Meeting on January 21 at the Mexico City headquarters of the Mexican Electricians’ Union (SME), trade unionists from Mexico, the United States and Canada swore mutual support and solidarity for the struggle of Mexico’s workers to fight neoliberal economic policies and government repression.

 The event was sponsored by the Trinational Solidarity Alliance (ATSA), founded in 2011. Participating labor organizations from Mexico included, besides the SME, the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (“los Mineros”), the National Union of Petroleum Industry Professionals and Technicians, and the National Workers’ Union. Others include the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), the United Union of the Autonomous University of Mexico City (SITUCAM), the Telephone Workers Union of the Mexican Republic (STRM), and SUNTBANOBRAS, which represents workers of the National Bank and others.

Major U.S. labor has signed on to this alliance, including the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the United Auto Workers, the Transport Workers Union, the United Mine Workers, the United Steelworkers, the Utility Workers of America, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, USLEAP, UNITE HERE and the independent United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.

Canadian labor is also well represented in the Trinational Alliance, with the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Office and Professional Workers’ Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and numerous others.

International labor organizations participating include the hugely significant International Metalworkers Federation, the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union, and others. 

The Mexican ATSA unions have broken away from the country’s traditional “corporativist” tradition and moved in the direction of “class struggle” (“clasista”) unionism. Their independent stance has put them in the crosshairs not only of employers and the right-wing government of President Felipe Calderon, of the National Action Party (PAN), but also, in some cases, of the leaders of unions which have stuck with the corporativist model.

The corporativist concept originated with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, but was popular in Latin America during the 1930s with many non-fascist politicians, as a way of balancing conflicting demands among industrial workers, peasants and independent small producers. In Mexico, it became a mainstay of the long ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) which made sure that within its structure it enveloped the major worker, peasant and business-professional organizations. Results have included subordination of unions to the ruling party and state, and the idea that the proper role of unions is to keep workers’ wages down. Mexican workers seeking democracy in the workplace often find themselves up against a united front of employer, government and official union.

Two of the independent unions present on January 21, the SME and the Mineros, have had to carry on a titanic battle against not only Calderon’s government, but also the mining industry and venal and irresponsible national media. The leader of the Mineros, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, who addressed the meeting by a long-distance hookup, is in exile in Vancouver, Canada, while a series of spurious corruption charges against him are thrown out of court, one by one. Calderon tried to destroy the SME by closing down the government electrical generation company of Mexico City and central Mexico, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (Central Light and Power), for whose workers SME was the bargaining agent, in October 2009, and has been harassing them every since. But neither Mineros nor SME nor the other independent unions are giving up.

The demands, directed at the Mexican government, that came out of the June 21 meeting reflect the current struggle priorities of Mexican independent unions:

*The mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico and the government of the state of Coahuila must be made to assume responsibility for an explosion in the Pasta de Conchos coal mine on February 19, 2006, in which 65 miners were killed due to unsafe conditions.

*The government must stop the violations of workers’ rights, including employers’ protection (i.e. “sweetheart” contracts) and cease its interference in the internal affairs of unions (the government claims veto power over the results of union elections, a move it has tried with both the SME and the Mineros).

*The government should “stop the use of violence, by the state or by the bosses” against workers who are struggling for their rights.

*And the campaign of persecution against the SME and the Mineros must be ended.

There are moves to change Mexican labor law in an anti-worker direction. Both the government and the opposition Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) have put forth labor law “reform” plans, which would, in the name of “labor market flexibilization”, undermine job security and labor rights.

Mexico will have a general election on July 1.Given the anti-labor policies of the PAN and the PRI, Mexico’s independent “class struggle” unions will not sit on the sidelines, but will be going all out for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leader of an alliance centered on the left-center Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), who has been vocal in defending them against government attacks, and who has already been endorsed by the SME. Meanwhile, member unions of the Trinational Solidarity Alliance have been picketing Mexican consulates worldwide, including a lively rally in front of the Chicago consulate by U.S. steelworkers and others.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.