop and then overturn the neoliberal counter-reforms.
We should not wait for the electoral calendar. 2015 looks bad for the forces of the left and 2018 is too far away and uncertain. Beyond that, I believe that the electoral road to the Presidency of the Republic is closed, and we should open it. Therefore, I am convinced that we should promote a non-violent rebellion that would force [President Enrique] Peña Nieto to resign and begin the process of recuperating the freedom of our people, of our Constitution, and of a profound process of transformation to restore the Republic and promote social justice and equality for our people.
I have decided to send you this Public Letter so that you will have no doubt that there are voices that put forward another road and that we are committed to promoting the proposals expressed here. I am clear that regardless of the success and failure of the people, our people will rise up and will be up to the task of changing the current state of affairs.
“The people have the right to live and be happy.”
Gerardo Fernández Noroña
Labor Shorts: Pemex Has a Year to Reach Agreement with Union
With Mexico’s energy reforms and implementing legislation now in place, the Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) and the Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) will have one year to reach agreement on the future of the company’s 155,000 workers. A big issue is the retirement age of oil workers now set at 55 years of age, which both the company and the union have agreed in principle must be changed. The company has also suggested that in order to compete with private companies which now enter the petroleum sector, it will have to be able to offer higher wages to retain its best workers. Union members have expressed fear that there may be layoffs, lower wages, and worse conditions under the new regime.
Economic Shorts: Mexico Creating Too Few Jobs
Mexico should have created 15 million jobs in the last 15 years to satisfy demand, according to the Business Coordinating Council (CCE), but in fact it has created only 5.9 million. Since Enrique Peña Nieto became president in December 2012, the country has created only 468,530 jobs or an increase in employment of just 1 percent according to the Nation Survey of Occupation and Employment (ENOE)