|Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention|
|Artist Beatriz Aurora|
Mexican Labor News & Analysis
April , 2005, Vol. 10, No. 4
Contents for this issue:
- SITESABES Wins Major Legal Victory; Requests Letters Demanding Fair Election
- One Million March, Rally in Support of López Obrador
- Pope Benedict and the Future of the Church in Latin America
- Independent Unions Put Labor Law Reform on Hold
- Mexican NAO Complaint Challenges Migrants’ Lack of Access to Legal Services
- Alcoa Represses Democratic Unions in Mexico
- Tell Fox Entertainment Group: "Stop Busting Homer Simpson's Union!"
- Lajat Won’t Rehire Fired Workers, Despite Levi’s Visit
- Binational Conference for Education and Workers’ Rights
- Film Review: Mexican Teachers Fight for Public Education
SITESABES Wins Major Legal Victory; Requests Letters Demanding Fair Election
Thanks to the pressure that you put on the Guanajuato State government, SITESABES, the independent teachers union of Guanajuato has won a hearing on April 28, in which the date for the election will be chosen.
These workers need your support if they are to have a clean election, free of violence.
Please send faxes and e-mails demanding:
1. Secret ballots
2. Access for independent observers
3. No violence in the elections
SITESABES, the independent teachers union of Guanajuato has won a hearing on April 28, in which the date for the election will be chosen.
SITESABES, the independent union of adult education workers which, with the assistance of the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), has been fighting to gain the right to represent approximately 1000 adult education workers in high schools and universities recently learned that they had won an extremely important appeal.
As reported in earlier issues of MLNA, the state government of Guanajuato, through the State labor authorities, had engaged in a series of maneuvers to cancel the registration of the new union, depriving it of the legal authority required under Mexican law to represent workers. If the government had succeeded, this had ominous implications for all workers seeking to establish real, democratic unions.
The legal victory has removed a significant obstacle, and the labor board has set a hearing for the 28th of April in order to finally set a date for an election.
These workers need your support if they are to have a clean election, free of violence.
Please send faxes and e-mails demanding:
1. Secret ballots
2. Access for independent observers
3. No violence in the elections
Send faxes to Lic. Lidia Gomez Padilla, President of Conciliation and Arbitration. Fax: 01152 (477) 779-6829 (you must ask for a fax tone: "por favor, tono de fax")
Send a copy to Governor Lic. Juan Carlos Romero Hicks email@example.com
An example of the letter:
Lic. Lidia Gomez Padilla
President of the Office of Conciliation and Arbitration
Dear Lic. Gomez Padilla,
I am very worried about the violation of free union association rights in the state of Guanajuato.
I am aware that next Thursday, the 28th of April, the hearing between the SABES company union, the CTM and SITESABES (the workers' union) to decide the date of the election. Nevertheless, the corrupt unions are already spreading rumors that the election will be on May 4, which as I understand to be something that only the Junta de Conciliación y Arbitraje should know.
To put an end to this history of violations of the law, I am requesting that you and Lic. Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, Governor of the State, intervene with these three requirements.
1.- Conduct a secret ballot election, based on a verifiable list of eligible voters, as called for in the May 18, 2000 Ministerial Agreement between the Mexican Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare and the U.S. Department of Labor.
2. Allow access to voting areas by independent observers
3. Guarantee an election climate free of intimidation, harassment or violence
I will be following your management of this matter with respect to the international agreements on free union association. Thank you, for you attention to my concerns.
YOUR NAME HERE
c.c. Lic. Juan Carlos Romero Hicks firstname.lastname@example.org Governor of the State of Guanajuato
Please also send a copy to SITESABES at
One Million March, Rally in Support of López Obrador
By Dan La Botz and Fred Rosen
The fight to keep the government from removing Mexico City mayor López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) from the July 2006 ballot has become the most important political development in Mexico since the campaign of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas for president in 1988. The mayor’s call for a massive movement of silent protest and civil disobedience in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi has brought a tremendous response from the public with an estimated one million marchers turning out in his support on April 24. The demonstration was the largest in Mexican history.
On April 25 hundreds of thousands marched through Mexico City and rallied in the Zocalo, Mexico’s national plaza, in support of mayor López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The Federal District security estimated the march at 600,000 and said one million two hundred thousand filled the Zocalo. Many marchers had come to the city from nearby states.
After marching through the center of the city in silence the crowd broke into cheers during the rally, responding to the mayor’s statement that his campaign would propose an alternative national project, neither statist nor neoliberal, but aimed at combating poverty. The attempt to remove him from the ballot, he said, was not a legal issue, but a political one, and represented an attack on Mexican democracy.
López Obrador stands at the center of a national political struggle over his right to run for president. The attempt by President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to keep him off the July 2006 presidential ballot has called into question the claim that Mexico has entered a new democratic era. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican Citizens throughout the country have protested against moves to keep him off the ballot, and the fight promises to become larger, more militant, and threatening to the government of Vicente Fox.
Calling Vicente Fox a “traitor to democracy,” López Obrador has vowed to run for the presidency from jail if he must. The mayor has called upon his followers to engage in a militant but absolutely non-violent movement to defend his right to run for president. All of this has strengthened López Obrador in the polls and allowed him to construct a movement around himself and his populist politics.
The National Action Party, headed by president Fox, which in 2000 raised the banner of democracy, has since sullied it, dropped it, and has now seen it snatched up and carried off by López Obrador. The Mexico City mayor appears before the nation as both martyr and hero, as the potential savior of a democratic Mexico. He has become a leftist caudillo, a charismatic populist with an enormous power of moblization.
Fox and the PAN, having foolishly turned a minor legal case into a major political disaster, have nowhere to turn. By raising the specter of political and social instability in Mexico they have alienated their U.S. suzerains, and put terror into the hearts of foreign investors, causing volatility in the Mexican stock market. If they proceed against López Obrador, his movement will only continue to grow; and if they back down, he will be virtually unbeatable.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which for 70 years ruled Mexico through a political machine that controlled a one-party state, has worked with the PAN to eliminate Lopez Obrador, and this may cost it some support. A thoroughly cynical and corrupt party led by malevolent and machiavellian figures like Roberto Madrazo and Elba Esther Gordillo, by joining the PAN in the attack on López Obrador they have demonstrated that they continue to be the head-bashing, bone-crushing political party of legend, fighting to regain political supremacy. The PRI’s vicious tactics will win it the admiration of those macho and conservative forces who long for a return to pan o palo, the carrot and the bludgeon of the authoritarian past.
A Legal Case or an Assault on Democracy?
The Mexico City mayor’s opponents’ political machinations have been complicated, based on a series of steps aimed at making him ineligible to run for office. With the PAN and the PRI joining forces to keep their opponent off the ballot, on April 7 the Mexican Congress first voted to strip López Obrador of his executive immunity. Then on April 20 federal prosecutors sent their case to a judge charging the mayor with a felony. The case against the mayor arose from a really minor legal battle between the Mexico City government and a hospital over an access road.
Apparently to prevent the mayor from becoming a jailed martyr, two PAN congressmen rushed to pay the mayor’s $180 bail so that he would not be arrested while the judge decides whether or not to proceed with the case. López Obrador called them cowards. Next, on April 22 a judge ruled that he would not let the case proceed because the prosecutors had failed to arrest López Obrador and let him go free on bail, suggesting they did not have confidence in the charges. Prosecutors promised to re-file the case and this time to arrest the mayor. Under Mexican law, persons accused of a crime are presumed guilty until proven innocent, and sometimes languish in jail for weeks, months or years. (Under Mexican law a person accused of a crime is ineligible to run for office until the matter is resolved).
López Obrador’s followers and ordinary Mexican citizens have protested in huge numbers against the attempt to make the mayor ineligible. In addition to the one million who marched through Mexico on April 24, there have been a series of marches and demonstration’s in Mexico’s central states. On Thursday, April 7 more than 300,000 demonstrators filled the Zocalo, Mexico’s national plaza to demonstrate against the Congressional decision and in support of López Obrador. On April 20 thousands rallied to his support in Villahermosa, Tabasco, his home state. López Obrador continued his resistance tour with visits to the states of México, Tabasco, Jalisco, Nayarit and Guerrero.
Not only has he been defending his right to retain his position of mayor and run for the presidency in 2006, but López Obrador has also put forward a populist program. Speaking to thousands in Acapulco he said, “We are fighting for a welfare state in Mexico that will take care of poor people form the cradle to the grave.”
A Barrage of Criticism
The Fox government has also come under a barrage of criticism abroad for its role in trying to keep López Obrador off the ballot. In late April, U.S. State Department officials expressed their concern that the Mexican Congress’s decision to strip him of his immunity would cause political instability in Mexico. In an April 7 editorial The New York Times took a highly critical position, writing: “The campaign for president of Mexico has taken on the air of the bad old days, when the dictatorial PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, loaded elections for its candidates. The top contender, Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico City, is expected to be barred from the 2006 race by a transparently political indictment on charges of ordering the construction of a service road to a hospital after a judge said no. We don't endorse his actions, but Mexico's voters should be allowed to make their choice, not have it made for them.” The Washington Post wrote that López Obrador’s disqualification would be “a disaster.” The Financial Times warned that his elimination from the ballot could provoke a political crisis and undermine economic stability.
The government’s attempt to disqualify López Obrador has also worried investors. Immediately following the announcement on April 7 that the Congress had stripped him of immunity, the stock market fell dramatically with a loss of 12 percent.
Populist? Radical? Socialist?
Yet the stock market jitters reflect fear of instability more than worries about the politics of López Obrador. While some of his critics on the right have called him a radical or even a socialist, he seems more like a moderate reformer and a populist. Certainly he has not been adverse to working with big business. The mayor brought in Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest man, to finance the reconstruction of the city’s historic downtown district. López Obrador has also aligned himself with former associates of PRI president Carlos Salinas, such as former mayor Manuel Camacho Solis. Critics on the left and the right argue that the PRD, shaken by scandals involving videotapes showing top city officials taking payoffs, has become utterly corrupt.
López Obrador’s program of a “fight against poverty” and a “cradle to grave welfare state” sounds more like a Mexican New Deal than a radical assault on wealth, and much less than a socialist demand for the collective ownership of the economy. López Obrador has demonstrated that he intends to use his great popular following as the lever with which to extract concessions from Mexico’s wealthy elite.
Some have compared him to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president who has used his country’s oil wealth to improve basic conditions for the poor, while declining to raise the idea of the expropriation of the wealth and the corporations.
Intellectuals Support López Obrador
At the Voices of the World Festival of the PEN American Center in New York in late April, writers Salman Rushdie, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Laura Restrepo, Breyten Breytenbach, Elena Poniatowska, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Edward Hirsch, Francine Prose, Oksana Zabuzhko, Paul Chevigny, Bell Chevigny, Luisa Valenzuela, Michael Schuessler, Larry Siems and others signed a statement expressing their concerns about the attempt to eliminate Andrés Manuel López Obrador from the ballot. La Jornada, the left-wing Mexico City daily newspaper published statements from distinguished essayist Carlos Monsiváis and more than a score of other Mexican writers protesting the attack on López Obrador.
While López Obrador has been fighting for his political life, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas has been seeking the endorsement of Mexico’s major business organizations in his third bid for the presidency. Cárdenas, son of former president Lázaro Cárdenas, ran for president in 1988 as the candidate of a coalition of organizations that later came together to found the PRD. He won that election only to have it stolen by the PRI which falsified the results and installed Carlos Salinas as president. Cárdenas was elected the mayor of Mexico City in 1997 and served until 1999 when he resigned to stand for the presidency in 2000, coming in third with just 17 percent of the vote. Cárdenas is competing against López Obrador for the PRD nomination. Cárdenas is running on a platform titled “A Mexico for Everyone.” Some leading Mexican business leaders have recently said that Cárdenas and his program appeal to them, as opposed to the populist declarations of López Obrador.
Pope Benedict and the Future of the Church in Latin America
by Dan La Botz
[April 20, 2005] The election of 78-year old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI raises important issues and challenges for the Catholic Church and for Latin America. Former Archbishop of Munich, Germany, for many years Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Dean of the College of Cardinals since 2002, Ratzinger served as the closest advisor to John Paul II. Together Pope John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger centralized the Church’s power in Rome, fought for an ultra-conservative theological orthodoxy, and waged a relentless struggle against the Theology of Liberation in Latin America.
For 25 years the church moved in a more conservative direction under their leadership, and Ratzinger’s election indicates that there will be more of the same and that will not be good for Latin America. To best understand what Ratzinger’s election is likely to mean for the Church and for Latin America, we must see his career in relationship to that of John Paul II.
A Conservative Theology
When John Paul II became Pope, many Catholics around the world hoped that John Paul II would continue to modernize and liberalize the Church as John XXII had done, but they were to be sorely disappointed. John Paul II, working closely with Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also known as the Holy Office – the successor to the Inquisition – imposed a conservative theology on the Catholic Church around the world. At the center of this theology was a repudiation of the notion that Christians create the Catholic Church, and an affirmation that on the contrary it is the Church that creates Christians. In the view of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, there was no room in the Church for democratic decision making of any sort. Power would be centered in Rome and doctrine would come down from on high. Using the nineteenth century doctrine of Papal Infallibility they would impose order on a restless and sometimes rebellious Church.
Despite calls for liberalization on matters of doctrine, John Paul II, strongly supported by Ratzinger, reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to the ordination of women and to the marriage of priests. He opposed homosexuality and gay marriage, and strengthened the Church’s opposition to contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. Even within marriage, sex was only acceptable when it aimed at procreation, and not as an expression of love or mutual pleasure. He would not authorize the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa. Nor did he did issue a strong condemnation of the priests involved in sexual child abuse in the United States. But John Paul II was not only a social conservative, but also a political and economic conservative as became clear in the fight against Liberation Theology.
Liberation Theology in Latin America
If John Paul’s papacy had one central thrust, it was the struggle against the Theology of Liberation in Latin America and other parts of the developing world. Cardinal Ratzinger was the principal leader of the campaign, writing the key documents, attacking theologians and religious leaders, and reshaping the Latin American Church in the process.
Vatican II (1962-1965) had modernized certain elements of Church doctrine and practice: turning the priest from facing the altar to facing the congregation, ending the use of Latin and introducing modern languages in the mass, opening participation in services to the laity, including women. Some Catholic clergy and laity wanted to see the Church reach out even further, reach beyond the walls of the Church into the urban shantytowns and poverty-stricken rural villages not only to save souls but also to bring about social justice.
In Latin America, the Church had historically been aligned with large landowners, the military and the government, supporting conservative political parties that opposed democracy and social reform. In the 1960s voices began to be heard that suggested that the Church have a “preferential option for the poor.” Father Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Catholic theologian coined the term “Liberation Theology” and created a systematic theology that would put the Church on the side of social change in favor of the oppressed and the exploited, rather than on the side of the rich and powerful. Others, like Monsignor Dom Helder Camara of Brazil spoke out strongly for the principles of the Theology of Liberation, a religion for the poor.
The Theology of Liberation filled an ideological and programmatic vacuum in Latin America. Both the populism of the 1930s and 1940s and the developmentalism of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to have failed, leaving both the laboring classes and the middle classes without a vision of the future. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 stirred hopes of social change among many throughout Latin America, including among Catholics. Many in Latin America believed that the Church could and should play a role in ending the poverty and social inequalities. The Theology of Liberation brought the Christianity of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount together with a Marxist analysis of economic and political power in a project aimed at rebuilding both the Church and society. The Church in some areas was reorganized into “ecclesiastical base committees,” that is, grassroots lay organizations that would deal with everything from the liturgy to community organizing.
The Theology of Liberation grew and spread, finding advocates among Catholics in virtually every Latin American country. Conferences on Liberation theology were held in Havana, Bogotá and Cuernavaca, culminating in the Medellin conference of 1968, convoked by Pope Paul VI. Medellin pointed the Church in the direction not only of doctrinal change but also of social action. Catholics in many parts of Latin America found themselves fighting for social justice beside radical nationalists and revolutionaries inspired by Marxism or the Cuban Revolution. The rise of radicalism and revolution throughout Latin America led the United States to back counter-revolutionary military coups in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Guatemala. Inspired by their faith and Liberation Theology, some Catholics joined armed guerrilla movements to struggle against the military strongmen. In many Latin American countries left-of-center Catholic Bishops supported social change, while more often rightwing bishops backed the dictators. Meanwhile the Theology has spread to Catholics in Asia and Africa, raising the specter of religious radicalism contributing to the struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism around the world.
John Paul, Ratzinger and the Catholic Counter-Revolution
Such was the state of affairs when John Paul II became Pope at the end of 1978. With Cardinal Ratzinger acting as his doctrinal enforcer, John Paul moved against Liberation Theology, arguing that at its best it was deviant and dangerous and at its worst it was Marxist and heretical. In 1984 Ratzinger announced that “the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church.” The threat, he wrote, arose from its humanism, from its faith in science, from its emphasis on the power of the people, and above all from its coincidence with Marxism on too many issues. A “preferential option for the poor,” he said, was little more than the Marxist emphasis on the class struggle.
John Paul II and Ratzinger launched a systematic attack on the intellectuals who had developed Liberation Theology. In 1983 Ratzinger pressured the Peruvian bishops to repudiate Gutierrez and Liberation theology, though they refused to do so. Later that same year Ratzinger criticized Salvadorean Professor Jon Sobrino, an advisor to Monsignor Oscar Romero, who had been murdered by the military while saying mass in 1980. In 1984 Ratzinger attacked Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff for “doctrinal error” and forced him to stop teaching. In late 1984 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith officially condemned Liberation Theology in an “instruction” signed by John Paul II and Ratzinger.
The 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua represented a particularly important contest for the Church in its struggle against the Theology of Liberation. In Nicaragua several priests had taken leading roles in the revolutionary government, lending the Church’s authority to revolution, democratic transformation and social reform. John Paul II and Ratzinger allied themselves with Managua’s Archbishop Miguel de Obando y Bravo in the struggle against the base committees, which they declared to be heretical. The Vatican forbid Fathers Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, Maryknoll Father Miguel D’Escoto, and Father Edgard Parrales, all high officials in the Sandinista government, from performing any religious duties. In 1985 the Vatican ordered all four priests to resign from the revolutionary government or be suspended from the priesthood. The four ignored the order from Rome. Nevertheless, John Paul II’s attack on the Catholic priests, combined with Ronald Reagan’s illegal support for the Contras, the counterrevolutionary army in Nicaragua, succeeded in debilitating the Sandinista government. In 1990 the Sandinistas held free elections and were voted out of office. (1)
During his reign, John Paul II succeeded in removing from positions of influence many of the teachers of the Theology of Liberation and diminishing the power of many of its advocates in the Church hierarchy. At the same time, he promoted his own conservative positions largely by being a very public Pope and a major media figure. He made 104 trips outside of Italy, traveling to countries all over the world, riding through cities in his pope-mobile, waving to the crowds. He canonized 482 new saints from countries around the globe creating a sense of inclusion for Catholics of many nationalities and ethnicities. Most important, he appointed 231 new cardinals, overwhelmingly men who shared his conservative views, thus shaping the Catholic Church for years to come. Those conservative Cardinals chose not to pick a Pope from Latin America, Africa or Asia, but rather another European Pope.
The Catholic Church in Latin America Today
The Catholic Church in Latin America today has been shaped by Cardinal Ratzinger’s unrelenting attack on Liberation Theology, having moved the church away from the poor and back toward the right-wing political parties, conservative landlords, big business, and the military. Nevertheless, several progressive Catholic bishops still hold office, and though condemned by the church, the Theology of Liberation continues to inspire many Catholics throughout Latin America. At the same time, the Catholic Church faces strong competition from the Protestant evangelical churches that are gaining ground throughout Latin America, from Mexico to Brazil. The Catholic Church’s failure to modernize has led many poor people in Latin America to seek comfort from the equally (or even more) conservative evangelical churches which offer charisma, community and personal salvation.
Meanwhile, a radical populism hostile to the church has returned in the form of Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, and radical indigenist movements have arisen in Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador inspired not by the Christian theology of liberation, but rather by older indigenous peoples’ religions. The greatest threat to the Roman Catholic Church comes from the neoliberal economic revolution that has destroyed the stability of Latin American society, replacing the old combination of political repression, traditional communal values, and Catholic religion with a combination of capitalism, consumerism, and continuous economic and social crisis. John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger succeeded in building a centralized, theologically conservative church at the top, but many forces continue to erode the church’s authority at the base, leaving the option for Catholics to create new ways of fighting for personal liberty, democracy, and social progress in Latin America.
1) Jean-Pierre Cloutier, "Theologies of Liberation vs. Submission," The Haitian Files http://www.cyberie.qc.ca/jpc/haiti/theology.html
Independent Unions Put Labor Law Reform on Hold
Mexico’s independent labor movement has succeeded in putting president Vicente Fox’s call for labor law reform on hold – at least for now. Legislators failed to bring the bill out of committee and have announced that it will not to go the floor of the legislature in this session. The side-tracking of the bill represents a victory for the National Union of Workers (UNT), the Mexican Union Front (FSM), and the Labor, Peasant, Social, Indigenous, and Popular Front (FSCISP), the broad coalition opposing labor law reform, privatization, neoliberal economic policies.
Carlos Abascal Carranza, Fox’s Secretary of Labor, is the principal power pushing the bill, known as the Plan Abascal, which would reform Mexico’s Federal Labor Law (LFT), giving employers greater control over labor relations in general and over the workplace in particular. While written in apparently innocuous language, the Plan Abascal would create a series of impediments to workers’ self-organization, unionization, bargaining and strikes. It would also further institutionalize the control of the highly corrupt existing unions, while codifying the worst existing practices.
The independent labor movement mobilized massive demonstrations of Mexican workers in August and September opposing labor law reform and privatization. At the same time the UNT and FSM succeeded in finding foreign allies among U.S., Canadian and Quebecois labor unions, as well as human rights organizations which rallied to oppose Mexico’s labor law reform. The Authentic Labor Front (FAT), which has played a key role in helping the UNT develop international support, worked closely with the United Electrical Workers in the United States. This resulted in an impressive coordination of forces. Human Rights Watch moved first, condemning the reforms in letters to leaders of the three Mexican parties. Soon after, twenty two labor organizations from Mexico, Canada, Quebec and the U.S., represented by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a non-governmental human rights organization, filed a case under the labor side agreement of NAFTA (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation or NAALC).
Participating Labor Organizations included:
• American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, (AFSCME), USA,
• Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW), Canada,
• Canadian Energy and Paper Workers’ Union (CEP), Canada,
• Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Canada,
• Communications Workers of America, (CWA), USA,
• Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ), Québec, Canada,
• Confédération des syndicates nationaux (CSN), Québec, Canada,
• Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Québec,
• Canada, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, (IAM), USA and Canada,
• International Brotherhood of Teamsters, (IBT), USA,
• International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, (UAW), USA
• Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), USA,
• Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union, (PACE), USA,
• Public Services International (PSI),
• Service Employees International Union, (SEIU), USA and Canada,
• Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME), Mexico,
• Sindicato Unico de los Trabajadores del Gobierno del Distrito Federal (SUTGDF), Mexico,
• Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec (SFPQ), Québec, Canada,
• Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), México,
• UNITE-HERE, USA and Canada,
• United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), USA,
• United Steel Workers of America, AFL-CIO/CLC, USA and Canada.
Also within days, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and 37 other Congress members issued a dear colleague letter criticizing the reforms and demanding that Labor Secretary Elaine Chao expedite review.
The combination of worker mobilization in Mexico and international solidarity appears to have succeeded in bottling up the law in committee and keeping it from coming before the legislature. Fox and Abascal are now threatening to hold a special session to address labor as well as other reform proposals and can be expected to bring it up in the next session if they fail to obtain earlier consideration.
The Plan Abascal would not only give employers a stronger hand but would also frustrate a decades long effort to democratize Mexican unions. The most important points are these:
In an initial attempt to organize a union or to demonstrate a majority in order to gain the right to administer an existing contract, workers would have to reveal their identities to initiate processes leading to union recognition or collective bargaining, thus exposing them to discharge.
Workers would have to produce documentation that is only available from labor authorities, which are institutionally opposed to independent labor unions.
Labor Boards would not be able to consider more than one petition at a time, meaning that at the first sign of a union campaign, employers would turn to “ghost unions” and file preemptive petitions to create delays and keep independent unions’ petitions for recognition from being heard.
Workers would lose job security, as employers would be given greater latitude to hire contingent and temporary workers who may be fired at any time with no penalty. This would be a dramatic change in current protections offered by Mexican law, which does not allow hires on a temporary basis and prohibits discharges, except under limited circumstances.
The mandatory eight-hour workday would be eliminated, as employers would be given latitude to change work-hours.
Employers would have additional rights to substitute productivity bonuses for wages, without specific obligations to share productivity gains with workers.
The reform would provide three new ways in which union certification can be revoked.
It would weaken provisions requiring that employers notify the worker or union regarding the grounds for dismissal.
The reform would diminish the preference for previous employees and for unionized employees, and also weaken seniority in filling job openings.
It would also shift the burden of proof against workers in questions of overtime hours.
Just as important, however, is what the law, if implemented, does not change. It in no way responds to the democratic and independent union movement’s demands for transparency. Union officials would still be elected by voice vote, rather than by secret ballot. The government won’t be required to provide a registry of labor unions and contracts, one of the central demands of the movement. The tripartite labor board—one-third government representatives, one-third employer representatives and one-third “official” union representatives—would stay in place, meaning that independent unions and workers would have no opportunity for an impartial hearing. Workers involved in workplace representation elections would still have to disclose their identity to employers when they seek an election. Unions could still use the exclusion clause to expel union dissidents. In the public sector, government agencies would still recognize only the existing union monopoly, and independent unions would have no rights whatsoever. Nor would the law stop the use of pregnancy tests for women workers in the hiring process, nor provide sanctions against management employees who engage in sexual harassment. Domestic workers would have no labor rights.
Mexican NAO Complaint Challenges Migrants’ Lack of Access to Legal Services
Mexico City, Mexico - Sixteen men brought from Mexico, Guatemala and Panama to the United States as temporary workers by American companies filed a complaint today under the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) seeking enforcement of their rights under the treaty. The men suffered brutal physical injury, stolen wages, unsafe housing, and other dangerous employment conditions, and were denied access to the federally-funded legal aid they needed to seek redress.
The 16 workers bringing the complaint have substantial support in the U.S. and Mexico. Four U.S. organizations have joined their complaint: Idaho Migrant Council, which provides employment training and support services to migrant workers; National Immigration Law Center, a national law center that advocates on behalf of immigrant workers; Oregon Law Center, which provides free civil legal services to low income people; and Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste, a union of farm and forestry workers in the northwest United States. Four Mexican organizations have joined as well: Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoría Sindical, A.C., which provides legal assistance to workers and unions in Mexico; Frente Autentico del Trabajo, an organization of independent Mexican labor unions; Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio, a coalition of organizations concerned with the adverse effects of free trade; and Sin Fronteras, I.A.P, which provides legal support, social services and advocacy on behalf of immigrant workers in Mexico and elsewhere.
The workers’ stories are troubling. Dan Morales was ordered to operate a forklift without training or prior experience and lost his right leg in a resulting accident. A legal aid lawyer could have helped him obtain much-needed compensation to pay for medical treatment and a prosthesis. Maria Andrade, of the Andrade Law Office in Boise, Idaho, explains: “Instead, Morales, in desperation, let his employer off the hook in exchange for a small sum of cash. Like others who are denied legal aid, he was at the mercy of fly-by-night characters and an employer with no incentive to accept responsibility.”
Candelario Perez and five other men were brought to this country to slash and burn vegetation, clear trails and plant trees in Idaho. In flagrant violation of U.S. law, they were paid as little as $1.00 per hour for some of their work. Even when nighttime temperatures approached freezing, their employer left them to sleep outside in primitive conditions in the mountains, without sleeping bags or even safe drinking water.
One particularly disturbing aspect of these workers’ stories is their inability to get the legal counsel they needed to enforce their rights. Low-income American workers qualify for assistance from legal aid organizations to vindicate their rights under the auspices of the nation’s Legal Services Corporation (LSC), but the 16 men who filed the complaint did not qualify for such aid because they – like more than 60,000 other workers – were brought into the U.S. by their employers on H-2B non-agricultural guestwork visas. Workers denominated “agricultural” guestworkers under H-2A are eligible, but workers in meat processing, tree-planting, hotels and restaurants and other similar industries are not.
“This artificial distinction leaves a significant number of workers doing some of the most dangerous work in America easy prey for unscrupulous companies seeking profit at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society,” says Michael Dale,Executive Director of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project. “These workers pay U.S. taxes just like anyone else, and they are here legally at the invitation of the United States. Yet legal services programs that get any federal money from the LSC can’t help them—even with non-federal funds. In many parts of the country there is no other legal resource.”
The complaint was filed in Mexico City because the formal process set up by the NAFTA labor side agreement, called the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), requires those alleging violations to petition one of NAFTA’s signatory countries to take up their complaint. The Mexican government will consider the matter this spring. The workers, who are hoping for a less chilly reception to their plight than they have received in the U.S., are asking the Fox Administration to hold hearings.
The legal papers explain that the NAALC guarantees migrant workers who are in the U.S. legally the ability to enforce their labor rights, access to courts, and fair enforcement proceedings. As part of a reciprocal agreement with Mexico and Canada, the U.S. is supposed to provide migrant workers with the same workplace protections as native-born workers.
“We expect that the Mexican government will seek to protect the rights of its nationals in this country and hope it will take the necessary steps to remind the United States of the obligations that all participating countries embraced when they signed NAALC,” says Laura Abel, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, one of the lawyers representing the 16 workers.
Representing the 16 workers and all of the supporting organizations are Laura Abel and Emily Chiang, Associate Counsels at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; Michael Dale, Executive Director of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project in Portland, Oregon; and Maria Andrade of the Andrade Law Office of Boise, Idaho.
Additional materials regarding the workers’ complaints, as well as the actual complaint, are available at: http://www.brennancenter.org
Alcoa Represses Democratic Unions in Mexico
Part 1: Puebla
Alcoa, the U.S.-owned multinational corporation that employs 30,000 workers in its Mexican factories, has drawn attention to its repressive labor policies in Puebla with the illegal firing in March of three union delegates. Among those fired is José Luis Castañeda Báez, chairman of the union's Monitoring and Financial Control committee.
The union at Alcoa Fujikura's Puebla plant conducted a successful strike in early February, winning a 7% wage increase after a three-day walkout. The plant produces wire harnesses and electrical components for VW-Puebla on a just-in-time basis and employs 1,635 workers.
Eighty-five percent of the workforce is women, of whom 75% are single mothers – the result of a hiring policy under the previous owner, Siemens, that gave preference to women who were sole breadwinners and, therefore, anxious to keep their jobs. Pay at the plant currently averages $1.15 an hour (U.S.) for production workers.
Siemens gained notoriety in 1999 when workers went on strike to overthrow the protection (or "sweetheart") contract the company had signed with a phantom union. With the aid of the nearby VW union, the Siemens/Alcoa workers established a democratic local aligned with the National Workers Union (UNT).
In the recent bargaining, Alcoa had offered a wage increase of 3.7%, well below the 5% inflation rate and the 7% increase in the cost of the "basic market basket." The union launched a successful strike that immediately threatened VW's production of the Jetta A4, Bora, and New Beetle, forcing the company to raise its offer to 5% on the first day of the strike and to 7% on the third and final day of the walkout.
Following the return to full production, the company fired the three union delegates. The director of labor relations came directly to Castañeda Báez' work station to order him to leave the plant. "He told me to leave the building because I was fired. The argument was simply that I had promoted the strike. I tried to find a union representative but they would not let me, nor could I collect my personal belongings as they escorted me to the door." (La Jornada de Oriente, 2 March 2005).
The firing of the three delegates is blatantly illegal, but as is common in these cases, the company expects to prevail because the legal process will take upwards of two years, and the company can expect to "starve them out" in the meantime, forcing them to accept a monetary settlement in return for quitting "voluntarily." The strategy has so far failed, since Castañeda Báez has refused the company's buyout and is protesting the illegal punishment for his role in a legally sanctioned strike.
The fired workers would appreciate any effort that draws attention to Alcoa's illegal action.
A draft letters of protest appears below:
Chairman and Cheif Executive Officer, Alcoa
201 Isabella St.
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15212
Robert T. Alexander
President of Global Automotive Operations of AFL
999 Republic Drive
Allen Park, Mi. 48101
Dear Mr. Belda/Alexander,
We have learned that Alcoa-Fujikura is attempting to suppress the independent voice of its workers in Mexico by firing three members of the union at its Puebla plant. We understand from press reports in Mexico and the testimony of the fired workers that the company has dismissed them for their role in the legal strike of last February.
It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for U.S. corporations in Mexico to engage in such illegal actions to defeat democratic unionism and maintain the artificially low wages such repressive tactics are designed to maintain. Alcoa apparently thinks it can starve out these fired workers and force them to renounce their protest in return for a monetary settlement. To date, the workers have refused to accept this cynical offer.
Together with the company’s repressive tactics in Piedras Negras, Alcoa is fast gaining a dubious reputation for lawless behavior and sweatshop working conditions. We call on you to repudiate this illegal strategy and restore the fired workers in Puebla to their jobs.
Letters of solidarity can be sent to: email@example.com
Part 2: Piedras Negras
[Piedras Negras, April 12, 2005] When workers at Macoelmex (Alcoa) stood firm in rejecting major benefit cuts, management brought the issue before the company’s entire workforce in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras. In a so-called “Ballot – Decision 2005,” Alcoa offered two options and asked all the workers to check off their preference.
Option 1 offered a 4 percent raise in wages, in exchange for an 18-month suspension of various important employee benefits. Option 2, in the ballot’s exact words, stated, “I disagree — and I’m aware that the company may make economic decisions that could affect its continuation. I prefer to risk loss of our jobs over a temporary modification of our benefits.”
Basically, the entire process constituted a form of blackmail by Alcoa: “either accept the cutbacks, or the maquiladora will move to Honduras,” where it has recently beefed up its operations.
The vote was carried out by secret ballot on March 15 and 16, 2005, in three Alcoa plants. Both the company and the union signed off on the results, making them an official part of their union contract. The signed documentation was deposited the next day at the government Arbitration Board. The documents verify that the entire union membership, 2785 workers, cast their ballots. In the end, 89 percent (2487) voted for Option 2, and 11 percent (298) voted for Option 1.
The frustration of both Alcoa management and the official union, the CTM (Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos – Mexican Workers Federation), was enormous. Both had tried to sink the issues raised by the one-day strike on Feb. 9 (http://cfomaquiladoras.org/english%20site/parodeundia.en.html) by firing 22 workers one week later as supposed instigators (http://cfomaquiladoras.org/english%20site/despidosmacoelmex.en.html) Even so, they failed completely in their effort to push through the benefit cutbacks, which would have reduced worker compensation even more — the issue underlying the February job action.
In our 25 years of day-to-day contact with workers in Mexico’s maquiladora industry, we have never witnessed the workforce respond to management with so much clarity. We asked many of the Alcoa workers what they thought was at stake in this vote. They answered us that they didn’t want their jobs to disappear, but would prefer to let them go if the price of keeping them was to endure more abuse.
Mexicans training Honduran workers
The events of February and March were sparked by a “review” of wage levels under the union contract between Alcoa and the CTM. For months, Alcoa had been pleading business problems, due to ongoing declines in the price it was able to charge for its automotive wire harnesses to vehicle manufacturers like GM and Ford.
As part of its attempt to lower production costs, Alcoa Fujikura – the division of the company that makes wire harnesses – opened a maquiladora in Honduras at the end of 2003 (See Spanish-language company information at http://www.alcoa.com/honduras/es/news/news_release/afl_auto_opens_operation.asp). It began with fabricating the wire for the harnesses. A year later, it started to expand this plant, opening production lines to make harnesses for a new contract with a U.S. firm. Rather than handle this contract through its existing plants in Piedras Negras or Ciudad Acuña, Alcoa opted to disregard its investments in northern Mexican communities like Acuña, Monterrey, and Torreón, in order to create more jobs in Honduras. Mexican team leaders and other employees were sent to train and supervise Honduran workers.
At the moment, Alcoa is denying that it will leave entire communities — it has operations in the Mexican cities of Piedras Negras, Acuña, Torreón, Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, and Puebla. But it also declines to rule out handling new contracts through Honduras. At the same time, it is continuing to hire workers in Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña.
Supervisors and the union leader told workers in Piedras Negras that they should accept the benefit cutbacks, pointing out that Alcoa could hire two Hondurans for the cost of one Mexican.
A New Maneuver: Outside Contracts
Alcoa, for its part, is pursuing efforts to reduce its costs at the expense of its workers. Apparently it hired some 30 workers for the Subaru plant of Macoelmex behind the back of the CTM, under the name “Plastic Harnesses.” Workers have seen newspaper ads announcing that a “well-known firm” was hiring workers in a local hotel, rather than following the usual custom of going through the CTM hiring hall.
This may be one way the company is honoring the letter of its signed agreement with the CTM to respect the workers’ choice of Option 2 – while hiring new workers under other conditions, as a way of introducing the cutbacks that it unsuccessfully sought to impose on its entire workforce.
Working in Spite of — and Against — the CTM
The creative campaign of resistance by the rank and file during these first months of 2005 was carried out in spite of, and against the will of, the local CTM leader, Leocadio Hernández. At each moment he pushed to vote the way that Alcoa wanted. Now that the company has seen that he is no longer useful for controlling the rank and file, he is being pushed aside. On one recent occasion, the front page of the local newspaper, La Voz, even ran a headline stating, “Macoelmex Ignores the CTM.”
The 89 percent of Alcoa workers who voted against cuts to their benefits offers a reliable indication of the minimum percentage of workers who are opposed to the union leader. It’s one more sign that the vast majority of workers reject the CTM – as indicated by a similar margin in 2002, when the orkers elected an independent slate for their plant-level leadership (sectional committee). In a related development, the International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations, will review a complaint against the Mexican government for obstructing and denying legal registration to an independent union at Alcoa in Piedras Negras. The complaint will be heard by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association at its session May 26 and 27 in Geneva.
Pressure on Workers to Resign
Working conditions at Macoelmex continue to be very poor. The last time workers received a raise was a 4 percent increase in February 2004. With no wage increases and a benefit freeze during all of 2005, workers will lose considerable purchasing power, in the face of inflation that is predicted to pass 4.5 percent this year. The amount workers take home ranges from $50 to $80 a week, or a little more. The constant pressure from supervisors continues.
The workers are expecting Alcoa to pressure them to resign on their own, to reduce its obligation to make severance payments. This will also help the company cut back its labor force. (For more information about current problems faced by workers, see http://cfomaquiladoras.org/english%20site/puntostrabajadores.en.html)
Fired Workers Want Their Severance
The 22 workers who were terminated on Feb. 18, 2005, were singled out by Alcoa – but not as such things usually occur. This time, those who were fired were not acting as organizers inside the plant. Many of those who lost their jobs never even opened their mouths during the strike, and were not “instigators” of the job action, as their termination letters charged. This account by some of the terminated workers is backed up by others who observed the work stoppage.
Some of the workers who were terminated were even allies of Leocadio Hernández, and a good number did not even know each other. Since management could not pick out leaders among the workers involved in the stoppage, it chose people for termination haphazardly, hoping to intimidate the entire workforce.
In response, everyone who was terminated filed complaints demanding severance payments – but not reinstatement (with the exception of a single employee). The workers know that if they were reinstated they would be exposed to ongoing harassment by their supervisors. Given the instability of the firm’s operations, they would rather receive their severance pay and forget about Alcoa once and for all.
A Lesson from Below About Labor in the Global Economy
The terminations did not weaken the notable level of unity and determination among the workers who remain in the plant. The 89 percent vote against the company’s plans took place nearly a month after the firings.
The workers rejection of the bid by Alcoa and the CTM to cut labor costs (and thus workers’ compensation) may offer an important lesson to all workers in the global economy. Macoelmex workers have shown that they are unwilling to keep performing at world-class levels if they have to bargain for crumbs.
Paty de Luna Is Seeking Reinstatement
Ana Patricia de Luna Duarte, or Paty, worked at almost a supervisory level in Macoelmex Plant No. 2. She was one of three women in the plant who were terminated on Feb. 18. Paty was in charge of process management, coordinating and overseeing the work of 17 operators on four production lines. She has always been a responsible and skilled worker.
Paty believes her termination was unjustified and mainly reflected the animosity of a particular foreman, Manuel Almaráz. Others among the group that lost their jobs believe that their termination had nothing to do with the work stoppage, but that they were fingered by particular supervisors who wanted to get rid of them.
Paty is fighting to get her job back because one of her children is disabled. He needs corrective shoes and other assistive devices for his feet and legs. The boy, Jesús María González de Luna, or Chuíto, who is ten years old, can only walk using a walker and other aids. Because he is still growing, his shoes and other equipment need to be replaced frequently. He also needs medical attention and intensive rehabilitation services.
Despite these challenges, Chuíto attends school, where he receives very good grades. Paty’s husband is also a maquiladora worker. They have three other small children and obviously cannot maintain their family on a single salary.
Paty de Luna, like the other workers who lost their jobs, is challenging Alcoa to show her the videos that the company cites as proof that she was one of the “instigators” of the work stoppage on Feb. 9. As she is quite sure that the video shows nothing of the sort, she has filed a complaint demanding to be reinstated.
Thanks for this article to: Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s at: http://www.cfomaquiladoras.org/
Tell Fox Entertainment Group: "Stop Busting Homer Simpson's Union!"
Mexican actors who do the voice dubbing for Fox Entertainment Group Spanish-language programs in Latin America including The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle were forced to strike on February 23 when their employer refused to honor the workers' collective bargaining agreement requiring the use of union labor. The strike vote was 60 in favor with only a few no votes.
For 40 years, the Mexican National Association of Actors (ANDA) has guaranteed union actors' right to work on productions by Grabaciones y Doblajes Internacional (GDI), which produces the programs for Fox. When GCI refused to respect the existing collective bargaining agreements, ANDA actors such as Humberto Vélez, the voice of Homer Simpson, stopped working to protect the union's rich tradition of providing top-notch performances for Latin American audiences.
"We are not difficult people to work with; we work out of love of our craft," says Vélez. "Let's hope that before we have to turn this into an ugly affair that (our employers) solve the issue. It would break my heart to have to stop doing the voice of Homero, and to turn on the television and hear someone else doing my voice." [El Universal]
ANDA is striking to protect its collective bargaining agreement that guarantees union members the right to work. Although the dispute is not about money, it is worth noting that there is a stark contrast between the $60 per episode paid by DGI in Mexico and earnings of their English-speaking counterparts, who are paid as much as $250,000 USD per episode. Over 250 million viewers in 40 Spanish-speaking countries watch Los Simpson and other Fox programs.
Striking ANDA actors ask that worker rights advocates immediately contact GDI's main client, Fox Entertainment Group, to insist that it do the right thing. Urge Fox to demand that GDI respect the basic rights of its workers and the collective bargaining agreement and to stop using non-union labor for voice dubbing of Fox programs.
Action -- Please write (sample text below):
* Les Eisner, Vice President, Media Relations, Twentieth Television
* Steven Melnick, Senior Vice President, Marketing, 20th Century Fox Television
With copies to:
* Demetrio Bilbatúa, Main Shareholder, Grabaciones y Doblajes Internacional
Blind copies should be sent to the union at: firstname.lastname@example.org, ( Rebeca Patiño) and email@example.com (Laura Torres)
[Almost all of the information for this alert comes from the Mexican National Association of Actors (ANDA) and U.S. Labor Education Project in the Americas (US/LEAP) which was circulated by the Campaign for Labor Rights.]
Dear Mr. Eisner and Mr. Melnick,
As you know, Mexican actors who do the voice dubbing for your programs in Latin America are on strike because the production company refuses to respect their contract.
I write to urge that Fox immediately demand that Grabaciones y Doblajes Internacional honor the contract. It represents a 40-year agreement between the National Association of Actors (ANDA) in Mexico to guarantee union actors' right to work on GCI productions. These include Spanish-language versions of The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle.
GDI should honor the collective bargaining agreement so ANDA can end the strike and support their families.
Thank you. I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply.
Lajat Won’t Rehire Fired Workers, Despite Levi’s Visit
[Gomez Palacio, Durango, April 13] Lajat Jeans, a factory in Gomez Palacio that sometimes produced clothing for the Levi Strauss label, fired eight workers in March for attempting to organize an independent union to fight poor working conditions. After a combination of local protests and international pressure organized by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM), Levi’s agreed to inspect the factory and investigate the charges of violation of workers’ rights.
On April 4th Levi’s sent a Latin American regional representative to inspect the Lajat plant in Gomez Palacio. The workers informed her that the plant was indeed producing for Levi’s, but on Thursday and Friday prior to her arrival, Lajat managers removed all the Levis materials. The workers even showed the representative pictures they had taken along with sample materials like buttons and tags to prove this. However, the Levis representative said that the pictures were no evidence because she could not tell that they were from the plant in Gomez Palacio.
When the Levis representative, the workers, and the CJM Executive Director arrived at the plant there was a cement mixer and a small truck transporting dirt and rocks parked right next to the plant, and the Levis representative commented, I would not certify a place like this to produce for Levis. Security guards were waiting and called management who cordially invited all into the plant, even the fired workers.
Levi Straus inspections are supposed to be unannounced, however management appeared to have been informed before hand. Amelia Palomino, leader of the fired workers commented, “The inspection was staged. When we arrived, they were waiting for us with coffee and cookies. The inspection was not a surprise for them. Proof of this was that Engineer Salcido and the manager, Guillermo Ramirez, are never present in the plant and now they were all there waiting for us. They let us in because they had already removed all the Levis materials. This visit was a farce.”
When the inspector entered the plant, all trace of Levis production was gone. The only production was for Mudd Jeans. Mudd is a very popular brand with teenaged girls. The company did $500 million in sales in 2003, and last year its New York owner and CEO sold a majority share to two companies based in Hong Kong and China. Mudd has plants in Hong Kong, China, and Mexico.
During the inspection a worker named Cesar Alaniz, approached the Levi’s representative and told her, “We were making Levi’s jeans here until Friday when they cleaned up all the materials. I kept some of the buttons and tags. They made us sign a paper that we were going to the plant in Torreon voluntarily, otherwise they would fire us.” The Levi’s representative thanked him saying, “You are very courageous to say this in front of the managers.”
In the laundry department the chemical odor was overwhelming. In stone washing the jeans by hand, workers use potassium, cloralex and ammonia with only dust masks for protection. They suffer from skin irritations, dryness, itching, allergic reactions and eye and nose irritations. In addition, they have respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. The company refuses to allow workers to go to the doctor and even issued a memorandum requesting workers to change doctor appointments to after working hours.*
After the inspection of the plant, we all met with Lajat local management, an engineer named Salcido and Gillermo Ramirez. Salcido said, “It is sad that clients [Levi’s] have to inspect the factory because of the stubbornness of 20 troublemakers who are no longer working here and who are being wrongly counseled by organizations with other interests.” He said the workers had been fired for poor work. The workers asked how it was that Lajat only realized this now since most have been there for eight to nine years.
The Levi’s representative stated she had found no evidence that Lajat was producing Levi’s products at the Gomez plant since the remainder tags the workers had given her were leftovers from their November 2004 order. The workers then showed her reports from March 2005 which were signed by the Gomez Palacio supervisors with numbers of Levi’s models. The Levi’s representative said she would investigate further. Meanwhile, she said they would try to inspect the Lajat plants in Torreon and Nazareno where Levi’s does have contracts and would try to verify that Lajat is respecting the Mexican Federal Labor Law and Levi’s codes of conduct.
She also offered to try to arrange for the Gomez Lajat workers to meet with the company President in a neutral place where they could present their four demands which are: 1) reinstatement of workers who were fired, 2) no more company interference with the workersunion organizing, 3) respect the agreement signed in February between Lajat and the workers, and 4) no more firings or reprisals against workers, especially Cesar Alanis (the worker who spoke directly with the Levi’s representative). The workers also ask the company to resolve all outstanding problems.
Amalia Palomino, thanked the Levis representative. Palomino said it was a good thing that the inspector understood that those who had been fired were serious and hardworking workers and not troublemakers as the company claimed.
After dodging the workers’ calls all day on April 5, and after the Levi’s rep left town, company president, Oscar Gonzalez, finally answered his phone. However, he would not agree to a neutral place and would only meet with two of the fired workers: Jesus Garcia Morales, secretary of the workers committee, and Amalia Palomino. The two workers accepted on the condition that Oscar Gonzalez, be the only Lajat representative there.
At the meeting, Gonzalez adamantly refused to agree to reinstatement saying they had been fired for lack of work. The workers asked why then did Lajat hire 100 workers the next day. Gonzalez had no answer but did tell them he would accept the other three demands but not reinstatement. The workers argued that by not reinstating them he was violating all the demands because he was interfering with their organizing process and thus violating the labor agreement. Then Gonzalez and asked them to help him calm the workers down or everyone would lose their jobs. Jesus said, We want to keep our jobs in Gomez Palacio but jobs with dignity where our rights are respected. Reinstate us and you will see that it is possible.
Workers are asking for support. People wishing to help may send donations directly to the following account:
Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras
Account #: 382-167
Routing #: 114021933
San Antonio, Texas
Or you can send a check to:
Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras
4207 Willow Brook
San Antonio, Texas 78228
Check the CJM website for updates.
Those wishing to support by protesting to the companies involved may write to;
Mudd Jeans, Levi Strauss, Lajat
ADDRESSES AND SAMPLE LETTERS
Yolanda Morell, Vice-president
firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 212-730-0404 Fax: 212-730-2289
Yolanda Morell will remain in this position for two more weeks until she is replaced by Emily Chan, so please send your letters to both of them.
email@example.com, Tel: 212-730-0404 Ext 116. Fax: 212-730-2289
Dear Ms. Morell:
We think you have a problem with Mudds Jeans contractor: Lajat in their plant in Gomez Palacio, Durango. The treatment of workers there looks a lot like sweatshop conditions. Workers testify to forced overtime up to 12 hours a day often without the required pay. They are using dangerous chemicals without any protection. They cant get permission to go to the bathroom or to visit their doctors in case of illness. The few bathrooms are not properly maintained and even lack toilet paper or potable water. The workers formed a coalition and negotiated an agreement to improve working conditions which Lajat agreed to abide by before the Conciliation and Arbitration Board (Mexicos labor court). However, two weeks later Lajat reneged on it and fired eight of the workersleaders.
We are writing to you to ask that Mudd intervene to fix this situation and before its image gets tarnished by Lajats bad labor practices. Please let Lajat know that you will not tolerate such behavior by one of your suppliers and demand that they reinstate fired workers, that their labor agreement be respected, that Lajat stop harassing and firing any more workers and that Lajat stop interfering with the workersexercise of their rights to form their own union.
When the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras sent out an alert about the Lajat plant in Gomez Palacio Durango and asked people to contact you, you responded by saying that that plant does not produce for Levis any more but that youd send someone to investigate. We appreciate your doing that but are puzzled by your representatives continued claim that that this plant does not come under your Global Sourcing Guidelines and her attempt to pass off responsibility for the egregious conditions at the plant to Mudd Jeans. We assure you that we are contacting Mudd as well, but we need Levis to take a strong stand with management of Lajat.
Your representative was presented with photos, tags, and buttons as well as production reports from March of this year as evidence that the plant was producing for Levis as late as the week before the inspection and that Lajat had been tipped off and cleaned out the evidence. Regarding this evidence your representative stated that the tags and buttons were probably leftovers from your last order back in November. As for the production reports, your representative stated that she was going to investigate that information. One worker who presented such some of the tags and buttons was disciplined after your representative left. The workers tell us that there is much interchange of work, workers and machinery between the Gomez plant and the plant in Torreon where you do have a contract.
Your Global Sourcing Guidelines clearly state that you will seek to identify and utilize business partners. . .in the conduct of all their businesses to a set of ethical standards not incompatible with our ownand that you expect our business partners to be law abiding . . .and to comply with legal requirements relevant to the conduct of all their businesses.
Your representative urged the president of Lajat to meet with the fired workers in a neutral place. Then she left town. What transpired was not what she asked. Instead Mr. Oscar Gonzalez, president of Lajat, summoned only two of them to the plant and categorically refused to reinstate the fired workers.
As you can see, Lajat has no intention of resolving this conflict. The workers think Leviss inspection was a farce. Please demand that Lajat reinstate the fired workers, that their labor agreement with the workers be respected, that no more workers be fired and that Lajat stop interfering with the workersright to form their own union.
Oscar Gonzalez Franch, President
firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 011-52-871-729-8292, Fax: 011-52-871-729-8266
Dear Mr. Gonzalez:
We are writing you about the mistreatment of workers by management and terrible working conditions at Lajats Gomez Palacio plant. Your refusal to reinstate 8 workers whom you fired because they formed a coalition to defend their rights is unconscionable. We have also learned that you force workers to work overtime often without paying them extra, do not provide adequate safety protection, or maintain even the most basic sanitary conditions. We are also contacting Levi Strauss inquiring how their companys supplier guidelines could possibly condone such actions which are an obvious violation of Mexican labor law.
Because of your unwillingness to reinstate workers and fix the problems in your plant, we will now also contact Mudd Jeans and alert them to what is going on in the Lajat plant in Gomez Palacio. We doubt youd like to see us also express our displeasure at stores in the U.S. and Canada where Mudd and Levi jeans are sold. Please, reinstate the workers and meet their other, very reasonable demands.
Send copies of letters to CJM: email@example.com or Fax: 210-732-8324
Thanks to CJM for this article.
Binational Conference for Education and Workers’ Rights
The Flor de Baja Workers' Solidarity Committee and Juventud Revolucion invite interested parties to join them at the Binational Conference in Defense of Education and Workers' Rights that will take place on May 14th, in Mexicali, Mexico. (See the “Conference Appeal” below.)
The conference will allow workers and activists from both sides of the border to share and compare experiences and to launch a few common action campaigns to support the workers at the Flor de Baja maquiladora (sweatshop) factory and to defend public education on both sides of the border.
Josue Morachis, for the Mexicali Organizing Committee of the
FLOR DE BAJA CONFERENCE APPEAL
The Maquiladora industry is booming. What does this mean for workers? Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, a total of 1,055,383 new jobs have been created that do not respect Mexico's Federal Labor Law (LFT).
In the case of Mexicali, for example, this has meant that the bosses, through lies and intimidation, forced the workers at the Flor de Baja maquiladora to sign contracts denying them their basic rights. These contracts, needless to say, are illegal according to Mexican law.
These workers have been in struggle for over two years, and one of the main purposes of this conference is to rally international support for their cause.
Workers in California are also fighting for justice. On April 14th the University of California was shut down by the biggest strike in its history Service workers from Santa Cruz will be attending the April 14th conference to share their experiences about this
Education is being cut, and tuition fees are going up. A month ago, students at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) victoriously organized massive resistance to the administration's attempts to make students pay for parking. A similar movement has spread through California: on April 20th a statewide student walkout
was organized against the education budget cuts At this conference, we hope to have activists from these two movements share their experiences and map out a common cross-border action campaign.
We hope that you can attend this historic conference. We have the right to a future. Let's organize to win it
- In Mexico and the U.S., free public education and decent jobs for all
- Money for Education, not Occupation
- Rights for Maquila Workers
- Free Student Parking at Public Universities
The Flor de Baja Workers' Solidarity Committee and Juventud Revolucion
Date, Time, Place
When? Saturday, May 14th from 10 AM to 5 PM. (And there will be a
concert at night )
Where? Salón de los jubilados ferrocarriles, Blvd. López Mateos y
Lázaro Cárdenas (next to the Sakura) Mexicali, México.
How much? The only cost will be for food. For folks who live outside
of Mexicali, housing will be provided for free.
If you are interested, please contact Eric ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 831-818-6492.
Film Review: Mexican Teachers Fight for Public Education
“Granito de Arena,” A Corrugated Film, by Jill Freidberg
“Granito de Arena” (Little Grain of Sand), a film by Jill Freidberg, award-winning film maker and producer of “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” presents viewers with an in-depth view of the 25-year long struggle by teachers to defend public education in Mexico. Based on interviews with Mexican teachers and parents, film footage depicting sit-ins and strikes, and previously unscreened archival images, this important and disturbing documentary tells the story of the Coordinating Committee of the Mexican Teachers Union (la CNTE) and its fight for union democracy, public education and national self-determination.
As the film unfolds, the Mexican teachers’ struggle is interpreted not only by leaders of the movement such as Fernando Soberanes and Ana María Grajeda, but also by international education scholar activists such as Hugo Aboites of Mexico and Dan Leahy of the United States. The Mexican experience is put in the context of neoliberalism and globalization by the famous Latin American author Eduardo Galeano and by Canada’s leading citizen activist Maude Barlow. Made with partial support from the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the Trinational Coalition for the Defense of Public Education, this is a film that views education from below, from the classroom and the community, from the point of view of rank-and-file workers and the grassroots of both rural and urban Mexico.
The title “Granito de Arena” comes from a common Mexican expression about any sort of collective work, that each one brings his or her little grain of sand to the project. This film is about the thousands of teachers, parents and students who each brought their little grain of stand to the fight for union democracy, public education and national sovereignty. Arising in the 1970s out of the bilingual (Spanish/indigenous) school teachers of the poorest areas in the South of Mexico, such as Chiapas and Oaxaca, many of them Indian women, the movement spread to Mexico City and throughout the country, fighting against the dictatorial regime in the union. The teachers’ union activists has had to deal with the forces of the Mexican state, the United States and the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which wanted to replace public education with a private and corporate system.
Faced with a program of privatization that would transform education into a corporate training program, Mexican teachers, parents and students have resisted by building a mass movement that almost every year mobilizes hundreds of thousands of teachers throughout Mexico. The movement has fought forward, making gains, suffering setbacks, and continuing the struggle, always against stiff resistance. Much of the footage in this film is shocking, showing brutal police attacks on teachers, staff, and students seeking to defend rural public education. Over 100 school teachers, many of them activists in la CNTE have been murdered in the last 25 years, most of those murders are unaccounted for and the murderers unpunished. In recent years the movement, facing setbacks and new pressures, has reassessed itself, reexamining the relationship between economic demands, issues of union democracy, and the problems of pedagogy. All of these issues find voice in this significant, sixty-minute documentary film.
Those interested in these issues will also want to read María Lorena Cook's Organizing Dissent: Unions, the State and the Democratic Teachers’ Movement in Mexico (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996) which covers some of the same ground.
All of those concerned about issues of education, human rights, labor unions, Latin America and globalization will want to see this inspiring film. Union and human rights activists, secondary and college teachers, faith-based organizations and non-governmental groups will find this film an important addition to their teaching tools.
For more information see: www.corrugate.org