Labor repression in Mexico

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From the AFL-CIO blog: by James Park

Over the past five years, the Mexican government has unleashed a systematic attack on workers’ rights. Despite the continuing repression, Mexico’s independent, democratic unions organize and represent the rights of workers. Some of the most egregious attacks have been on the Mine, Metal and Steel Workers Union (SNTMMSSRM), also known as Los Mineros.

The AFL-CIO is awarding Los Mineros and their leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. The award will be formally presented later this year.  Click here to read the resolution in English and here for Spanish.

Gómez was first elected general secretary of the SNTMMSSRM in 2002 and immediately began challenging government policies of low wages and flexible labor markets, and building alliances with the global trade union movement.

When a February 2006 explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine killed 65 mineworkers, Gómez publicly accused the government of “industrial homicide.” In response to this criticism, the government filed criminal charges against Gómez and other union leaders, froze the union’s bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions in SNTMMSSRM-represented workplaces and declared the union’s strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them. 

Four union members were murdered and key union leaders were jailed. In the face of this campaign of repression, Gómez left Mexico for Vancouver, Canada.  From there he has waged a five-year effort to win justice for his union and for all democratic unions in Mexico.

Despite massive repression, the SNTMMSSRM has continued to bargain contracts and organize new workplaces with the help of trade union allies around the world.

Gómez has won major legal victories. Mexican courts have thrown out all of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government’s appeals.

The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe, Ela Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, the Liberian rubber workers, Colombian activist Yessika Hoyos and the Independent Labor Movement of Egypt.

Also see,

A LABOR LAW BOSSES WOULD LOVE

By David Bacon

In These Times, web edition

http://www.inthesetimes.org/article/7209/a_labor_law_bosses_would_love

MEXICO CITY (4/14/11) – Changing labor law sounds like some technical modification, a subject lawyers argue about in musty hearing rooms.  In Mexico it’s been front-page news for weeks.  Changing the country’s labor law would transform the lives of millions of workers.  It would cement the power of a group of industrialists who have been on the political offensive for decades, and who now control Mexico’s presidency and national government.

“Labor law reform will only benefit the country’s oligarchs,” claims Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who many if not most Mexicans think actually won the last presidential election in 2006, as candidate of the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution.  Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, head of the miner’s union who was forced into exile in Canada in 2006, says Mexico’s old governing party, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI), which lost control of the presidency in 2000, “is trying to assure its return by making this gift to big business, putting an end to labor rights.”

In part, the change is drastic because on paper, at least, the rights of Mexican workers are extensive, deriving from the Revolution that ended in 1920.  At a time when workers in the U.S. still had no law that even recognized the legality of unions, Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution spelled them out.  Workers have the right to jobs and permanent status once they’re hired.  If they’re laid off, they have the right to severance pay.  They have rights to housing, health care, and training.  In a legal strike, they can string flags across the doors of a factory or workplace, and even the owner can’t enter until the dispute is settled.  Strikebreaking is prohibited.

The new law would change most of that.

Companies would be able to hire workers in a six-month probationary status, and then fire them at the end without penalty.  Even firing workers with 20 or 30 years on the job would suddenly become much easier and cheaper for their employers, by limiting the penalty for unjust termination to one year’s severance pay.  “That’s an open invitation to employers,” according to Arturo Alcalde, Mexico’s most respected labor lawyer and past president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers.  “The bosses themselves say the PRI reform is the road to a ‘paradise of firings.’  It will make it much cheaper for companies to terminate workers.”

Read the entire post at the ITT site.

http://www.inthesetimes.org/article/7209/a_labor_law_bosses_would_love

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