|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
May , 2015, Vol. 5, No. 20
Introduction to this issue:
Mexican Labor News and Analysis – May, 2015
In This Issue:
*The Left Divide As Mexicans Go to the Polls on June 7
*Mexican Teachers Plan “Indefinite Strike” in Four States on June 1
*May Day Overshadowed by Cartel Violence; “Official Unions” Back EPN; Independents Oppose Gov’t Policy
*San Quintín Farm Worker Strike Defeated by Employers, Government
*Labor Board Decides in Favor of Fired Workers
*Social Security Workers Protest Union Leader’s Repression
*Mexican Railway Worker Retirees Protest Against Union Leader
*Mexican Auto Workers Fired for Protesting Sexual Harassment
Contents for this issue:
Mexican Labor News and Analysis, May 2015
Dan La Botz
THE LEFT DIVIDED AS MEXICANS GO TO THE POLLS ON JUNE 7
By Dan La Botz
The Mexican left is more divided than at any time since the early 1980s as some 80 million Mexican voters will go to the polls on June 7 to elect 500 federal representatives, nine governors 641 state legislators, 993 mayor and 16 borough chiefs in Mexico City
Four rival leftist parties will be competing for votes—the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Workers Party (PT), the Citizens Movement (MC), and the Movement for National Regeneration Party (MORENA)—though is some cases they will ally with each other and in others with one of the two dominant parties: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the National Action Party (PAN). The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), one of the country’s important left organizations, remains opposed to elections as always. Some in the Ayotzinapa protest movement—protesting over the killing of six and disappearance of 43 students at a rural teachers college in Guerrero have call upon voters to abstain altogether.
Why is the left split? Principally because after Enrique Peña Nieto won the presidential election in 2012, he enticed both the PAN and the PRD as well as other parties to join his Pact for Mexico, creating a kind of government of national unity to pass what some have called his rightwing, pro-business “counter-reforms” in the area of education, labor, energy, and telecommunications. The PRD’s alliance with the PRI and PAN disgusted many on the left, leading to resignations or desertions to MORENA. The deeper issue, however, is that the PRD, founded in 1989 as an alliance between former PRI leaders and leftists, always remained divided into several hard factions and then became involved in old-style corrupt political arrangements at many levels. Many walked away. Among those who left the party are its leading founder and former presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, former Mexico City mayors Alejandro Encinas and Marcelo Ebrard, and most significantly Andrés Manuel López Obrador, another former presidential candidate who left to found MORENA.
Why haven’t the social movements been able to push politics to the left and push the left toward unity? While there were widespread protests over Ayotzinapa throughout all of Mexico, the protests have not been large enough, sustained enough, or cohesive enough to result in the transformation of a spontaneous social movement into political power. They are now largely over. Similarly with the recent farm worker strike in San Quintín, Baja California which, after a spectacular beginning, was quickly defeated. The most important movement remains that of the dissident teachers. The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), while it commands the allegiance of tens of thousands of teachers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Mexico City and has significant power at the state and local level, but does not wield power at the national level. While some in these movements hate the PRI and the PAN, many are now deeply disappointed with the PRD and some have reservations about Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his MORENA party. Yet, for many, abstention is not a very attractive option either. They want to cast a vote against “bad government,” but for whom to vote?
The PRI is Likely to Win
The PRI—the party of President Enrique Peña Nieto—currently has a plurality in both the Senate and the House and, according to polls, is expected to be the biggest winner on election day with about a third of the vote. The PRI’s allies—the Green Party (PVEM), the New Alliance Party (PANAL), the party of the teachers union, and the new Social Encounter Party—should give it a clear majority in both houses. The conservative PAN is expected to come in second with 25 percent of the vote, while the PRD and MORENA are expected to divide the left vote about 13 and 10 percent respectively. The PT and MC will get less than five percent each and there is some chance they could lose their ballot status.
A rule of thumb is that the Mexican electoral is divided into three large slices with the PRI, the PAN, and the PRD each having about a third in one election or another over the last twenty-five years. Now the left’s piece of pie (formerly represented by the PRD) has crumbled into cobbler. At the same time the PAN’s piece of pie has shrunk to a smaller slice because of the failure of the Vicente Fox presidency and disaster of the Felipe Calderón administration. So the PRI has the best chance.
Why will the PRI win? While fraud will of course play its party, the PRI has strong support from the corporate TV duopoly: Televisa and TV Azteca as well as a strong party organization in most regions of the country. Though it is true that neoliberalism and the privatization of industry and the breakdown of the ejido (collective farms) have undermined the old organization, still the PRI is effective in maintaining clientelistic relationships. The PAN, whose base is found historically in the financial elite, the active Catholic vote, and in the middle class, will despite the failures of Fox and Calderón probably do well several regions: the North, a few of the Central states, and possibly in Yucatan. The PRD will do well in Mexico City, Michoacán, and Tabasco, its historic bases, though it will lose some votes to MORENA. For MORENA, this is its first run and it remains to be seen how strongly it can both pull from the PRD and win disgruntled voters from the major parties.
While MORENA will generally be running alone, the PRD will in various states enter into alliances with the PRI, the PAN, the PT, the PVEM, and PANAL. These are just the sort of opportunistic arrangements that have led PRD leaders and rank-and-file members to leave the party. Some of them will surely vote for MORENA.
The Extra-Parliamentary Left
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has made it clear since it appeared on the national scene with the Chiapas Uprising of 1994 that it has nothing but contempt for Mexico’s political system, for its parties, and for its politicians. As EZLN spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos particularly aimed his fire at the PRD and its candidates, calling for a rejection not only of the parties but also of elections. In 2006 the EZLN organized “The Other Campaign,” a national speaking tour calling not for voting in the elections, but rather for the overthrow of capitalism. When it was clear that the government had stolen the vote from López Obrador of the PRD, the EZLN refused to join the protests, a sectarian position that undermined its credibility and appeal in much of the Mexican left. The People’s Revolutionary Army, a small, underground guerrilla group, argues in the latest issue of its newspaper El Insurgente for “conscious political abstencionism,” rejecting elections in Mexico at this time.
The Ayotzinapa movement in Guerrero and some other parts of Mexico also calls for abstention. The Organization of the People and the Workers (OPT), which had been attempting to build a radical, left-labor party, appears to have adopted this posture as well. One Mexican radical argues that voting “will only restore some of the damaged legitimacy of the regime and the PRI government.” On the other hand, Raúl Vera López, the influential, left-of-center Catholic Bishop of Saltillo who has been calling for a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution and refound the country, is urging people to vote.
Will the campaign for abstention have any effect? In 2012, voters participated at a higher rate than usual as some 63 percent of voters cast ballots in both the presidential and legislative elections. We would expect the vote this time to be between 57 and 60 percent of the electorate if there were no campaign. Another important factor, however, is the high level of violence in states such as Guerrero and Tamaulipas which could interfere with the elections. At least two candidates and one campaign manager have been killed already.
Ironically, despite the national sense of horror at Ayotzinapa and the indignation at the “white house” scandal involving the President and his wife buying a house on favorable terms through a government contractor, it is most likely that the PRI will win. The movements are too weak and the left too divided to have any impact.
One has the impression that with the PRD/MORENA split we are at a major turning point in left politics in Mexico. The PRD represented a uniquely Mexican combination of social democracy and populism, and with its passing the question is what new force on the left might arise? At this point it is not clear.
MEXICAN TEACHERS PLAN “INDEFINITE” STRIKE IN FOUR STATES JUNE 1
The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), an opposition group within the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), has called for an “indefinite strike” in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Oaxaca where it controls the state unions.
In other states where it is in a minority it is calling for one day work stoppages, marches, and rallies. The union is demanding that the Education Reform adopted by the Mexican Congress in the fall of 2013 and the cancellation of all evaluations of currently employed teachers.
On May 16, the National Day of the Teacher, thousands of teachers throughout the country marched against the Education Reform and the evaluation process.
The strike was called by la CNTE’s National Representative Assembly in which delegations from 16 of the country’s 32 states participated. The union says it will not only be demonstrating, but also presenting its proposal for “alternative education.”
In the state of Guerrero, the State Coordinating Committee of Education (CETEG) and the Peoples Movement of Guerrero (MPG) interrupted a training session of the National Pedagogic University (UPN), driving out technicians and teachers who were be trained to give teacher examinations. The CETEG and MPG activists also burned the training manuals.
MAY DAY OVERSHADOWED BY CARTEL VIOLENCE; “OFFICIAL UNIONS” BACK PEÑA NIETO’S REFORMS; INDEPENDENTS OPPOSE GOV’T POLICY
May Day, International Labor Day, was overshadowed this year by a wave of drug violence in 25 of the 125 cities state of Jalisco that involved bombings, arson, shootings, the blocking of streets and highways. The cartel left 19 wounded and 3 disappeared, while as the downing of a government helicopter left six dead. The violence also affected neighboring state of Colima, Guanajuato, and Michoacán, while Nayarit and Aguascalientes sealed their state borders to prevent the spread of violence to those states. National attention was once again focused on drug violence, even on labor’s day.
There were nevertheless several different May Day events: The “official” unions affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party both held a mass gathering in the Zócalo, the national plaza where they praised President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reforms and a private meeting with the president and government and business leaders. The independent unions had two separate May Day demonstrations as well, one by the larger and more established National Union of Workers (UNT) and the other by the newer and smaller, New Workers Central (NCT), both of which opposed the presidents’ reforms and other policies. The two independent union groups not only raised their own demands, but also took up the cause of the students of Ayotzinapa who have been victims of murder and kidnapping by police and gangsters, as well as the issue of the day-laborers of the fields of San Quintín, Baja California who were recently repressed by the army and police when they tried to negotiate higher wages.
The “Official” May Day Events
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met at Los Pinos, the presidential residence, with the “official” unions, that is, those that are allied with his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and in general support the government’s policies. Among those meeting with the president were Carlos Romero Deschamps of the Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM), Juan Díaz de la Torre of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), Joaquín Gomboa Pascoe of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), Isaías González of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers and Peasants (CROC), Rodolfo González of the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM), and Carlos Chávez of the Pilots Union (ASA).
Also present were representatives of employers’ organizations: Manuel Herrera of CONCAMIN) Enrique Solano of (CONCANACO), Juan Pablo Castañon of COPARMEX, and Gerardo Gutiérrez of the Business Coordinating Council. Finally there were representatives of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), José Antonio González, of the Federal Labor Board, Alejandro Murat and Jorge Albero Zorrilla, and of the workers’ housing program INFONAVIT, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada.
Peña Nieto signed International Labor Organization Convention 138 which establishes 15 as the minimum age of employment and said his administration would fight child labor. He also talked about the problem of women’s lower wages and issues of sexual harassment on the job and praised his own government for having established paternity leave. He expressed his pleasure that unemployment was falling, stated that his government had created 714,000 new jobs in the formal sector, and that there were no virtually no strikes in private industry.
Peña Nieto told the official union leaders that he would undertake a “fundamental revision” of labor rights in Mexico, with particular emphasis on the Labor Boards. These tripartite boards made up of government officials, employers, and the official unions frequently collude to prevent the organization of independent unions and to remove dissident worker activists from the workplace. Some of the boards are notorious, the union thugs who hand out there having on occasion beaten lawyers for dissident workers right in the labor board halls. Though it is unlikely that Peña Nieto would support any plan that actually enhanced workers’ or independent labor unions’ rights.
In a separate event, leaders of the “official” union leaders, speaking before thousands of workers dressed in the colors of their organizations who had gathered in the Zócalo, the national plaza, expressed their support for Peña Nieto’s economic reforms, while at the same time calling for an increase in the minimum wage to keep up with inflation and a return to a normal eight hour workday.
José Luis Carazo of the CTM and the Congress of Labor (CT), the official unions’ umbrella organization, expressed the philosophy of these unions when he spoke, saying, “The Congress of Labor bets on negotiation, not confrontation, on conciliation, on agreements and on confidence, because we know that promoting an image of our capacity for negotiation gives us the possibility of attracting national and international investments that provide good jobs so much demanded by our people.”
Luz Elena Arellano Aguilar of the CROM called upon workers to “have faith and hope” in the future.
Independent Unions March Against Government Policies
While President Peña Nieto, corporate bosses, and official union leaders engaged in their usual lovefest, the National Union of Workers (UNT) led a march of 70 unions and other organizations before also arriving at the Zocalo to protest government policies. Also marching separately against the government was the New Labor Central.
Augustín Rodríguez, leader of the Union of Workers of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (STUNAM) and of the UNT, said that the government “should raise wages to create a virtuous circle of consumption and production.”
Speaking at the independent unions’ May Day gather was Fidel Sánchez, one of the leaders of the recent strike by farm workers in San Quintín in Baja California. “Not one more isolated struggle!” he shouted to the crowd.
Similar demonstrations against Peña Nieto’s administration and its policies took place in at least 15 other states, among them Aguascalientes, Guerrero, Morelos, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. Everywhere the independent unions were accompanied by those protesting against the Ayotzinapa killings and forced disappearances.
On the occasion of May Day, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Alberto Cavazos Arizpe issued a statement condemning work that tended to enslave and degrade human beings.
SAN QUINTÍN FARM WORKER STRIKE DEFEATED BY BOSSES, GOV’T
Thousands of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley of Baja California, just 185 miles south of the U.S. border, struck dozens of farms, including the twelve largest that dominate production in the region, on March 17 interrupting the picking, packing, and shipping of zucchini, tomatoes, berries and other products to stores and restaurants in the United States. The strikers, acting at the peak of the harvest, were demanding higher wages and other benefits to which they are legally entitled such as membership in the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), the public health system. While there have over the last two decades been several large scale protests by workers in San Quintín, usually riots over the employers failure to pay their employees on time, this is the first attempt by workers to carry out a such strategic strike.
The strike was organized by the Alliance of National, State, and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS or Alliance) made up of indigenous groups from Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and other areas whose members work in the San Quintín Valley. The Alliance combined a call for a general strike in the valley’s fields with the blocking of the Trans-Peninsular Highway that leads north to San Diego, California. Creating roadblocks and burning tires along a stretch of some 120 kilometers of the highway, they succeeded for 26 hours in stopping the delivery of the ripe produce to markets in the United States, with immediate repercussions for grocery stores and restaurants. Costco, for example, reported that its shipments were down. Strikes also seized government buildings and a police station.
The farm workers reportedly succeeded within three days in negotiating with employers and the government an agreement of the existing unions, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the Regional Confederation of Workers of Mexico (CROM), both corrupt organizations affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had colluded with employers to keep wages low. The agreement reached on March 20 would have given workers the right to create their own union and negotiate directly with the owners. If this agreement had held, it would have represented a tremendous achievement for these workers and establishes a precedent for other workers throughout Mexico who would like to get rid of their corrupt government- or employer- controlled unions. But the bosses and the government at all levels colluded to crush the strike, to break the movement toward unionization, and to keep wages low.
San Quintín – The Cornucopia
The San Quintín Valley has over the past couple of decades been transformed into one of the most productive agricultural regions of Mexico where large scale irrigation systems, modern buildings, and large scale truck transportation have been combined by employers with low wage indigenous workers to produce an abundance of fruit and vegetable for American consumers—hundreds of thousands of tons of berries, tomatoes, and vegetables each year—and to make fortunes for the transnational and Mexican companies that own and manage the farms.
Many Baja California and Mexican government officials are actually owners or investors in the twelve largest farms as well as in some of the smaller one. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, for example, is an investor in one of the companies. The near fusion between corporate executives and the Baja California government has made it difficult for workers to achieve even the minimal wages, benefits and conditions to which they are entitled under the law. Last December The Los Angeles Times published a series of articles and produced videorevealing workers’ onerous conditions in San Quintin in December. As a result of those articles, Wal-Mart and the Mexican government announced joint program to improve farm workers lives, but apparently the workers thought they should take matters into their own hands.
Some estimate that there are as many as 80,000 workers in the valley, though other estimates put the number at closer to the 42,000 registered permanent workers. According to one report only 11,000 of those workers, mostly employed by the transnational companies, have enjoyed IMSS health benefits. BerryMex, for example, which is affiliated with the American Driscoll company, registers 100 percent of its employees.
Under employer contracts with the CTM and the CROM first negotiated in 1994, most workers are paid only 100 pesos or US$6.64 dollars per day. Wage rates have not improved for years. One of the causes of the strike appears to have been the falling value of the peso vis-à-vis the dollar, while at the same time many basic necessities are rising in price. The negotiators are discussing other demand such as Sundays and holidays either off, overtime pay, seniority, and other benefits.
The Alliance demands include:
1. Revocation of the agreement signed by the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM) with the Agricultural Association of Baja California, especially regarding “agreed upon wages.”
2. Respect for seniority.
3. Affiliation with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) from the first day of work at a company and medical coverage for both the worker and his or her dependents.
4. Payment to workers of all benefits due under the law.
5. After eight hours of work, double pay for each addtional hour and tripe pay after more than 10 hours.
6. Maternity leave for six weeks during pregnancy and for another six weeks after birth for pregnant workers.
7. Five days of paid paternity leave for men.
8. Measure against sexual assault by “foremen” or “engineers.”
9. Measures against reprisals toward workers involved in protest.
10. Payment of all benefits of the law to workers (one day of rest per week, holidays, and other benefits).
11. Establishment of a state minimum wage for agricultural workers of 300 pesos per day.
12. An increase of pay to 30 pesos for each box of strawberries (since 2001 workers are being paid 10 or 12 pesos per box). Double pay on Sundays and holidays.
13. An increase to 17 pesos for bushels of blackberries, double on Sunday.
14. An increase to 8 pesos for a bucket of tomatoes.
Violence, Neglect, Time, and Hunger Break the Strike
To break the strike, on two occasions the Mexican authorities sent in the Mexican Amry and the State Preventive Police to attack hundreds of striking farm workers in the San Quintín Valley of Baja California who had blocked the Trans-Peninsular Highway. The Mexican Secretary of Labor said it could not raise wages but would accompany employers and workers in their negotiations. Luis Enrique Miranda Nava, Undersecretary of the Interior said he could not attend the negotiations for health reasons. But employers refused to return to the negotiating table, and government officials failed to intervene in the negotiations. The Mexican National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) sent representatives to San Quintín, but they failed to prevent violence against farmworkers there. The CROM, the official union that has failed to represent San Quintín’s farm workers, said it would welcome other legitimate unions such as the PRI-affiliated Confederation of Mexican Workers, but not other organizations which were not legitimate and were made up of troublemakers, apparently referring to the indigenous groups which had organized the strike.
While several hundred workers continued various marches and protests, many other farm workers needing to pay the rent and put food on the table returned to work. Employers claimed only a few days after the strike that production had returned to normal.
Spokesmen for the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations, the coalition of indigenous organizations that is leading the strike, called for the removal of governor de Lamadrid of the conservative, pro-business National Action Party (PAN) for his repeated and violent attacks on workers.
The National Union of Workers (UNT) and the Independent Federation of Agricultural Workers and Peasants (CIOAC), together with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) of the United States called for the creation of a farm worker union in the north of Mexico along the border. Few farm workers are organized in the United States.
Among other Mexican organizations expressing their solidarity with the San Quintín farm workers were the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Federation of Peasant and Popular Organizations (COCYP).
LABOR BOARD DECIDES IN FAVOR OF FIRED WORKERS
In a rare decision in favor of workers who want to join an independent union, the Federal Labor Board ordered the Arneses y Accesorios de Mexico to reinstall four workers who had been fired because they wanted to the join the Mexican Mine and Metal Workers Union (SNTMRM) led by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia.
Workers in the plant are currently represented by the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) which had been attempting to stop the Labor Board from ordering the company to take back the fired workers.
SOCIAL SECURITY WORKERS PROTEST UNION LEADER’S REPRESSION
Workers at the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) protests in front of the Labor Department on May 18 arguing that the unions’ leader, Manuel Vallejo had sanctioned or in some other way mistreated some 15,000 union members.
MEXICAN RAILWAY WORKER RETIREES PROTEST AGAINST LEADER
The Federation of Retired Railway Workers (FFJ) announced in mid-May that its members would no longer pay union dues to the Mexican Railroad Workers Union (STFRM) led by Victor Flores Morales.
Under a court injunction, railway retirees have not been paying dues, and say they will not do so until there is a definitive legal decision. The retirees say they have paid more than 600 million pesos to the union in the past.
Retirees also argue that Flores Morales bankrupted another union fund. Flores Morales in turn blames the Mexican government for the fund’s failure. He assured workers that the government would be paying retirees some 136 million pesos.
MEXICAN AUTO WORKERS FIRED TO PROTESTING SEXUAL HARASSMENT
By Wendy Thompson
[First published in Labor Notes on May 12, 2015:
Twenty Mexican auto workers were fired for defending a co-worker from a harassing supervisor at the new Mazda assembly plant in Salamanca.
At the new Mazda assembly plant in Salamanca, Mexico, 20 workers were fired in March for supporting a co-worker who was being sexually harassed by their supervisor.
According to workers, the accused supervisor would use the cultural practice of a kiss on the cheek as an excuse to get sexual. He would stalk women at work and force himself on them physically.
While traditionally most Mexican auto industry workers have been men, in the state of Guanajuato, where the Salamanca factory is located, women make up about half the auto workforce. They tend to be single—as in the maquiladoras, the Mexican textile factories which prefer women because bosses feel they are more vulnerable and can be paid less.
One worker first complained about this sexual harassment—to the company and the union, using the established complaint procedures—back in May of last year, but the situation was allowed to continue. Next, workers took their case to government agencies, with witnesses and support statements, again with no results.
So “we decided to protest,” said Tadeo Velaquez, one of the 20 fired workers. “We were [all] being harassed at work by this supervisor. It was so intense that it was really difficult to work in a good environment. He would mistreat and bully us all the time.
“Then we heard that one of our partners, a woman, was sexually harassed by him. He wasn’t just disrespecting us; he was also sexually abusing her.”
In March, workers on a subassembly line organized a work-to-rule slowdown. That grabbed management’s attention. A meeting was held. Management and the union agreed to handle the problem with the supervisor.
“We were informed that we weren’t going to be punished for the demonstration,” said Edgar Capetillo, another fired worker. “We had a mutual agreement with the union that nothing was going to happen to us. But 15 days later, we were removed from our duties.”
They were fired without explanation. All 20 of the workers were male.
Pushy New Plant
Representatives of the fired workers appeared on the local news program, Zona Franca, and asked their fellow workers for support. Another woman came forward with her story of harassment.
The supervisor was given two days off. Many workers feel he should be fired.
Supervisor bullies are common at this plant, where management is pushing arduous hours and an intense pace. Workers on the assembly line have suffered injuries to the tendons in their hands, spinal injuries, even convulsions.
Production would stop for nothing, according to the fired workers—if a worker was having convulsions, they would simply be carried away and replaced by another worker.
The plant opened last year with 3,000 employees. It’s in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, Mazda’s only North American assembly site.
This is the first time in decades that the company has run an overseas plant on its own. The last one, in Flat Rock, Michigan, became a joint venture with Ford in 1992, and Mazda ceased production there in 2012.
The Salamanca plant’s annual capacity is initially targeted at 140,000 vehicles. Production is slated to grow to 230,000 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.
After the plant reaches full production, about 30 percent of the Mazda vehicles sold in the United States will be sourced from North America—compared with virtually none today. At full capacity, it will employ 4,600 people.
Mexico’s Auto Boom
Mazda isn’t alone. Mexico just surpassed Brazil as the seventh-largest auto producer in the world, producing 3.2 million vehicles last year. By 2020 it’s expected to reach 5.1 million.
Toyota has announced a new $1 billion plant in Guanajuato that will employ 2,000 workers and make 200,000 vehicles. GM is investing $5 billion between 2013 and 2018, adding 5,600 new jobs to the 15,000 it already employs in Mexico. Ford projects another $2.5 billion.
The combination of tariff-free manufacturing, low wages, cheap land, few enforced regulations, and easy access to global markets make Mexico a prime manufacturing center. In the last five years companies have announced $20 billion in investments made or planned.
Salaries have stagnated. One recent study—by a financial institution, the Grupo Financiero BVA Bancomer—found more than half of all working people in Mexico earn less than twice the minimum wage, or about $7 per day. Ten percent receive less than the minimum, $3.50 a day.
These days, if plants in Mexico are threatened with closure, it’s to move the work to Asia. But a Bank of America study found that while in 2003 Mexico’s average wages were 188 percent higher than China’s, today they’re 20 percent lower.
All the workers in Guanajuato’s auto industry, including at the Mazda plant, are represented by the corrupt Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).
The union sided with management in the firing of the 20.
Despite a law that allows workers the right to return to work after unjust firings, companies operating in Mexico can bank on getting away with firing permanently. Unions are regional, and contracts are negotiated plant by plant. Workers report that the CTM, a company union controlled by Mexico’s ruling party, will not defend them. Fired workers are often forced to sign away their jobs and accept a legally required cash payment instead.
To illustrate the level of corruption, look at Alejandro Rangel, a leader in the Guanajuato CTM who’s also a federal deputy. Union leaders often become federal and state deputies and senators.
Since taking office, Rangel has built himself a castle with a gigantic swimming pool in front. He used his position to have federal funds used to build a road from the main road to his castle.
Unfortunately for him, an error in the specifications labeled the paving project as meant for a nearby town. Like many in the area, this town only had a dirt road. When the error became known, townspeople demanded that their road be paved too.
As a side effect of a federal labor “reform” law passed in 2012, regional union leaders are now allowed to move into other regions. This means those who have the most power in the party and government are taking control of plants in other areas—making the corruption even worse. But they all belong to the CTM and oppose independent unions.
Those independent unions that do exist—in auto plants in Puebla and Cuernavaca—have been unable to expand into Guanajuato. An attempt to form one at the Honda plant in the neighboring state of Jalisco a few years ago ended with organizers being fired, though that’s still being challenged in court.
Ford’s plants are close to the U.S. border. But most of Mexico’s auto production is in the center of the country. That’s where GM, Volkswagen, Honda, Renault-Nissan, BMW, Daimler, parts suppliers, and even research and development operations are concentrated.
From a mountain high point, the view is spectacular: an enormous plain filled with auto plants, all emitting the same brownish-pinkish smog. It sits in a layer over the plain, and extends into the surrounding mountains.
This is also the area where the Mexican Revolution of 1810 began. When Miguel Hidalgo announced independence, he demanded that the slaveholders immediately release the indigenous people who toiled in the mines here, carting out gold and silver for the empire.
Will Mexico’s workers be able to use their strength to confront the companies, the government, and the corrupt CTM to build independent unions that can give form to their anger?
*Wendy Thompson is a former president of United Auto Workers Local 235.
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