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Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention
Artist Beatriz Aurora

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

March 2016, Vol. 21, No. 3

 

MINERS & METALWORKERS UNION WINS VICTORY AT ARCELORMITTAL

By Dan La Botz

IN THIS ISSUE:
*Miners & Metalworkers Union Wins Victory at ArcelorMittal
* Court Orders Mexico to Pay Braceros US$340 Million
*Secretary of Education and Teachers in Guerrilla War
*PEMEX Layoffs and Payoffs
*Concern: Repression of Social Movement & Human Rights Activists
*New Guerrilla Group Appears in Michoacán: Clandestine and Armed
*International Women’s Day
*Labor Shorts

In what is a rare victory indeed for Mexican workers, the 3,500 members of Local 271 of the National Union of Miners and Metalworkers of Mexico (SNTMMRM) carried out a strike, as well as a blockade and partial take-over of the ArecelorMittal steel mill in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán—a strike that was declared illegal but which forced the company, the world’s largest steelmaker, to give in to the union’s demands.

Since an illegal strike, such a peaceful process through negotiation, and such a victorious outcome for the union are virtually unknown in Mexico, especially when the independent-minded leadership of the Miners and Metalworkers is involved. One finds it hard to believe that the strike has been settled so reasonably, leaving us to wonder if the company or the government is not planning to take some action against the union.

Strike Eight Months in the Making

The workers had first given strike notification on June 18, 2015, but had postponed the strike 16 times in order to carry out discussions with the company. Then ArcelorMittal announced in November of 2015 that it planned to layoff 2,500 workers, aggravating the situation. The union formally struck over the layoff of more than 500 workers last year and to demand a revision of their collective bargaining agreement.

Though the Secretary of Labor, Alfonso Navarrete Prida had declared the strike illegal, he surprisingly brought the company and the union together to negotiate. The negotiations concluded with ArecelorMittal agreeing to pay the workers’ lost wages during the weeklong strike, to arrange for the voluntary retirement of 81 union workers, paying each an additional 100,000 peso severance bonus, and for the relocation of an additional 125 workers. The company also promised that there would be no reprisals against members of the union executive board.

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Downturn in Steel Sales Led to Layoffs

The layoffs that sparked the strike were a result of a decline in the world steel market. Areclor Mittal, with operations in 60 countries and some 210,000 employees worldwide, has some 8,500 employees in Mexico, 7,600 in the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. The international corporation produced more than 114 million tons of crude steel in 2015, shipping some 84.6 million tons.

But with a surplus production of steel on the world market, the Luxembourg-based company, which is the world leader in the industry, posted a net loss of $7.9 billion for 2015. In an attempt to improve its situation, the company decided to layoff the Mexican workers while working on new equipment and organization to improve productivity.

Secretary of Labor Seeks Peaceful Outcome

When the Miners and Metalworkers struck, the Secretary of Labor declared their strike illegal, and it seemed as if the workers would be in for the usual violent scenario. In 2006, President Vicente Fox’s government sent in police to break a strike by Local 271 at SICARTSA in Lázaro Cárdenas, killing two workers and injuring dozens of others. On this occasion, state and federal police were sent to the area of the plant, but the Secretary of Labor surprisingly opted for negotiations rather than repression.

Labor authorities commonly declare strikes illegal in Mexico. In the past, the labor authorities have refused to recognize miners’ strikes by the same union in Taxco, Guerrero; Sombrerete, Zacatecas; and Cananea, Sonora. And the authorities have often cooperated with the mining companies in attempts to dislodge the SNTMMRM and replace it with a pliant company union. So the agreement by the Secretary of Labor to oversee negotiations outside of the usual legal process was extraordinary.

International Labor Solidarity Playes a Role

The striking metalworkers received support from the United Steel Workers of Canada and the United States whose president Leo W. Gerard sent a letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and to Secretary of Labor stating that there was “great concern” in many countries over the lack of human and labor rights in Mexico. Gerard insisted that the right to strike of the ArcelorMittal workers be respected. Local 271 also had the backing of IndustriALL , an international federation of industrial unions.

It is too early to say whether or not Secretary of Labor Navarrete Prida’s handling of this strike represents an exception to the rule or the beginning of a new government policy, but his handling of this strike certainly deserves note.

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COURT ORDERS MEXICO TO PAY BRACEROS US$340 Million

A judge has ordered the Mexican government to pay almost six billion pesos or US$340 million to 4,678,000 braceros who signed contracts to work in the United States between 1942 and 1964. The Mexican government set money set aside as an involuntary savings fund for braceros based on ten percent of their wages. Then the money disappeared for fifty years. The judge has ordered that the workers be paid the money owed them plus interest.

A group of bracero activists has been fighting for this money owed them for decades. In 2012, former President Felipe Calderón had arranged to each bracero 38,000 pesos or about $2,171, a sum that the judge said showed “a lack of respect for the braceros.”

The bracero program, begun because of a labor shortage in the United States during World War II, was established by mutual agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments. The program brought 4.7 million Mexican laborers, overwhelmingly men, to work mostly on farms but also in construction, in industry, and on the railroads in the United States.

The court has ordered the Mexican government to work with the U.S. government to establish a list of all of those who were contracted so that the money can be paid either to the braceros or to to their beneficiaries. Since most of the men and the few women involved were in their 20s, 30s, or 40s in the 1940s, it can be assumed that many would be dead by now.

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SECRETARY OF EDUCATION AND TEACHERS IN GUERRILLA WAR

The Secretary of Public Education (SEP), Aurelio Nuño Mayer, and dissident teachers of the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) and allied teachers organizations are in a virtual guerrilla war over the Education Reform Law and the teacher testing it requires. Last year la CNTE called upon teachers to refuse to take the evaluation exam required under the Education Reform passed in 2013, and last year in some states union activists disrupted the examination, burning the tests.

As a result, the SEP fired 3,600 teachers in various states for failing to take the exam. Some of the teachers claim that extraordinary circumstances made it impossible for them to take the exam. Juan Díaz de la Torre, head of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), under pressure from the CNTE caucus within his union as well as from angry teachers all over the country, has insisted that the SEP examine the cases of the 3,600 teachers one-by-one.

But Secretary of Education Nuño Mayer has declared that all of the teachers who failed to take the exam will be terminated without any appeal.

In response to those firings, teachers have engaged in protests throughout the country, leaving class to participate in marches and sometimes blockading SEP buildings or blocking highways. Nuño Mayer, in turn, has docked 5,000 teachers in Chiapas and many others in other states for missing work.

The union dissidents, in addition to their protests, are also pursuing a legal strategy. As Enrique Enríquez Ibarra, head of Local 9 in Mexico City explained, “We are calling on each school to organize a voluntary collection and to create a resistance fund to give economic support to our compañeros and to finance their legal defense. They are not asking for severance pay, but rather want to be reinstated in their jobs.”

Meanwhile, throughout Mexico, elementary and secondary school teachers continue to engaged in protests large and small against the Education Reform Law and in support of the their fired comrades.

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PEMEX LAYOFFS AND PAYOFFS

The Mexican Petroleum Company, PEMEX, has gotten rid of 25,000 workers in the last two years. From a high of 154,000 workers a year ago, there will soon be about 129,000. In 2015 the company eliminated 14,694 employees through layoff, retirement, or early retirement, while this year the company plans to eliminate another 10,553. At the same time, the number of corporate directors grew from four to nine while the number of managers grew by 500.

The Mexican Petroleum Workers Union (STPRM), headed for the last twenty years by Carlos Romero Deschamps, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who is also a Senator, has not said a word in defense of the workers. Perhaps this is in part because he receives from PEMEX some 379 million pesos (about US$17 million) for “travel, expenses, and celebrations.”

(He is not the only union leader who receives such generous payments from the company. Victor Fuentes del Villar, who heads the Sole Union of Electrical Workers [SUTERM] receives 200 million pesos [about US$11.4 million] from the Federal Electrical Commission. That may help to explain why he has not spoken up against the privatization of that state company.)

Last year dissident petroleum workers attempted to get an injunction to stop Romero Deschamps from making a deal with PEMEX that they believed would lead to the loss of as many as 60,000 jobs. And legislators in the Mexican Congress also sought an investigation into Romero Deschamps. Both efforts to restrain the Petroleum Workers Union leader failed.

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CONCERN: REPRESSION OF SOCIAL MOVEMENT & HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

Social movement activists and human rights organizations told the press this month that they are concerned about repression instigated by private corporations and carried out by the government. Miguel Mijangos of the Mexican Network of those Affected by Mining (REMA), Gustavo Lozano of the Mexican Movement of those Affected by Damns and for the Defense of Rivers (MADPER), and José Antonio Lara of the Zeferino Ladrillero Center for Human Rights told the Mexico City daily La Jornada that corporations involved in mega-projects are “fabricating crimes” in order to put their critics and opponents in jail.

They said this affects many activists in several state of Mexico—Chihuahua, Guerrero, Oaxaca, the State of Mexico, Puebla, Chapias, Vercruz, Sonora, and Coahuila, but that it is a “global strategy” also affecting other countries in Latin America.

At present they estimate that there are 350 such activists imprisoned in Mexico and held without possibility of release because of the grave nature of the crimes of which they are accused.

At the same time the Mexican government’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) expressed its concern about the alarming number of attacks on human rights activists, especially in the last five years. The CNDH issued a report documenting between January 2010 and December 31 2015 some 25 murders of human rights defenders and three people disappeared from 2009 to today.

Luis Raúl González Pérez who presented the report said that those who committed such murders enjoyed immunity. He also spoke of the criminalization of those involved in human rights work.

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NEW GUERRILLA GROUP APPEARS IN MICHOACAN: CLANDESTINE AND ARMED

A new guerrilla group calling itself the Insurgency for Institutional and Social Rescue (Insurgencia por el Rescate Institucional y Social – IRIS) has been founded in Michoacán, as reported in the political magazine Proceso in March.

“We are not a cartel, we are the people,” says José María, the group’s spokesman.

This is not the Marxist-Leninist, Guevarist, or nationalist guerrilla organization of yesteryear. José María, the masked spokesman of the organization describes it as being made up of businessmen, ranchers, and others, many of whom are well off, but concerned with the problems of corruption in government.

“Organized crime and the government are one,” says José María from behind his balaclava and under the shade of the great white sombrero of the type worn in that region. “We are not criminals. We are people who are tired of what’s happening and we are organizing ourselves.”

The group’s spokesman says the organization was founded eight months ago, operates in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, is armed with hunting rifles and is prepared to engage in armed action in the future. Some of the group’s members, he says, come from the self-defense organizations active in the state for the last few years, but gradually suppressed by the federal government.

The Michoacán Attorney General José Martín Godoy Castro, though aware of the video tapes about IRIS that have appeared on YouTube and that are similar to the Proceso interview, said that he was unaware of any guerrilla group operating in the state. He said that an investigation would have to be conducted. Such groups, said Godoy Castro, exist to destabilize the government.

To watch the video interview go to: http://www.proceso.com.mx/433633/iris-una-guerrilla-contra-la-corrupcion

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

March 8, International Women’s Day, an official holiday in Mexico, was celebrated this year, as it always is, with many events, some organized by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, some by political parties and academic institutions, and some by women’s organizations large and small. While Mexican women have much to celebrate in terms, there is also much to improve and much to lament. Women do not have equal representation in government, they lag behind in employment and wages, and they suffer in society and work from sexual harassment and widespread violence.

Government Celebrations

President Peña Nieto, speaking on International Women’s Day, promised that his government would be joining with the country’s banks to expanding its Pyme Mujer program offering credit to help finance women’s business ventures. The president also announced an expansion of the Seguro Popular program to provide health coverage for all women suffering from ovarian cancer.

Throughout the country, federal officials, governors and mayors presided over other official International Women’s Day events. While many of these events demonstrated the advance of women and of feminist consciousness in Mexico, one International Women’s Day event showed that some Mexican men still have a long way to go.

Arturo Bermúdez, the Secretary of Public Security of the State of Veracruz, held a party for his department’s female employees where a dozen male police officers performed as strippers for the audience. While some women laughed and took photos with the nearly nude officers others were offended and embarrassed, and some in the feminist community of Mexico were outraged by the event.

Companies and Union Officials Recognize Women

Aeroméxico celebrated the day by dispatching nine women pilots with all female flight crews from Mexico City, on trips to the four corners of the earth: to New York, to Tokyo, to from Lima, and to Madrid among several other destinatons. Aeroméxico first sent a flight with all female flight crews and flight attendants from Mexico City to Shanghai in 2015.

Juan Díaz de la Torre, head of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), whose members have been up in arms over the Education Reform Law, held a ceremony in Durango where he recognized the role that women play in the teaching profession. He recognized five women as outstanding teachers in front of an audience of 250 union officials, politicians, government leaders, and military officers. Meanwhile other women teachers around the country have been leading and joining protests over the Education Reform Law.

Women in the Mexican Economy

About 60 percent of all Mexican workers are employed in the informal economy, a netherworld where firms are not registered with the government, don’t pay taxes, don’t pay into the Social Security health system, and don’t obey labor laws. So we don’t know how many women work in the largest sector of the economy and have to estimate based on statistics form the formal sector.

According to the Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), Mexico has 29 million workers who are counted in the census of 2014, of whom women make up 43.8 percent. The sectors with the highest female employment are finance at 49.5 percent (bank tellers and clerks largely) and commerce with 47.7 percent (mostly in restaurants, hotels, sales, etc.).

Women make up only 10 percent of agricultural and fishing workers, and only 11 percent of construction. But females represent 34.5 percent of manufacturing workers. In retail sales women make up 51.3 percent.

Women, whether they work out of the home or in the home, do 77.5 percent of all of the domestic chores and care work (caring for children or the elderly). That is, women still do double duty, holding down two jobs, one at work and one at home.

Yet, though they work more, women earn 22.9 percent less than men. This is below the average for Latin America where women earn on the average 16 percent less than women.

Violence Against Women

Some 63 percent of Mexican women over 15 years of age experience gender violence, according to INEGI. Such violence may include physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological violence; it may economic discrimination in the workplace.

Seven women are murdered every day in Mexico, and in the last three decades more than 44,000 have been murdered. In 95 percent of all cases, men who murder women go unpunished.

The drug war initiated by President Felipe in 2006 has to date killed 120,000 people, and though we have no statistics on how many of those were women, many were. The drug cartels have killed women political leaders, women journalists, women teachers, women factory workers, women prostitutes, and others. In the last seven years there have been 356 acts aggression against women reports, 84 of them in 2015.

Yet, as reported in Servicio Especial de la Mujer - SEM Mexico, women are active everywhere in Mexican society—in unions, in politics, in business, in government—working to improve the lot of women. (Those who wish to follow the Mexican women’s movement and can read Spanish should subscribe to SEM Mexico http://www.semmexico.org/)

One particular success of women workers this year was the establishment on February 18 of the National Union of Men and Women Domestic Workers (SNTTH), the first such domestic workers union in the country, the overwhelming majority of whose founders are women.

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LABOR SHORTS

Though Mexico has recorded no official strikes in two and a half years, strike notifications—part of the legal process required of unions in Mexico—have risen by 25 percent, reports El Economista. Labor attorneys say such strike notifications are often accompanied by work stoppages.

Growers Pressure Farmworkers to Join Govenment-controlled Unions

According to members of the Independent National Democratic Union of Agricultural Day Laborers (SINJA), growers in the San Quintín Valley where farmworkers struck last March are pressuring their employees to join the unions of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) or the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM). Both unions are affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party and friendly with the bosses.

Gonzalez Cuvevas to Remain Head of Croc

Isaías González Cuevas, head of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), which is affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was reelected general secretary by his union’s convention. Speaking at the convention was Carlos Aceves del Olmo, head of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) who told the assembly that the era of class struggles was over and that the workers should be allies of the bosses. He also declared that the PRI unions such as the CROC and the CTM were allies against their enemies outside the party.

Miners Win 17% Wage and Benefit Increase

The Mexican Miners and Metalworkers Union (SNTMMRM) won a 7 percent wage increase and a total of 13.5 to 17 percent in total wage and benefit gains for the employees of ASF-K in Sahagún, Hidalgo.

Ipn to Pay Back Wages

As a result of negotiations between the administration and workers, the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) will pay back wages and holiday bonuses to 200 workers who have gone unpaid for months.

Mexican Pension Funds Losing Money

According to the National Commission of Savings Systems for Retirement (CONSAR), a government agency, Mexican workers’ pension funds have lost 2,556,486 pesos or US$863 million.

END MEXICAN LABOR NEWS AND ANALYSIS

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Archived MLNA issues.

 

Arturo Silva Doray

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"The relationship that we've had with international organizations
-- thanks to ties with UE   --  is hugely important.

"After each international meeting, we feel more and more encouraged by the knowledge that we're backed by outside organizations as strong as the UE."

-- Arturo Silva Doray
General secretary of municipal workers union in Juarez, Mexico
& of Federation of Municipal Workers for Chihuahua, Mexico

 


 

For more Information

For information about submission of articles and all queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: danlabotz@cs.com or call (513) 861-8722. The mailing address is: Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.

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Most MLNA articles may be reprinted by other electronic or print media. If the article includes a byline, republication requires the author's approval. For permission, please contact the author directly. If there is no byline, republication is authorized if the reproduction includes the following paragraph:

"This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE)."

 

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