April 14, 2011
By David Bacon
In These Times, web edition
MEXICO CITY (4/14/11) - Changing labor law sounds like some technical modification, a subject lawyers argue about in musty hearing rooms. In Mexico it's been front-page news for weeks. Changing the country's labor law would transform the lives of millions of workers. It would cement the power of a group of industrialists who have been on the political offensive for decades, and who now control Mexico's presidency and national government.
"Labor law reform will only benefit the country's oligarchs," claims Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who many if not most Mexicans think actually won the last presidential election in 2006, as candidate of the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution. Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, head of the miner's union who was forced into exile in Canada in 2006, says Mexico's old governing party, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI), which lost control of the presidency in 2000, "is trying to assure its return by making this gift to big business, putting an end to labor rights."
In part, the change is drastic because on paper, at least, the rights of Mexican workers are extensive, deriving from the Revolution that ended in 1920. At a time when workers in the U.S. still had no law that even recognized the legality of unions, Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution spelled them out. Workers have the right to jobs and permanent status once they're hired. If they're laid off, they have the right to severance pay. They have rights to housing, health care, and training. In a legal strike, they can string flags across the doors of a factory or workplace, and even the owner can't enter until the dispute is settled. Strikebreaking is prohibited.
The new law would change most of that.