Building the strength of independent unions in Mexico
"Our first objective is to survive; if we stop fighting we will disappear," says Jorge Robles of UNT union when speaking on the situation for Mexican independent unions during the International Metalworkers' Federation's Strategic Meeting on Union Building held in Mexico City on October 13-14, 2010.
MEXICO: The International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) held a Strategic Meeting on Union Building in Mexico City on October 13 and 14, to find ways to jointly build democratic union power in Mexico.
Los Mineros and SME, the two oldest and leading democratic unions in Mexico who are under violent attack by the Mexican Government, opened the meeting. Sergio Beltran, speaking on behalf of Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleon Gomez, denounced the increasingly precarious working conditions due to 95 per cent of contracts being protection contracts, which deprive the majority of Mexican workers of their rights to have a union.
Martin Esparza, SME General Secretary announced that the Mineros-SME Pact represents a giant step forward to jointly fight for the restoration of the State of Law. The leadership of both national unions expressed their full support of the meeting, highlighting the utmost urgency to expand and build the membership and capacity of the democratic unions.
Each of the independent Mexican unions and organisations present condemned the corruption and brutal anti-union tactics deployed by employers with overt complicity of governmental authorities. "In Mexico we continue fighting for collective contracts at gunpoint," said Hector de la Cueva from Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoría Sindical (CILAS).
Jorge Robles from Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), stated, "For 80 years we have been subjected to corporative unions engaged with governmental institutions to protect employers and maintain workers under control; in Mexico there is no drop in unionisation rate because most workers are unionised unknowingly! Here the companies continue to choose which unions they want. Our first objective is to survive; if we stop fighting we will disappear. Our second urgent task is to strengthen the unions that can defend us."
The meeting brought together over 50 participants including the leadership of the six main independent unions in Mexico, unions affiliated to IMF, ICEM, representatives from IMF, ICEM, UNI and ITF, and international and Mexican civil society organisations, who supported the need to build a co-ordinated approach with solidarity from trade unions around the world.
Following up to the Toronto meeting in June this year, Joe Drexler from ICEM, together with representatives from the Global Unions Federations present, emphasized the need to continue educating the membership regarding the situation in Mexico and to develop broad alliances to condemn the Mexican Government's attacks on independent unions.
During the two-day meeting, participants discussed the complexities of organizing democratic unions and the positive role that civil society organisations such as Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), Comité Fronterizo de Obrero(a)s (CFO) and Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (PRODESC) in particular, have recently played in training workers on their labour rights to form part and affiliate to the national Los Mineros union.
IMF presented the conclusions of an evaluation of the 2004-2009 IMF Organising Project in the Maquilas, while Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) updated participants about the extension of the Campaign against Protection Contracts to Puebla and research being carried out regarding existing collective agreements. AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center expressed their commitment to continue supporting the independents unions in Mexico.
The participants reaffirmed their commitment to work together and reinforce alliances with the democratic unions. "This meeting expressed great solidarity and unity to go forward together in building strong and democratic unions in Mexico," said IMF Assistant General Secretary Fernando Lopes. "We need two legs to stand and walk. The Toronto agreement to fight at all levels for freedom of association and trade union rights is only one leg, the expansion and capacity building of the democratic unions in Mexico is our second leg. Each organization has different capacities and needs, we must examine each case and strategically coordinate our union building efforts," added Lopes.
Responsibilities and tasks were shared among participants and the report of the main decisions from the meeting will be posted at the end October. An email network will function until the next planning meeting scheduled for early 2011, to work on the global union-building proposal with each of the participating unions.
Oct 20, 2010 – Suzana Miller