Mexican Labor News and Analysis
Dan La Botz
15 in Mexico is national teachers’ day, and for decades it has been a time
for hearty back-slapping and political pact-making between the Mexican
president, the Secretary of Education, and the head of the Mexican Teachers
Union (el SNTE). But for the last three decades the entire month of May has
also often been a time for national teacher protests against state control of
their unions, for local union democracy, and for higher wages and benefits.
year, as so often before, hundreds of thousands of teachers struck and
demonstrated from Sonora to Oaxaca. The teachers took over the national plaza,
the zócalo, they occupied the Federal Legislature, they trashed the Ministry
of the Interior (Mexico’s political secret police agency), and also seized
the offices of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI. For more than a
month Mexico’s teachers once again showed their tremendous ability to
mobilize their members and engaged in militant tactics to defend and improve
while this year there were protests and strikes aplenty, President Vicente Fox
of the National Action Party (PAN) declined to make the typical
toasts at the usually convivial ceremony. The reasons have to do both with
union issues and with politics.
Fox government offered teachers an increase of only 4.5 percent, somewhat
below the expected 5.0 inflation rate. Academic economists estimate that
teaches have lost 79.7 percent of their purchasing power in the last 20 years,
so it should not be surprising that the Teachers Union (el SNTE) found 4.5
percent an unacceptable increase. The National Coordinating Committee of the
Teachers Union (la CNTE), the militant democratic opposition movement within
the union, which always finds the government’s paltry wage increases
unacceptable, organized massive protests and illegal strikes throughout the
country beginning in April.
the teachers’ protests have mostly been a rank and file movement aimed at
government officials, there was also another aspect to this year’s
mobilization. Though Rafael Ochoa is the general secretary and head of the
union, everyone knows that the real power behind his throne is Elba Esther
Gordillo, former head of the union, and now leader of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI). So, whereas in the past the rank and file teachers
of la CNTE fought SNTE leadership and the PRI government, this year la CNTE
often found itself allied politically with el SNTE against Fox and the
National Action Party (PAN) government.
end, el SNTE accepted an increase of 5.75 percent in wages and an additional
1.5 percent in benefits, and la CNTE agreed to take its militant protests home
to the states and negotiate with commissions there.
while this looked in many ways like the teachers’ protests of the last 30
years, in reality something new and important is developing as the PRI has
gone over to opposition, and the national democratic caucus in the union, la
CNTE, finds itself allied at times with its old opponent. However, what this
will mean for the future of Mexico’s most important rank and file movement
remains to be seen.
MEXICO SOLIDARITY NETWORK, WEEKLY NEWS AND ANALYSIS
JUNE 3-9, 2002
Ochoa, a world-renowned human rights attorney from Mexico, was murdered by two
assassins hired by Rogaciano Alba Alvarez, a Guerrero rancher who is closely
linked to the army, local police, narco-trafficking and the local PRI power
structure, according to an article published in the June 5th edition of LA
JORNADA DEL SUR. The reporter, Maribel Gutiérrez, is a well-respected
journalist with a long history of breaking important stories in the
conflict-ridden state of Guerrero. The article names Nicolás Martínez Sánchez
and Gustavo Zárate Martínez as the assassins. Sánchez was killed on March 4
of this year and Zárate was
killed on November 4, 2001, both apparently by the intellectual authors of
Ochoa’s assassination in an effort to cover up the crime.
The article calls into question the capacity and commitment of Renato Sales and the Mexico City Attorney General’s office, which is investigating Ochoa’s assassination. Sales has been promoting a suicide theory in various interviews with international human rights organizations, including this author, and in a recent article published in the NEW YORK TIMES. In the TIMES article and during an interview with this author, Sales energetically defended the suicide theory and attempted to discredit Ochoa as “full of serious emotional conflicts.”
to the TIMES article, Sales said past police files on Ochoa indicated that she
had attempted suicide at least once, during her law school studies in 1988.
Sales gives the impression that he has spent more time investigating Ochoa’s
personal life, in an effort to discredit her, than investigating her obvious
enemies in the army and Guerrero.
According to Sales’ theory, Digna Ochoa shot herself in the leg with her right hand, then kneeled on the floor and shot herself in the head with her left hand. Ochoa was wearing oversized rubber gloves that only partially covered her hands when her body was found, placing in doubt her capacity to manage a small 22-caliber weapon with her left hand (Ochoa was right-handed) and then partially remove the gloves after shooting herself in the head. This reporter spent two hours with Sales and an international delegation of human rights activists. He showed us the crime scene photos (a leak which is prohibited under Mexican law and which demonstrates the extent to which this case has become politicized) and led us through a lengthy and emotionally charged explanation
of his suicide theory, yet none of us left convinced. (None of us are professional investigators.)
On Friday, Mexico City’s Attorney General announced “we thought we had sufficient information to conclude the case,” however, “the appearance of new data opens new lines of investigation that we will look into.”
Ochoa had a long history of exposing torture and other abuses of authority, particularly by the army. In an interview with Sales, he admitted that the army has been less than forthcoming in the investigation, at one point providing only newspaper clippings when asked to present their files on Ochoa. For several years leading up to her assassination on October 19, 2001, Ochoa received death threats, and was twice kidnapped. Rather than mounting a serious investigation, Sales and the Federal Attorney General, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, have both called into question the validity of those threats and attempted to tarnish the good name of Digna Ochoa. (Macedo de la Concha is a former army General whose commitment to justice is challenged by his loyalty to the armed forces.)
Sales also questioned the validity of recent death threats received by human rights attorney Barbara Zamora, who has taken over some of Ochoa’s most difficult cases. In a parallel case, the Federal Attorney General recently mounted an investigation into the personal finances of Abel Barrera, a human rights defender from Guerrero, rather than providing him protection as mandated by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, then shared the investigation with this reporter in an effort to discredit Barrera.
This lack of professionalism and concern for human rights is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception in the Fox administration. According to Barbara Zamora, Abel Barrera and other human rights activists, the situation is worse under Fox than it was during the last years of the PRI. His Attorney General labors under a unique interpretation of the constitution that prohibits him from prosecuting crimes committed by military personnel against civilians, even serious crimes like murder and rape. This reporter has been unable to find another legal authority in Mexico who accepts this interpretation, and it conveniently handcuffs the Attorney General with regards to the Armed Forces. In the past three months, at least two indigenous women in Guerrero have been raped by members of the army, yet the Attorney General refuses to open investigations.
The case of Ericka Zamora is another among dozens of examples. A university student who spent four years in prison based on a “confession” after four days of torture by the army, Ericka was released from prison last week and immediately demanded an investigation of the army for the infamous El Charco massacre and for the use of torture in her own illegal detention.
Amnesty International recently reported that impunity and torture are widespread, especially in the army and state security forces. With Macedo de la Concha conveniently turning a blind eye, it is unlikely that the situation will change. For most Mexicans, justice is little more than rhetorical politics by the Fox administration.
Vicente Fox became president in 2001 on a platform that included a strong commitment to human rights, yet the actions of his administration demonstrate exactly the opposite. The fact that a newspaper reporter, even a good one like Maribel Gutiérrez, can uncover facts that escape Mexico City’s Attorney General should tell us something about the political will among government officials to protect human rights. Admittedly the Mexico City Attorney General is from the opposition PRD party and may not report directly to Fox. Yet in a high profile case like the assassination of Digna Ochoa, Fox has a responsibility to insure that the truth is uncovered. If the local Attorney General can?t do the job, then Fox should find someone who can. And if the Federal Attorney General
prefers to avoid his responsibility, then Fox should find someone who is willing to take on the army and security forces when they commit egregious human rights abuses. Perhaps he should hire Maribel Gutiérrez, though with her courageous reporting, she may be in danger herself.
At least one person is willing to take risks for the truth.
CITY UNION LOSES STRIKE AGAINST PRD GOVERNMENT
Mexico City public employees union lost a four-day strike at the end of May that
was seen by many as a defense of corruption and an attack on the reform-minded
government of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) headed by Andrés
Manuel López Obrador. The strike has left the union leadership of José Medel
Ibarra much weakened, and has strengthened the administration and the public
image of López Obrador and of his party.
Sole Union of Workers of the Government of the Federal District (SUTGDF),
representing some 110,000 city workers struck on May 28 supposedly over working
conditions, but, as it appeared to many, actually to demand that the government
continue a number of benefit programs that principally benefited union
officials. At the center of the strike was a demand that the government return
to the practice of allowing the union to choose the companies that produce
worker uniforms, rather than giving workers a coupon to purchase uniforms at
stores of their own choice. In the past, union officials were reported to both
take kickbacks from the clothing manufacturers, and then sell many of the
uniforms in the city’s markets, rather than delivering them to the workers.
the union claimed that some 90,000 members honored the strike, the city claimed
that services remained between 40 and 60 percent effective as a result of the
work of some 60,000 administrative and confidential employees and some 20,000
the beginning, Mayor López Obrador insisted that he would not be
“blackmailed” by the union leaders. However, he decided to let the workers
exercise the right to strike—a right denied them under the Federal Labor Law
which still covers them though Mexico City is no longer a part of the Federal
PRD city government’s position was strengthened by the fact that only a few
months before it had given workers an 8 percent wage increase, three points
above the expected five percent inflation rate, thus honoring López Obrador’s
campaign promise of wage increase at least two percent above inflation.
Many saw the SUTGDF strike as not only a defense of the union’s long-standing corrupt practices, but also a test of the PRD’s power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which for so long ran both the city and the national government. If it was such a test, then both the SUTGDF and the PRI failed, while López Obrador and the PRD not only rode out the storm, but probably won supporters among both labor reformers and conservative voters.
as the scandal has come to be called, threatens leaders of both the Petroleum
Workers Union (STPRM) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), though so
far few have been indicted, none convicted, and most of the likely culprits
remain free. While union dissidents and other critics of the union bureaucracy
and the PEMEX administration may take some pleasure in the discomfort of the old
guard, the scandal may provide the government of president Vicente Fox with
another argument for the privatization of the industry, which can be expected to
lead to a weakening of the union’s contracts and a decline in wages, benefits
and work rules.
the year 2000 the Mexican Petroleum Company (PEMEX) and the Mexican Union of
Workers of the Petroleum Industry (STPRM) allegedly colluded in illegally
embezzling from the company and then contributing to the political campaign of
Francisco Labastida Ochoa, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI), some 100 million pesos (about 10 million dollars).
continued pressure of rank and file and reform groups in the union, and the
investigations of LA JORNADA, Mexico City’s left-of-center newspaper, brought
the scandals to light several weeks ago, which in turn led to government
then various government agencies—the Special Unit against Organized Crime (UEDO),
the Special Unit on Money Laundering (UELD), the Federal Labor Board (JFCA), and
the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE)—have all become involved in the
investigation. The Mexican government authorities have frozen the union’s bank
accounts, and the courts have upheld them, rejecting writs sought by the union.
union officials responsible for the embezzlement and malfeasance, Carlos Romero
Deschamps, head of the Petroleum Workers Union and Federal Representative, and
Priete, a union official and Senator, remain free because they enjoy immunity as
PEMEX officials, Rogelio Montemayor Segui, the former PEMEX director, Carlos
Juaristic, the former corporate director of administration, Juan José Domene
Berlanga, the former corporate director of finances, and Julio Pindter, the
former director of human resources, all fled the country to avoid prosecution,
the first three to Europe and the latter to the United States.
Manuel Gomezperalta Damirón, a former corporate subdirector of PEMEX, has been
indicted and jailed pending trial.
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has rallied to the defense of the union
bureaucrats, speaking out on the union’s right to autonomy and integrity, and
the inviolability of its internal life. However, Democracy 2000, a reform group
within the PRI, called upon the party to expel Deschamps and nine others
involved in the scandal.
STPRM union has filed a charge at the International Labor Organization (ILO)
against government involvement in internal union affairs.
WORKERS REINSTATED BY LABOR BOARD—AND FIRED AGAIN
10, 2002] The Duro workers, who were fired unjustly in June 2000 after striking
for better salaries, working conditions, and an independent union, won
reinstatement after almost two years. The Mexican Labor Board (JCA) ordered the
workers reinstatement with full back pay in late May.
May 27, all the workers arrived at the plant at 5:00 pm, as instructed, to be
reinstated to their jobs. The secretary of the Labor Board and the
company lawyer processed the reinstatements. Once the workers' reinstatement was
completed and recorded in writing, the secretary left, having completed his
Then the workers were driven to the human resources office where the personal supervisor and the company lawyer told them that manager Conrado Hinojosa and the CROC union did not want them there because they were troublemakers, and offered them 50 percent of the two years of back pay that was legally owed them and severance pay. The workers rejected the offer, arguing that they had won the Labor Board decision and wanted their jobs back.. The officials then told them, okay, we accept that, so we're firing you again, and they threw them out.
As they passed by the assembly lines which stretched between the office to the exit, the workers were saddened to see a memo on the announcement board notifying employees that the Secretary General of the union was Jesús Moreno (the Secretary General of the CROC in Mexico City) and the local Duro representative was Juán Cabrera López (a thug who had led the campaign of intimidation last year during the election for an independent union).
After this second firing, the workers demanded that the Labor Board force the company to respect their reinstatement order, but the Labor Board told them they couldn't get an appointment for a hearing until next January! The workers are asking supporters to send letters to the Conciliation and Arbitration Board, the company, and the governor demanding that their right to be reinstated be respected.
is a company located in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas near the border with McAllen where
they assemble gift bags. Their customers include Hallmark, Neiman Marcus, Banana
Republic, and GAP. The Duro workers put up an arduous fight for their
independent union for almost one year. Despite being beaten, fired, arrested,
and intimidated, they succeeded in winning the first registration in decades for
an independent union in the State of Tamaulipas and forcing a representation
election which they lost because of the lack of a secret ballot and intense
repression. Finally their union was usurped by the notoriously corrupt and
violent national CROC union with the complicity of the CAB. Through all of this
the Mexican government did nothing to protect their rights, and this Spring the
US Department of Labor rejected a NAFTA Labor Side Accords complaint brought to
protest the election.
Please send letters of protest to:
Charles Shor, CEO, Duro Bag Manufacturing Company, Fax: 606-581-8327
Vicente Fox Quesada, President of Mexico;
Tomâs Yarrington, Governor of Tamaulipas; Fax 01152(834)318-8701; Email firstname.lastname@example.org; Or you can email him from his web page:
FLIGHT ATTENDANTS SHORT STRIKE WINS SMALL WAGE GAIN
Mexican Flight Attendants Union (ASSA) conducted a short 6 hour, twenty minute
partial strike against Aeromexico Airlines on June 5 winning a small improvement
in the company’s wage offer.
Flight attendants had sought a 20 percent wage increase, while Aeromexico, owned
by Cintra had offered only 5.2. With the short strike the attendants won a .3
percent improvement. The strike took place amidst some confusion as a local
union official declared a walkout before the legally established strike date
while the union’s assembly had not yet done so.
The Flight attendants and other airlines unions are concerned that Cintra, the parent company of Aeromexico and Mexicana, has been sold to the Spanish transportation conglomerate Ferrovial. The union has said it will mobilize to defend the union and it contracts under the new arrangement.
National Union of Workers (UNT), Mexico’s independent labor federation, has
attempted to shift the debate on reform of the Federal Labor Law (LFT) in two
ways. First, by offering it own reform plan focused on ending the corrupt web of
government, employer and gangster union controls over workers. Second, by moving
the debate out of the hands of Secretary of Labor Abascal and getting it before
the Mexican Congress.
UNT proposal, a 400-page document, calls for many fundamental changes in Mexican
labor law, among them: a reduction of the work week form the current 48 hours to
40, and a common minimum wage for the entire country, as opposed to the complex
system of regional minimum wages now in place.
the document focuses on the issue of dismantling the corrupt system of collusion
between government, and the gangster unions. At the center of the UNT reform
proposal are measures such as doing away with the Labor Boards (JCAs) and
creating new labor courts, establishing a public registry of labor unions and
collective bargaining agreements, and having unions offer an accounting of their
economic assets and activities. [This account is based on press reports, we have
not yet seen the entire reform document.]
The Mexican Secretary of Labor Carlos Abascal, business groups such as the Mexican Employers Association (COPARMEX), and labor federations such as the Congress of Labor (CT) and the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), attacked the UNT for developing it own independent position and putting its proposal before the Mexican Congress. Abascal has insisted that a new Federal Labor Law come out of the talks between government, business and unions that he has organized. Groups like COPARMEX have sought a new “flexible” labor law that would allow employers more latitude in hiring, firing, and disciplining workers. The CT and the CTM have resisted any change in the status quo that would threaten their privileges, perquisites, and ability to dominate the labor scene for political purposes while engaging in the usual practice of extorting both employers and union members. The UNT and other independent unions and NGOs have argued for establishing a legal framework that would allow workers independent unions free form government and employer control.
UNION WOMEN CRITICIZE LABOR LAW REFORM PROPOSALS
Network of Labor Union Women (Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas - RMS) has criticized
the process of reforming the Federal Labor Law (LFT) being carried out by
Secretary of Labor Carlos Abascal as macho, misogynist, and discriminatory
against women. Rosario Ortíz Magallón of the RMS criticized the government for
failing to consult working women who represent 35 percent of the Mexican
The RMS has called upon the government to make it illegal to refuse to hire or to fire women for pregnancy, for a more sensitive approach to sexual harassment issues, and for ending the Labor Boards (JCAs).
PEASANTS CONFEDERATION (CND) HAS REFORM PROPOSAL
National Confederation of Peasants (CNC), together with the Confederation of
Mexican Workers (CTM), and the National Confederation of Popular Organizations (CNOP)
represents one of the three historic pillars of the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) and at one time of the Mexican state. At one time the CNC
represented millions of poor peasants with their own farms or working on the
ejidos, the state-leased lands. Today the CNC finds that it is representing
“peon nomads” who wander the country looking for work, or head for the
These “jornaleros” or day laborers become the victims of “enganchadores” or labor contractors who hire them to work for employers in Mexico or the United States. In order to deal with these problems, the CNC has proposed that the labor contractors become legally responsible for the workers they hire. The government should keep clear records of the labor contracts, and insure that workers’ rights are respected, according to the proposal. Similarly the CNC argues that farmers that rent land or enter into share cropping agreements with peasants should also have to register these contracts, and make good on them. The document also outlines a proposal to cover day laborers through the public health system, Seguro Social.
MINERS AND METAL WORKERS UNION HEAD TOLERATES 12-HOUR DAY
Gómez Urrútia, head of the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM),
told the press in late May that his union has permitted employers to introduce
the 12-hour day as a kind of pilot program in advance of proposed employer
changes in the Federal Labor Law. Such a work day violates Mexico’s existing
Federal Labor Law (LFT).
Urrutia justified the long work day on the grounds that it did away with
unnecessary dead time in the mines and increased productivity, while giving
workers more pay.
At the same time, the union leader said he opposed changes in the Federal Labor Law that would be detrimental to unions and workers. Gómez Urrutia, who has never worked as a miner, has been at the center of a controversy since he inherited his post from his father.
at the famous Cananea copper mine, often referred to as the cradle of the
Mexican labor movement, went on strike in early June demanding increases in
wages and bonuses amounting to 16.3 percent as well as concerns about contract
issues. Their employer, Grupo Mexico, immediately announced its plans to close
the plant. The employers argued that the wage increase sought by the miners
would make the mine unprofitable given low metal prices at the present time. The
company was also seeking to introduce a 12-hour shift.
similar strike also broke out at Nueva Rosita in Coahuila, the center of a
famous strike in the 1950s that was broken by the military. The company is also
announced plans to shut down that plant.
labor authorities will have to rule on the company’s right to shut down the
The situation at Cananea and Nueva Rosita resemble that of the Euzkadi workers near Guadalajara who attempted to defend their contract and raise their wages, only to have the owner, Continental Tire, close the plant laying off hundreds of workers.
-by Dan Leahy et al
following letter is from Prof. Dan Leahy and 15 of his students who participated
in a class called “The Mexican Nation State” offered by Evergreen College
and were expelled from Mexico on May 2, 2002 for allegedly participating
inappropriately in Mexican political activities not covered by their tourist
Honorable Santiago Creel Miranda
the undersigned (one professor and 15 students), are asking that the Order of
Expulsion issued on May 2, 2002, against us be annulled or rescinded so that we
can enter Mexico without restriction. (Orden de Expulsión, EXP No. 5955/02,
Oficio No. 3180, Guadalajara, Jalisco)
are also asking that the expulsion of Chrysta Thompson, another member of our
class, be annulled. Her name does not appear on the above mentioned order and her
name should be included on the Recurso de Revisión.
traveled to Mexico to learn about Mexican Independence, the Mexican Revolution
and to live with Mexican families.
learned by being part of Mexico. For three weeks, we traveled the northern route
of Villa and to the homeland of Zapata. We
saw the monuments, listened to the cronistas, marched in Parral to honor Elisa
Griensen, read the history, visited the sites, talked to the people, understood
the sacrifice and heard the promise.
learned the Mexican Revolution was real, its history alive, its slogan of
“Land and Liberty” still on people’s lips.
did not come to Mexico to march with those farmers from San Salvador Atenco, but
we were proud they invited us to march with them in the International Day of
Work Parade and we were proud to be by their side.
were also proud that we marched wearing the green t-shirt of the Batallón de
San Patricio and we know the Mexican government honors the Batallón as a symbol
of international solidarity with the Mexican people.
of us wish to return to Mexico. The Mexican people were enormously kind and
hospitable to us. They are great
teachers and we all learned a lot from them. We are sad we did not get to
complete our home stay with our families in San Patricio/Melaque, Jalisco, but
we want to thank all those families for their willingness to sponsor our home
stay. We also hope that our modest contribution to the Padres de las Familias
will help ensure the construction of the new High School.
Expulsion Order says we engaged in activities not authorized by our tourist
status. We have never received any
written list or verbal explanation of what those activities might have been.
did not come to Mexico to break its laws nor disrespect its customs. For
whatever violations of our tourist status we may have unintentionally committed
or inconveniences we may have caused, we apologize to the Mexican government and
respectfully ask the Mexican government to annul our expulsion order and/or to
respond positively to our administrative appeal (Recurso de Revisión). We
authorized this appeal and CC. Jose Antonio Vital Galicia y Jorge Fernández
introduced it for us at the Instituto Nacional de Migración. We have included a
copy of this appeal with this letter. Please let us know if you require any
additional information from us so that this order of expulsion can be annulled.
Letters of support asking that the expulsion order be annulled should be sent to Secretary Creel at email@example.com or fax: 011 52 55 50 93 34 14 and to President of Mexico,Vicente Fox Quezada, attn: Lic. Fernando Ortega López by fax: 011 52 55 55 22 94 13. Copies should be sent to Dan Leahy at: firstname.lastname@example.org
WORKERS BUILD DEMOCRATIC UNION
the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
[Update #12: Tuesday, June 4, 2002] Three months after making public their grassroots campaign to democratize the union in Plant #2 of Alcoa in Piedras Negras, rank-and-file workers have achieved remarkable triumphs. Not only has their democratically elected union committee succeeded in weathering the pressure created by the CTM and the company immediately after their election victory, but they have made unprecedented strides towards building a democratic union movement in the maquiladora industry.
Union activists have worked hard to build grassroots participation. For example, last May 10th, the union Committee organized a celebration of Mother's Day for Plant #2. Using union funds together with the contributions from local businesses and the CFO, the compaZeros purchased and gave a gift to each of the 380 mothers who work in Plant #2-gifts such as toasters, irons, fans, hair dryers, watches, and so forth. The committee succeeded in having management give workers time off for the party, and even in having the company donate 80 gifts for a raffle. The celebration helped to solidify the legitimacy of the Committee in the eyes of workers, in part because it contrasted markedly with the CTM's party for Plant #1, in which the official union took mothers out to the union hall and only managed to raffle off a few gifts.
Management's cooperation in this event is a sign that the company is abandoning its initial strategy of boycotting the new union committee. Another sign is that the company, at the committee's insistence, has reduced the union dues deducted from the paychecks of the 1,600 workers in Plant #2. This reduction was one of the promises that the democratic committee made to workers in the brief days of campaigning leading up to the union election of March 4. Workers had been paying 1% of their salary, which amounted to 7 to 12 pesos per week. Now dues are fixed at 4 pesos per week (42 cents), a reduction of 50 to 200%. The measure was welcomed by workers, who were frustrated that for years they were required to pay dues to union leaders whom they had never elected and who never represented them. The committee will develop strategies for fundraising as it establishes itself as an autonomous union.
The climate of hostility towards the members of the committee that prevailed in March and April calmed significantly during the month of May. This change came despite the fact that 400 workers from Plant #2 held a general assembly, guided by their elected committee, in which they voted to split from the CTM and to form a separate union. Workers took this bold step after deciding once and for all that the present union structure could never serve the interests of rank-and-file workers.
Despite these successes, a sense of caution continues to prevail, and it is too early to declare victory. Says Javier Carmona, labor secretary of the new committee, "We've taken a small step, but we still don't have any power over our own collective bargaining agreement. The company says that it wants to work with us, but we need to see more proof. And when we try to register our union with the government, a lot of things can happen. We're going to count on the solidarity of many organizations and like-minded unions to back us up."
new union may in the not-distant future be positioned to challenge the CTM for
the legal right to bargain on behalf of workers at both Alcoa plants in this
city. Right now, the CTM continues to control Plant #1, and is the only legally
recognized bargaining agent for all Alcoa workers.
In other news, an Alcoa spokesperson said last May 23 that the company has no intention of moving elsewhere and plans to maintain at least 4,000 jobs in Piedras Negras. Similar statements have been recently made by Robert T. Alexander, the subsidiary president. Such public declarations stand in contrast to the company's position of March 4, when management stated that if the rank-and-file committee were elected, the company would leave the city.
The changes at Alcoa are due principally to the unity of workers and to the support they have given to their elected committee. Workers understand that the initial difficulties of the union were not the fault of the committee, but were part of the company's campaign to make the democratic movement appear futile, and to coerce workers into abandoning their endeavors. Today's successes are also due to the unity among the five members of the committee, who have resisted attempts to buy them off, as well as to the close relation between the committee and the CFO. Finally, great credit is due to workers and committee-members who have shown the courage and determination to speak out both locally and internationally to many audiences-including the highest Alcoa executives in the United States.
In this country, Alcoa shareholders belonging to faith-based organizations, together with the CFO, have facilitated two meetings in San Antonio between maquiladora workers and top Alcoa CEOs. Further, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) organized a protest outside the Alcoa annual shareholder meeting on April 18, which three workers from Piedras Negras and Ciudad AcuZa attended.
Looking back on these last three months of struggle, Carlos Briones, the secretary general of the committee, says, "What I've learned is how to treat my compaZeros, and how to listen. Just because we're with the union, that doesn't make us better than anybody. We're going to do everything we can for our co-workers." Javier Carmona agrees. "I've learned to be alert and to stay on top of things, to be more courageous, and to do things with
greater patience and wisdom. It's something that we've learned with the CFO."
WOMEN WORKERS CONTINUE TO FACE DISCRIMINATION
women continue to face discrimination in wages and income according to various
sources. Mexican women earn 26
pesos per hour on the average, compared to the 41 per hour per hour earned by
men, according to Brenda Vélez of the Secretary of Social Development.
The Workers’ University of Mexico (UOM) reports that 2,837,230 women earn less than the minimum wage, in violation of Mexico’s Federal Labor Law (LFT). The minimum wage equivalent to less than US$4.00 per day is not even a subsistence income.
END MEXICAN LABOR NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Vol. 7, No. 5, June, 2002
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