Article from Mexican Labor News & Analysis
Published by UE International.

Date published: January, 2016

Web version:

The Difficult Path to Winning and Surviving as an Independent and Democratic Union in Mexico

By Benedicto Martínez, Authentic Labor Front (FAT)

A little more than seven years ago, a group of workers, tired of the abuses of a corrupt union decided to organize themselves and put up their own slate for leadership of the union. They were tired of union leaders who didn’t represent the workers as a whole, but only took care of a little group of their loyalists who received benefits for acting as his spies. The Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which had always controlled the union, paid little attention to the slate; there had always been other slates created by the leaders to make the elections appear to be democratic.

The slate opposed to the CTM, headed by Alfredo Rodríguez as general secretary, surprisingly won the elections. The CTM tried to maintain control of the union executive committee, but the opposition succeeded in obtaining recognition from the Secretary of Labor in the process known as “toma de nota,” a document that bestows legal personality on the committee as the legal representatives of the union.

The Union of Workers of the Tornel Rubber Company is a national union representing all plants employing 1,400 workers who make tires for cars and vans. After obtaining the toma de nota, one of the first actions of the new committee was to declare its independence from the CTM. They hired Arturo Alcalde Justiniani [an attorney well known for representing independent unions], who assigned the matter to Oscar Rubio and sought the organizational support of the Authentic Labor Front [Frente Auténtico del Trabajo]. With this declaration of independence, the union began a struggle that still actively continues.

After the declaration of independence, the CTM loyalists who had for years served as informers for this corrupt organization showed their disagreement with the new executive committee and openly asserted their opposition to the decision which had been reached by the majority of the workers. Faced with this situation, a very intense debate developed between those who wanted to get rid of all of the CTM sympathizers and those of us [from the FAT] who proposed that the challenge was to respect and to convince the opposition of the proposal to have a union controlled by the members, respecting those who thought differently whether out of sincere belief, for convenience, or out of ignorance. The latter proposal ultimately won the day.

The CTM, immediately after learning that theunion had declared its independence, demanded the right to negotiate the contract (titularidad) and the administration of the Law Contract (Contrato Ley), a type of industry-wide contract that exists in Mexico and which is negotiated by a coalition of unions and by a coalition of companies in this case in the rubber industry. Within in a few months the federal authorities fixed the date for a union representation election (recuento) and arranged for an election to beheld in the Federal Labor Board (JFCA). The result was 580 votes against and 787 votes in favor of the democratic union at Tornel.

A year later a second representation election was held with an even stronger outcome: some 320 against the new union and 890 in favor, with the rest of the workers declining to vote out of fear of having to commit themselves to one or another of the two unions.

Throughout the following years there hasn’t been one in which the CTM hasn’t attempted to take the contract away from the democratic union.
There have been three representation elections and five other petitions were dismissed because the labor authorities said they hadn’t fulfilled the necessary terms. At the end of 2014, the Secretary of Labor granted a certification (a prerequisite for legal representation, necessary to petition for an election) (registro) to a CTM organization of just 40 workers. It is clear that they did this to fulfill the legal requirement of registration in order to challenge the existing union.

A few days later, two election petitions were filed with the labor authorities, one by the new union and one by a union of the chemical industry. For several months their petitions were held up, with two dates announced by the authorities. Nevertheless the representation election (recuento) was suspended, though the arguments made—“that there were no police in the city to guarantee the security of the representation election”—were not credible. The democratic union sought an injunction (amparo) asking for a solution to the conflict and the court ordered the Labor Board to hold the representation election, which was held on September 12, with the landslide vote of 1,011 for the democratic union and 3 for the CTM.

A week after the representation election, people appeared at the gates of the factories handing out leaflets with written threats against the leaders of the democratic union and in particular against Alfredo Rodríguez, who served as general secretary, as well as some of the rank-and-file workers most active in this struggle.

We can conclude that throughout more than seven years a democratic union has resisted the permanent harassment of the CTM, leading to advances in consolidating the union. The CTM continues its harassment in the hopes that at some moment it will win through some error in management or by convincing the company to take actions to attack the union. We believe that the last petitions were made with precisely this goal, and the authorities aided the CTM. We cannot say for certain that the company has as well, but to continue a permanent conflict such as this requires someone to put up the money.

Since November 1, 2015, a new leadership has assumed responsibility with a new general secretary, as Alfredo Rodríguez chose not to continue in that post. Another compañero, Gabriel Castañeda has been elected, together with an executive board half of whose members are new. They were elected by a secret ballot and will be responsible for continuing to write the history of this struggle and its success.

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