Mexican Teach-in charts North American union solidarity
Unions in North America unite in a strategy to build solidarity with trade unions struggling for autonomy in Mexico.
NORTH AMERICA: A first-ever, tri-nation forum to unite trade unions struggling for democratic autonomy in Mexico with US and Canadian unions was held in Toronto, Canada, on 20 June. Some 120 trade unionists, NGO representatives, and Canadian civil society activists gathered for the one-day "Building Solidarity with the Democratic Labour Movement in Mexico" conference.
As Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy, Paperworkers' (CEP) Union of Canada said, the meeting brought together trade union leaders from Mexico who never would be allowed to similarly gather inside Mexico. Those leaders included Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the exiled President of the National Union of Mine, Metalworkers', and Allied Workers' Union (SNTMMSRM), Martín Esparza Flores of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers (SME), Francisco Hernández Juárez of the Mexican Telephone Workers' Union (STRM), and others mentioned below.
The conference consisted of presentations by two Mexican-based labour attorneys, who told of the legal and political institutional obstacles to a free and democratic trade union movement in Mexico, and it also detailed the dreaded but common protection contracts, which inhibit true trade union rights.
A central focus throughout the conference was the continuing harmful effects to the now 16-year-old North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, Mexico, and the US.
Ben Davis of the U.S. Solidarity Center provided several inspiring examples on how SNTMMSRM, or Los Mineros, continues to organize workers despite overt suppression by the Mexican government. He also outlined work done at the U.S. federal level to press the Obama administration to take a stronger stance against Mexican trade union repression. And on the global level, Davis told of work being done at the ILO over protection contracts, as well as institutional shareholder pressure again Grupo México, the major corporate protagonist of Los Mineros.
Jorge Robles of the Mexican Authentic Workers' Front (FAT) addressed inherent deficiencies in current labour law reform inside Mexico, while Alberto Espinosa Rocha, Secretary-General of the National Union of General Tire/Continental Workers' Union (SNTGTM), spoke on the harmful effects of the free trade agreement.
Espinosa said NAFTA has been "evil for Mexico" since previous good wages and benefits have eroded. He said in both the tyre industry and auto-parts industry, "year-to-year, employers are taking contractual rights away."
Espinosa was fired in 2003 for impeding General Tire's agenda during collective negotiations, but remained a union activist for the three years he was off the job. In 2006, he was reinstated as a maintenance mechanic and in 2008, was elected Secretary-General of SNTGTM.
At the conference conclusion, delegates shaped a strategic plan that includes insertion of strict worker protections in NAFTA, continuation of work on Mexican protection contracts, and solidarity and campaign work on specific Mexican labour struggles.
The conference was sponsored by several North American trade unions, the IMF, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), and Union Network International (UNI).Jun 28, 2010 – Anita Gardner