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

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

May , 2016, Vol. 21, No. 5

 

IN THIS ISSUE:
*Teachers Rebellion Against Reform Faces Government Repression
*Korean Mining Company Tries to Incite Worker Violence
*Company Union Blames Workers for Accidents
*Mining Companies Violate Union Rights: Report
*Miner’s Union Leader – Not Safe to Return to Mexico
*Telephone and Electrical Workers Unions Settle Contracts
*Federal Electrical Commission to Lay Off 10,000 Workers
*Justice Workers, No Unions or Strikes: Supreme Court
*Fire Fighters Work for No Wages or for Very Little
*Old Braceros Continue to Fight for Their Money

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TEACHERS 'INDEFINITE GENERAL STRIKE' AGAINST EDUCATION REFORM FACES SEVERE GOVERNMENT REPRESSION

By Dan La Botz

The National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) and allied dissident groups in the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) declared a general, indefinite strike on May 16. Tens of thousands of teachers left their classrooms, shutting down many schools in Chiapas,Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán. There have also been protests in the State of Morelos.
This is a huge movement, encompassing at least two hundred thousand of Mexico’s more than a million teachers and it involves both bold civil disobedience by the teachers and violent repression by the government. This time, the government seems out to destroy the movement that has been the strongest force in the Mexican working class since the late 1970s.

The strikers in some locations have taken over highway tollbooths, shut down highways,and occupied government buildings. In Chiapas teachers took over four public and private radio and television stations while in Oaxaca teachers blocked the airport that links the state capital to the seaside resorts. In all of the striking states, teachers organized delegations to occupy public plazas in Mexico City the national capital.

The repression has been severe. Teachers say it is the most serious attack on the teachers movement since the 1980s. More than 4,250 teachers have been fired for missing four days of work, absences often related to their participation in strikes or other protests. The Mexican federal and state governments mobilized police who violently attacked the demonstrators in Chiapas leading to a pitched street battle involving tear gas, sticks and stones, and lasting three hours. In Oaxaca, la CNTE leader Rubén Núñez told the media that teachers were being arrested, though there were no charges against them and no warrants for their arrest.

In Mexico City the police blocked highway traffic on one highway into the city to prevent teachers from joining protests there. Mexico City police also dislodged teachers from plantóns, or sit-ins in public plazas, though the teachers later returned to those or other plazas. In Guerrero police roughed up teachers occupying a public plaza, forcing them to board buses to return to their hometowns.

Dissident teachers argue that the Education Reform Law’s required tests are unfair, that the law weakens union rights, and that it will lead to privatization of the public education system. A spokesperson for la CNTE says that the dissident teachers will not be intimidated. “We will continue the work stoppage despite the threat of being fired. We will not take one step back.”

Not Like in the Past

In past years, Mexico’s dissident teachers often struck for weeks and nearly always occupied public buildings, the public plazas of the state capital and the national capital—struck almost every year—but almost all strikers recovered back wages, few were disciplined, and while there were sometimes confrontations, repression was seldom
so severe. (Though in the extraordinary events of 2006 in Oaxaca police and civilian death squads attacked strikers and over several weeks of strikes and protests as many as
20 people lost their lives.)

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government and allied state governments appear to be
bent on winning this one through a variety of tactics.

● Striking teachers are being docked, and, if they miss four days of work, being fired.
● A few union leaders have been charged with crimes while others are being arrested without charges.
● Police are being forceful and violent in an attempt to intimidate strikers.
● The government and the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) are stonewalling the teachers, refusing to negotiate over the Education Reform Law or other issues.
● Working teachers have received a contractual wage increase of 3.5 percent negotiated by the union.
● Teachers who take the required tests are being praised, sometimes honored in public ceremonies.

These tactics are intended to isolate la CNTE and its allies from the rest of the union and to discredit them in the eyes of the public.

Strikes Again Coincide with Elections

The teachers’ strike is taking place on the eve of the June 5 national elections when 12 states will choose governors as well as electing other local officials. At the time of the June 2015 elections, the union—to protest not only against the Education Reform but also against the September 2014 murder of six, wounding of 25, and kidnapping of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College in the town of Iguala, Guerrero—called for a boycott of the election.

The teachers union and the Ayotzinapa protest movement not only called for a boycott in June of 2015 but also attempted to force the boycott on the public by burning ballots and other election materials in Oaxaca City as well as in other places. In some areas that
strategy led to conflicts not only with the authorities, but also with local communities who wanted to vote.

This time la CNTE is calling upon its members, supporters, and the public at large to vote for the Movement of National Regeneration Party (MORENA), the party led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. La CNTE argues that voters should cast their ballots for MORENA in order to punish the other congressional parties virtually all of which signed
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico” that laid the basis for the page of a series of so-called reforms, including the election reform.

The president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) holds the lead in polls in the State of Oaxaca; there are no elections this spring in the other states where the teachers are on
strike (Chiapas, Guerrrero, and Michoacán).

Also a War of Words

The increasingly violent confrontation has been accompanied by a war of words. The Secretary of Public Education (SEP), Aurelio Nuño Mayer, told the media that, “An overwhelming majority of teachers have demonstrated their educational responsibilities by not participating in the unjustified work stopages promoted by the various currents of la CNTE in three states of the Republic.” Nuño Mayer has claimed that in Oaxaca and Michoacán approximately 85 percent of teachers were working and that in Guerrero the schools operated practically normally.

La CNTE has denied the government’s claims that most schools were operating normally. In Chiapas and Oaxaca, where the strike is strongest, there have been huge demonstrations of tens of thousands teachers, parents and others. In some states hundreds and in others a few thousand teachers have blocked highways or seized public buildings, indicating strong support for the movement.

Dissident teachers have been demanding to meet with Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the Secretary of the Interior (Gobernacion), the office that historically meets with and makes deals between the government and opposition movements. He said that his office would not meet with the dissident teacher organization until they accepted the education reform law.

Teachers Evaluations and Firings

The head of the official Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), Juan Díaz de la Torre, argues that 98 percent of Mexican teachers have accepted the education reform and have demonstrated that by taking the evaluations required by it. (Failure to take the examination can result in termination and a number of teachers have been terminated for failing to do so.) He argues that la CNTE and its allies disdain the opinion of the majority of teachers.

De la Torre also accuses la CNTE of being controlled by “political interests that have nothing to do with education or teachers rights,” though he has not identified what those “interests” might be. He might be implying either the Party of the Democratic Revolution
(PRD) or the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA) party, both of which have links to and have spoken up for the teachers.

Labor and International Solidarity

The dissident teachers have received support from other unions both in Mexico and abroad. In addition to parents who joined in support of the dissident teachers there have been some important instance of solidarity. In Juchitán, Oaxaca, some 500 members of the National Union of Health Sector Workers (SNTSS) marched in solidarity with SNTE
Local 22, which is controlled by la CNTE.

The Trinational Education Coalition , an alliance of Canadian, Mexican, and U.S.teachers, met in Vancouver from May 1315 and passed a resolution to support the dissident teachers movement.

The problem, however, is the same as it has been for years. The dissident movement,powerful as it is, remains a force in just a handful of states. While there is widespread concern among teachers about the Education Reform Law, and though are occasionally
protests in other states, it is only in four states that the movement is strong. If la CNTE can mobilize teachers throughout more states in Mexico it is likely to be successful in turning back the Education Reform Law.

Despite opposition from the government and the official union leadership, the dissident teachers movement pledges to continue its strike, demanding negotiation with the government over the Education Reform Law.

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SCAB TEACHERS PUBLICLY HUMILIATED—WHO DID IT?

A group of six supervising teachers in Comitán, Chiapas were publicly humiliated for breaking the teachers strike that is strong in that state. The supervising teachers were taken to the market where their hair was cut, they were forced to walk barefoot, and to carry signs saying, “Traitor to the Country” or “Charro,” indicating their support for the national leadership of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) rather than for the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE) which has organized the strike.

Spokespersons for el SNTE used these events as an opportunity to call upon the government to destroy la CNTE. But the evidence that la CNTE was directly responsible is weak. The supervising teachers said that those who took them were not teachers. The press reports said that radical organizations in the local communities had carried out the public degradation.

La CNTE has suggested that the municipal presidents (mayors) of Comitán and San Cristóbal de las Casas had paid thugs to carry out the humiliation of the teachers. The goal was to discredit the striking teachers said spokespersons for la CNTE.

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KOREAN MINING COMPANY TRIES TO INCITE WORKER VIOLENCE

The Korean owners and/or managers of El Boleo Mine in Baja California Sur attempted to pit miners against each other in order to bring in the police and dislodge miners engaged in a work stoppage.

The company handed picks and crowbars to a group of workers and told them to attack those engaged in the work stoppage, with the goal of justifying a police intervention.

The mine has “unjustifiably fired some 200 workers” to keep them from affiliating with the National Union of Miners and Metal Workers (SNTMMRM).

A group of miners protested at the Korean embassy, telling the Korean government’s representatives that El Boleo mine was violating labor rights protected in the Mexican Constitution and in labor law. They said the company had not only violated the law, by attempting to provoke violence among the miners, but refused to allow them to elect their union representatives and failed to protect the miners’ health and safety. They accused the mine’s manager, Eduardo Linares G. of “sexual harassment” of the miners. The manager required all miner’s to sign a blank sheet of paper upon hiring, giving management the ability to present false statements signed by the miners.

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HOW TO IDENTIFY A COMPANY UNION? A COMPANY UNION SIDES WITH MANAGEMENT, BLAMING WORKERS FOR ACCIDENTS

By Dan La Botz

Three miners were killed—crushed—when enormous heavy-duty
tractors collided around 6:30 a.m. on May 4 at the Buena Vista de Cobre mine in Cananea, one of the world’s largest and most productive copper mines. It is owned by Grupo Mexico.

Who was responsible for the accident? The dead miners—Hanssel Guadalupe Suárez Sarmiento, Germán Bernardo Acevedo Carrera and Fabián Villa Caro—can give no testimony. Grupo Mexico says that it provides workers with regular safety training and that it regrets the “tragedy.”

The National Union of Workers of the Mining and Metal Industry (SNTIMM), affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which represents the 1,800 workers at the mine, quickly announced that the accident was the result of “human error.” A supervisor, it said, had apparently parked a vehicle in a prohibited place. The CTM
union’s announcement of “human error” suggests that the workers driving the tractors might be responsible. That is, the union blames the supervisor and workers, while making no criticism of the company or of the government, both of which have an obligation to regulate safety in the mine.

Those who work in health and safety know that there are no “accidents” and that “human error” is not the cause of the illnesses, injuries, maimings, and deaths that occur in the workplace. Corporations and governments have a responsibility to create the conditions and enforce the standards that make work safe. Unions have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of workers when the government or employer fails to do so. A real union has the power to force company and government to make work safe.

Cananea’s workers used to be represented by a real union, the National Union of Mining and Metal Workers (SNTMMRM) whose president Napoleón Gómez Urrutia called an earlier mining accident “industrial homicide” and named the company and government as responsible. He was forced to flee the country to avoid government prosecution on false
charges and leading that union from Canada. The Mexican government, working with Grupo Mexico, colluded to eliminate that union, and to legitimate the company union.Those are the parties responsible for the three deaths.

Back to May , 2016 Table of Contents

MINING CO.S VIOLATE UNION RIGHTS: REPORT

Mexico’s mining companies—including some of the biggest such as Alto Hornos de Mexico, owned by Alonso Ancira; Grupo México, owned by Germán Larrea; and Peñoles, owned by Albero Bailléres—have been making deals through Local Labor Boards that allow them to create company unions, eliminate collective bargaining agreements, and shake off benefit obligations among other illegal practices. This is according to a report prepared by labor law expert Óscar Alzaga and summarized in La
Jornada newspaper on May 30, 2016.

The mining companies are avoiding their legal obligations to work through the Federal Labor Boards, that govern national industries, by turning to the local labor boards. There the companies have succeeded in getting rid of several legitimate unions and contracts.

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MINERS UNION LEADER—NOT SAFE TO RETURN TO MEXICO

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who has been living in exile in Vancouver, British Columbia,Canada since 2006 says that he will not return to Mexico as he had planned due to the Mexican government not taking adequate measures to provide for his security. He fled
the country in 2006 after being threatened with arrest for embezzlement, a charge that was brought after he called a mining disaster on Feb. 19, 2006 at Pasta de Conchos “industrial homicide.” He, also, had the gall to attempt to become the head of the
Congress of Labor, threatening the government’s firm control over the umbrella labor organization.

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TELEPHONE AND ELECTRICAL WORKERS SETTLE CONTRACTS

The Mexican Telephone Company (TELMEX) and the Mexican Telephone Workers
Union (STRM) have agreed to revision of the contract for 2016-18
that will grant workers raises of 3.2 percent as well as a 3.1 percent increase in the productivity agreement, and 1.5 percent in other benefits. The STRM represents 40,000 telephone workers.

At the same time, the Federal Electrical Commission and the Sole Union of Mexican Electrical Workers (SUTREM) reached an agreement for the 70,000 workers covered by that contract. Workers will receive 3.15 percent in wage gains, 1.4 percent for help with transportation costs, and 1.1 percent toward the welfare fund.

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FEDERAL ELECTRIC COMMISSION TO LAY OFF 10,000 WORKERS

The Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the state company that provides electricity for most of Mexico, announced on May 19 that it would lay off 10,000 workers in the next three years, according to documents provided to the media. The arrangement has apparently been made with the acceptance of the Sole Union of Electrical Workers
(SUTERM), which represents CFE workers.

The SUTERM’s 15-member executive board, which is negotiating the layoffs, is made up of some of the highest paid union officials in Mexico. Executive board members earn between 54,000 and 161,000 pesos per month. The highest paid officer makes US $8,715 per month or US $104,508 per year. The average pay in Mexico is $214 pesos per day or
about US $500 per month.

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JUSTICE WORKERS, NO UNIONS OR STRIKES: SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court of the National decided on May 12 that workers employed by the justice system, whether in administration, the court system, judge’s offices, police or military cannot form unions or engage in strikes. The case was brought by the State of Tlaxcala and the judges ruled that justice workers activities were covered by
administrative constitutional and legal codes, not by labor laws. Nine justices voted for the decision, with one judge voting against arguing that those workers enjoyed labor
rights.

About two weeks later 200 police in Guerrero declared themselves on strike because the state was keeping them in their stations and refusing to allow them to go home during the dissident teachers mobilizations. The Secretary of Public Security of Chilpancingo, the state capital, declared that there was no strike, though the media reported there were no police to be seen.

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FIREFIGHTERS WORK WITHOUT WAGES OR FOR VERY LITTLE

Mexico has 496 fire fighting companies. Some 318 are civil associations, while 165 are municipal companies, and 13 are state-run.

Most of the fire companies use old second-hand equipment. The various companies deploy 14,251 firefighters, but one-third of them receive no wages. In Chiapas, where they are paid, firefighters receive only 100
pesos (US$5.41) per day. This is according to Benavente Duque of the National Association of Firefighters as reported in La Jornada on May 20.

Back to May , 2016 Table of Contents

OLD BRACEROS CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR THEIR MONEY

By Kent Patterson

Every Sunday morning the survivors of a profound history that forever shaped thedemographics, destinies and dreams of Mexico and the United States gather at the BenitoJuarez Monument on the edge of downtown Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Now in their 70s and 80s, dozens of men assemble to remember their lives as contract guest workers in the United States and discuss the latest news, or lack thereof, in their decades-old movement to recover the 10 percent that was deducted from their paychecks
and supposedly deposited in a savings account created for the return to Mexico under the old Bracero Program.

“We are still in the struggle. I think it’s going well. Some people have been paid, but not everybody. We want more,” Professor Manuel Robles, coordinator of the local bracero association, told FNS.

The longtime border justice and environmental activist recalled the beginning of the Bracero Program during World War Two when Mexican workers were welcomed in the U.S. as working-class heroes sent to resolve the labor shortages that overtook farms, ranches and railroads when millions of citizen workers went off to fight fascism.

“When they arrived in Stockton (California) there were mariachi bands and the people greeted them. From then on, it was to the contrary,” Robles said.

On a beautiful May Sunday, FNS spoke with several former braceros and family members during a special celebration held by the group to commemorate both Mother’s Day and Teacher’s Day. In between the talk about the bracero years and now, men and women ate carne asada bathed in red chile, rice, spaghetti and cake.

Wearing caps and sombreros, the men were attired in casual clothes. Wrinkles, callousesand sun-weathered faces attested to lifetimes of work on the land. Taking time to share their lives were Modesto Zurita,79; Abdol Villanueva, 86; Concepcion Portillo ,79;
Carlos Yanez, 81; and Manuel Lopez, 80.

Reaching back into memory lane, the men spoke about their hometowns; the Rio Vista recruitment center in the Lower Valley of El Paso, Texas, where men were dispatched to far-flung places to work; the chemical delousing to which they were subjected; the “troqueros” who transported workers; the varied living conditions they encountered; and the back-and-forth shuttle of temporary work contracts between Mexico and the U.S.

Pecos, Texas, had such a bad reputation among the farmworkers that many tried to avoid working there, according to Zurita. From 1942 to 1964, and for very low pay, millions of braceros entered the United States and assured that U.S. agriculture prospered long after
World War Two. The veterans of field and furrow remembered picking the prize cotton of Texas and New Mexico, working sugar beets in Montana and Michigan, and embarking on forays to other states. The work destinations were sometimes surprising both for their small town flavor as well as their bigger if generally unknown place in the
U.S. economic machine of the times-Tucumcari, New Mexico, Dell City, Texas…

Zurita and Villanueva summed up the experience as very “hard work.” Among the more active former guest workers, Zurita has traveled to places like North Carolina telling the
stories of the braceros to students.

But the ex-braceros still have a big beef. For years, they have demanded the 10 percent of their pay that was withheld, which was first administered by Wells Fargo and United Trust Company in the U.S. and then funneled to a series of government banks in Mexico
including Banrural. Along the way the money somehow slipped past the braceros’ pockets as was intended.

Memories of the saving fund are sketchy among Juarez’s ex-braceros.
Zurita, for instance, stressed that the work contracts shown to the young guest workers were in English. Lopez remembered being told the 10 percent was for a payment from the U.S.government to the Mexican government “like we were being rented out.”

By the 1990s, organized movements of ex-braceros
demanding the return of the 10 percent plus interest emerged in different parts of Mexico and the United States, including El Paso and Juarez. Other grievances, such as getting some ex-braceros
Social Security in this country, were raised.

The ex-braceros scored a partial victory in 2005 when the Mexican Congress approved a special fund of approximately $30 million to compensate program participants for the 10 percent deductions in the form of “social support” payments amounting to 38,000 pesos per payee, a sum many criticized as grossly inadequate.

Initiated during the Fox administration, the compensation continued under the Calderon administration but by 2010 the payment program was widely criticized even by Mexican lawmakers for excessive red-tape,
missed payments, insufficient funding and limited outreach. Mexican legislator Diva Hadamira Gastelum termed the outstanding bracero
debt the most enduring human rights violation in the nation. After the Pena Nieto administration took office in late 2012, the program ground to a standstill.

The group interviewed at the Benito Juarez Monument in 2016 insisted that only a minority of ex-braceros have received the 38,000 peso payment, and was aware of only six members of their organization who had received the 38,000 peso payment.

In a 2015 letter to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, the Juarez ex-braceros implored the government to view the issue in a different light. “Until now, the Mexican State has treated the ex-bracero
workers as beggars,” the letter stated. “If (the savings
fund) is a State debt, as it effectively is, it should be recognized as part of the public debt.”

Increasingly, as the braceros die off, their eligible survivors, especially the sons and daughters, are carrying the torch. And like their fathers and other male relatives before them, the children of the braceros, many of whom are also getting along in age, have
been pillars of the U.S. economy, working agriculture, roofing, construction and other hard jobs.

With multiple generations now descended from the braceros, millions of people in Mexico and the United States can trace family roots back to a participant of the Bracero Program. In comments to FNS, Ruben Mena Tello, Manuel Carpio and Erlindo Raul Hernandez traced their fathers’ journeys across the farms and railroads of the United
States.

Antonia Salcedo said her late father, Higino Salcedo, left the family home in the state of Durango to work as a bracero in the U.S. during the early 1960s. In 1969 Salcedo’s family moved to Juarez after the father became ill, the daughter said. Salcedo’s memories are fading too, but she recalled her father saying he traveled to Michigan and the workers slept on “bad mattresses.”

Salcedo has grandchildren in El Paso who are conscious of their great-grandfather’s history. A granddaughter who attends college in the Sun City remarked that what the braceros experienced is “’very unjust since it is because of them that we continue eating,’” she added.

In tandem with the weathered veteranos who fight on, the sons and daughters of the braceros have recently lobbied the Mexican Congress, written to Pope Francisco, and appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights-often with no response, as in the case of the Pope who still hasn’t responded to a letter, according to the Juarez group. Although Juarez and the state of Chihuahua are currently the scene of state and local election campaigns, the bracero-plus group said their struggle has been ignored.

“No gubernatorial, mayoral or other candidate has stopped by to see about the braceros,to find out about their necessities,” said Irene Alvarez, daughter of the late bracero Benjamin Alvarez. The issue of the U.S. presidential election, and specifically Donald Trump, also came up during the conversation at the Benito Juarez Monument, as it is apt to do when a gringo reporter pops up in Mexico these days.

“I don’t agree with him because of how his campaign began,” opined Carlos Yanez. “It’s an offense to us. We are two countries but one in the economy…” Not all, however, is bad news for the ex-braceros
and their descendants. In an important victory on the legal
front, Mexican Judge Paula Maria Garcia Villegas issued a February ruling that ordered the federal government to pay the braceros the 10 percent deduction taken from their pay.Judge Garcia noted that the 38,000 peso “social support” payment could not be substituted for the paycheck deductions.

Pending a government appeal, the decision is expected to stick. If the Pena Nieto administration abides by the legal ruling, a nagging question reappears: how many more old braceros will die off before the wheels of bureaucracy start turning?

Irene Alvarez urged the government to begin documenting and signing up the eligible beneficiaries. “As long as they don’t set up registration centers there is no process,” she said. They need to set up registration centers for the people to register who aren’t.”

More than half a century after the Bracero Program ended Abdol Villanueva went straight to the point, and one echoed by many. “I want them to pay me,” he said.

The story above originally appeared in Frontera NorteSur: online,
U.S.Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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Back to Table of Contents of Mexican Labor News & Analysis articles.

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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