Info on Maquilas

Mexican Labor Hits the Streets


Labor Hits the Streets as the Clock Ticks to 2010
November 12, 2009
Labor News

In the week leading up to the 99th anniversary celebration of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, workers across Mexico took to the streets. In the Tamaulipas border city of Reynosa, scores of former TRW maquiladora workers staged a demonstration November 10 outside the offices of the Federal Labor and Conciliation Board. Laid off from the US-based auto parts company earlier this year, the workers contended that they had not received severance pay in accordance with Mexican law.

"We're here to pressure them so they will pay attention to us," said worker leader Jovita Moreno.

To the southwest of Reynosa, in the industrial city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, about one hundred transit cops occupied department headquarters in protest of firings for alleged corruption and drug use.

By far, though, the biggest mobilizations, stretching from Chiapas on the border with Guatemala to Chihuahua bordering Texas and New Mexico, were held November 11 in support of 44,000 Mexico City-area utility company employees sacked from their jobs by presidential decree last month. In a one-day work stoppage, unions representing electricians, mineworkers, teachers and telephone workers joined with small farm, popular and student organizations to oppose the firings and restructuring of the publicly-owned Central Light and Power (LFC) company.

Almost reminiscent of the Villista and Zapatista convergence on Mexico City nearly 100 years ago, tens of thousands of people streamed into the capital city's Zocalo Plaza from all directions to hear speakers support the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) union representing the fired employees and call for a national strike. Solidarity messages were heard from Samuel Ruiz, former bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Bishop Raul Vera of Coahuila.

"We are at the point of the independence bicentennial and the Mexican Revolution centennial," said SME leader Martin Esparza. "And as before, we will defeat the transnationals, the dictatorship, tyranny and violations of the constitution. It's time for the people to organize," Esparza declared, adding that a new national pact and the peaceful recovery of power by the people was needed.

Actions in support of the SME were held in at least 22 states. In Chiapas, grievances also included recently approved tax hikes and the detention of farmer leaders accused of having links with armed groups. In central Mexico, highway blockades led to crack-downs by the Federal Police, while in Oaxaca, an estimated 70,000 school teachers stayed off the job.

In the north, hundreds of telephone workers, Labor Party members and social activists conducted various public marches in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez, where marchers braved the border city's violent streets and even held a torch-lit procession through the city's downtown.

Eduardo Gonzalez Perales, secretary of the Ciudad Juarez branch of the telephone workers union, called for the restitution of the SME's collective bargaining agreement and an end to a "business attitude" towards unions in the country.

Considering that the LFC company only serves customers in and around Mexico City, the breadth of support for the November 11 protest was significant.

The LFC issue has stirred widespread controversy in Mexico. Some polls claim a majority of Mexicans support the Calderon administration's move against what is portrayed as a corrupt union hindering the economic progress of the nation. On the Internet, many writers back the government's action against the allegedly overpaid, lazy union workforce, while yet others strongly support the SME's stance that the federal government should keep its hands off the LFC and its workers.

In comments about the protest, Senator Gustavo Madero, coordinator of President Calderon's PAN party in the Mexican Senate, said unions have a right to meet and speak out just as priests can also "call people to mass."

Mexico's Supreme Court rejected a request this week from SME head Esparza to investigate the government's action.

Increasingly, Mexican labor struggles are receiving cross-border support from US and other international unions. Last month, a delegation of United Auto Worker (UAW) union members traveled from Michigan to south Texas to support the laid-off TRW workers in Reynosa and protest the North American Free Trade Agreement. While on the border, the UAW members held public demonstrations at the Hidalgo-Reynosa international crossing and later briefly blocked traffic at another bridge connecting Brownsville with Matamoros.

George Hardy, first vice-president of UAW Local 174, said: "We want jobs. We need to feed our families, but NAFTA wiped away all our jobs in Michigan and America. We are demonstrating with TRW workers because NAFTA pit workers against one another, but now we want to tell all corporations that workers are united."

In a separate statement on the LFC conflict, United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard charged that the mass firings were additional proof of the Calderon administration's anti-worker, anti-union agenda and its scorched earth policy against democratic and independent unions."

Sources: La Jornada, November 11 and 12, 2009. Articles by correspondents and Notimex. El Diario de Juarez, November 12, 2009., November 9 and 11, 2009. Articles by Carlos Pena Palacios and Rodolfo Sanchez Barron. El Universal, November 11, 2009. Articles by Alberto Morales, Julian Sanchez, Carlos Aviles, Jonathan Tapia, Ricardo Gomez, and Sergio Javier Jimenez., November 11 and 12, 2009. Proceso/Apro, November 10, 2009.
Article by Sain Mandujano. AFL-CIO, November 3, 2009. Brownsville Herald/McAllen Monitor, October 5, 2009. Article by Sean Gaffney.
Brownsville Herald, October 6, 2009. Article by Jazmine Ulloa. Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, October 2, 2009. Press release.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces,New Mexico

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