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(en) Mexican labor news - extracts

From Mark Connolly <mark_c@geocities.com>
Date Wed, 25 Feb 1998 16:08:18 +0000
Organization http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3102/

     A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

    First Workers' Health and Safety Case Under NAFTA 
    Teachers Union Opposition Groups Meet Union Leadership
    New Trend of Rising Labor Struggle?? 
    Dissident Railroad Workers Protest Re-election of
    Flores*Bank Workers Face Huge Layoffs 
    DINA Auto Workers Win 24.5 Wage Increase 
    Public Health Workers Engage in Work Stoppages 
    Agriculture Workers Carry out Work Stoppages & Sit-Ins
see the full text at 

February 16, 1998 Vol. III, No. 4  




 The U.S. Labor Department's National Administrative 
Office (NAO) will hear the first workers' health and 
safety complaint brought under the so-called "labor side 
agreements" of the North American Free Trade Agreement 
(NAFTA) February 18 in San Diego, California. The 
complaint brought by nine human rights, union and safety 
organizations, charges Mexico's Department of Labor with 
failure to enforce workers' health and safety regulations 
in the Han Young auto parts plant in Tijuana, Baja 
California Norte. Han Young's Tijuana plant produces 
automobile chassis for the Hyundai corporation. Concerned 
about health and safety conditions in the plant, workers 
recently voted to join the Independent Metal Workers Union 
(STIMAHCS), an affiliate of the Authentic Labor Front 
(FAT). The company has held informal meetings with the 
union, but so far no negotiations have taken place. The 
NAO complaint forms part of the Han Young workers' on- 
going struggle with the company, a state-sponsored unions, 
and Mexican authorities.

 A Record of Non-Enforcement 

Mexico's Department of Labor conducted 11 inspections of 
the Han Young plant in recent years, and found many 
serious health and safety hazards, but the agency never 
forced the company to correct the problems. Mexican law 
provides for monetary penalties and stipulates that fines 
should be doubled for non-compliance, but the Mexican 
authorities never fined nor penalized Han Young in any 
way. Though some of the safety violations included 
"imminent danger" hazards, that is violations posing an 
immediate possible danger to workers, in some cases life-
threatening dangers, the Mexican government failed to 
exercise its authority to close either part of the plant 
or the whole facility. 

For example, a Mexican Department of Labor inspector 
reported that on January 8, 1988 a poorly maintained crane 
dropped a one-ton chassis, without warning, barely missing 
six employees working below. The same report also detailed 
electrocution hazards from numerous high-voltage welding 
cables and machines sitting in pools of water formed by 
water leaking through the roof. In addition, the complaint 
charges that Han Young did not have a joint worker-company 
health and safety committee as required by Mexican labor 
law, and that the company threatened and fired workers who 
pointed out health and safety hazards. 

What Will It Take? 

"What will it take before the Mexican Labor Department 
acts to clean up the Han Young plant?" asked Garrett 
Brown, coordinator of the tri-national Maquiladora Health 
& Safety Support Network. "The Labor Department 
inspectors' own reports describe near-fatal accidents that 
have already occurred and conditions that immediately 
threaten workers' lives at Han Young- -but the agency has 
failed to act. I fear that only multiple worker deaths in 
a catastrophic accident will jolts the Mexican Labor 
Department into Action."

The complaint was brought by nine unions, human rights 
groups, and health and safety organizations from Canada, 
Mexico and the United States: International Labor Rights 
(U.S.); Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers (U.S.); 
National Association of Democratic Attorneys (Mexico); 
Independent Metal Workers Union (STIMAHCS) (Mexico); 
Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (Canada); United Auto Workers 
(UAW) (U.S.); United Steel Workers of America (USWA) 
(Canada and U.S.); WorkSafe! (U.S.); and the Maquiladora 
Health & Safety Support Network (U.S.). The essence of an 
NAO complaint is that it charges a country with failure to 
abide by and enforce its own labor law, in this case it 
charges Mexico with failure to enforce that nation's 
health and safety laws. The NAO, if it finds merit in the 
charges, can call upon Mexico to rectify the situation. 
The NAO itself has no enforcement powers, and cannot force 
compliance by Mexico. [For further information contact 
Garrett Brown of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Network 
510-558-1014, fax 510-568-7092 or e-mail: 



 By Sam Smucker 

Members of two of the three recognized democratic 
opposition currents within the National Teachers Union (el 
SNTE) met February 10th with the union's National Council 
to discuss preparations for the National Convention to be 
held in the second week of March. The National Council, 
made up of national and local leadership, had invited all 
three opposition groups: the National Coordinating 
Committee of the Teachers Union (la CNTE), Democratic 
Factions and New Unionism. But la CNTE, which has a 
history of non-cooperation with the pro-government union 
leadership, refused to participate in the discussions.

Out of the discussions it was agreed that in the weeks 
before the convention there will be a series of dialogues 
in which preparations and ground rules for the National 
Convention will be discussed as well as opposition demands 
on financial accountability of union funds and 
decentralization of the union bureaucracy.

Representation at the dialogues will include five 
delegates from each of the three opposition groups as well 
as 15 delegates from the official union apparatus. It is 
the hope of the opposition that these dialogues will have 
the power to enforce the rules for the convention. At this 
point, it is not clear whether la CNTE will participate. 
Pro-democracy opposition groups hope to present a unified 
opposition slate against the pro-government leadership. 
Jorge Mejia Mateos, a member el SNTE's National Political 
Action Committee, and a leader of Democratic Factions, 
explained in a recent interview that its leaders had been 
talking with la CNTE and New Unionism as well as with 
several political groups and other organizations in hopes 
of creating a united front for the convention. However, 
Emma Rubio Ramirez, el SNTE's Secretary of Labor Rights, 
and a leader in the New Unionism movement was more 
doubtful about the ability of the opposition to unify 
behind a single slate. 

A feature story in the February 15th Sunday magazine 
section of the Mexico City daily LA JORNADA, dismisses the 
possibility of a united opposition, citing splits that run 
throughout the opposition organizations. Instead, it 
suggests that the real battle at the convention will be 
between delegates aligned with Gordillo and delegates 
aligned with Davila to name successor to Davila. 

El SNTE into UNT? 

El SNTE is believed to be the largest labor union in Latin 
America and claims 1.2 million members, although more 
conservative estimates place the number closer to 800,000 
members. El SNTE is divided into 56 Locals most of which 
are state-wide organizations. The more populous states 
have a Local for state employees and a Local for federal 
employees, for instance in the city of Mexico there of 
four Locals.

The union membership includes all teachers and support 
staff employed in the public schools. By law, the SNTE has 
a closed shop with automatic dues deduction. There is also 
a small Mexico City private school Local. For the national 
convention, every Local will send one delegate for every 
thousand members. For the past twenty years el SNTE, and 
especially its radical la CNTE opposition, has been the 
most militant and political union in the Mexican labor 
movement. What happens in el SNTE therefore can be 
significant for all of labor, as well as for other social 
movements and Mexico's political parties. One important 
political question hanging over the convention is whether 
el SNTE should stay in the Congress of Labor (CT), 
controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), 
or whether it should leave and become independent, or 
perhaps join the new National Union of Workers (UNT). 
Several sources in the opposition groups say that the 
opposition will call for a direct vote from the membership 
on this subject. If el SNTE joined the UNT, it could lead 
other unions to affiliate as well, shifting the balance of 
power in the labor federations. 

Opposition Currents 

Of the three opposition groups, la CNTE is the oldest with 
roots in the 1970s. It grew in the southern states of 
Chiapas, Oaxaca, Michoacan and on several occasion led 
mass protests against the pro-government el SNTE 

In 1989, la CNTE led wildcat strikes and protests 
involving half a million union members and brought down el 
SNTE union boss Carlos Jonguitud Barrios. Jonguitud had 
taken power in the union through an armed coup at the 
national union offices in 1972. Following the overthrow of 
Jonguitud, la CTNE militants and sympathizers were able to 
take control of two large Mexico City locals, formerly 
Jonguitud's territory. These important locals remain under 
the influence of la CTNE. Many CNTE activists are involved 
in other political organizations and parties. Many support 
the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Some 
participate in the Broad Front for the Construction of a 
National Liberation Movement (FAC-MLN) which sometimes 
supports the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR). Other la 
CNTE activists are involved in groups that support the 
Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Still others 
belong to smaller Trotskyist and Maoist organizations.

The highly charged political environment of the southern 
states and Mexico City means that el SNTE locals 
controlled by the democratic currents have become 
important forces in support of pro-democracy and 
indigenous social rights movements. The demand for removal 
of the army from indigenous zones regularly accompanies la 
CTNE's traditional call for a 100 percent raise for 
teachers. Because of the level of participation and 
democratic activism on a wide array of issues, as well as 
their growing power in el SNTE, la CTNE militants have 
often been the target of repression, kidnaping, physical 
attacks and even assassination. 

Democratic Fractions and New Unionism 

The Democratic Factions emerged out of a split in la CNTE 
in 1989. After the downfall of Jonguitud, Mexican 
President Carlos Salinas was able to manoeuvre Elba Esther 
Gordillo into the leadership of the union. Gordillo called 
for moderate reform, but remained loyal to the PRI. She 
immediately began trying to coopt the opposition movement. 
Gordillo invited la CNTE members to sit on el SNTE's 
national executive board as well as officially removing 
the SNTE from the PRI political structure (although its 
questionable how much has really changed).

Those who accepted Gordillo's invitation to enter the 
leadership of the national union outraged the more radical 
wing of la CNTE, leading to a split in the organization 
and the creation of the Democratic Fraction by those who 
were willing to take a role in el SNTE's national 
leadership. Democratic Fractions has continued to organize 
against the pro-PRI leadership, but emphasizes a need to 
reach out to less radical sectors of the union in order to 
build a broad opposition movement. The Democratic 
Faction's base is in northern states and the Yucatan 
peninsula and they claim to have members on the executive 
committee of 27 of 56 Locals although they do not control 
any Locals outright. Democratic Factions also seems to 
have a strong overlapping relationship with the opposition 
Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

Primary demands of the Democratic Faction include public 
accountability of union funds, decentralization of the 
union structure including the dues structure, and an end 
to the intervention on the part of the government and 
Department of Education(SEP) in internal union affairs. 
The smallest of the three opposition groups is New 
Unionism. New Unionism apparently had its roots in the 
1989 mobilizations but never was associated with la CTNE. 
Like the other currents, New Unionism suggests that the 
SNTE needs to undergo a profound change, democratization 
and decentralization, however, it denounces violence and 
extremism on both sides.

New Unionism sees itself as representing the rational 
middle ground trying to bring together an agreement among 
all factions, including pro-PRI and pro-democracy groups. 
It claims to have 125 elected members throughout the union 
and influence in a handful of states near or just north of 
Mexico City. The other two currents view New Unionism as 
an organization with very weak positions in the face of 
the ruling group.

The Old Guard 

Within the pro-PRI camp their are two distinct groups 
according to Jorge Mateos of Democratic Factions. The 
"hard faction" in el SNTE is led by Jaime Figueroa, a 
former police chief of Acapulco. Figueroa has ties to 
Local 10 in Mexico City. Included in Local 10 is a group 
of 5,000 physical education teachers some of whom have 
acted in the past as union thugs, beating people on the 
convention floor when they spoke out against union 
corruption. The "soft fraction" within el SNTE's ruling 
group is the former union president and now PRI National 
Senator, Elba Esther Gordillo. Historically, her role in 
the union has been to co-opt and diffuse the opposition 
currents. She has in the past diluted the opposition 
movement by supporting changes in the SNTE toward a 
pluralist, albeit PRI-controlled, union. Meanwhile, 
general secretary, Humberto Davila, seems to strike a 
balance between these two forces in el SNTE's current 
leadership. What happens at the March Convention will 
depend largely on the ability of the pro-democracy groups 
to unite and which current gets the upper hand within the 
pro-PRI camp.



 by Dan La Botz 

While we have no statistical evidence as yet to support 
the assertion, the workers' struggle seems to be heating 
up in Mexico. Workers appear to have begun to fight back 
against both public and private employers at a more 
significant level than in the recent past. For the past 
several years, the center of social struggle in Mexico has 
been among rural groups. The Zapatista Army of National 
Liberation (EZLN) led the Chiapas uprising in January 
1994. The Chiapas uprising inspired a national civil 
rights movement among Mexico's indigenous population, most 
of which lives in rural areas. Similarly the Peoples 
Revolutionary Army (EPR) appears to have its base among 
rural people in Oaxaca and Hidalgo. El Barzon, the 
debtors' organization, led another sort of movement first 
among farmers.

Sometimes the struggles have been outbursts of anger or 
desperation. During the last few years agricultural day 
laborers have rioted over mistreatment and wage chiseling 
in Baja California and Sinaloa. Poverty stricken peasants 
stopped freight trains and robbed corn and beans in 
Veracruz. Everywhere the biggest fights began and often 
remained in the back country. While since about 1994 rural 
people in agriculture struggled, urban and industrial 
workers remained relatively quiescent. With the exception 
of the important strike by the Route 100 bus drivers in 
Mexico City, few big struggles involved urban or 
industrial workers in the last few years.

But now, perhaps, the struggle is shifting from peasants 
and farmers back to the workers, not in the industrial 
center of the Valley of Mexico, but in the periphery, 
among maquiladora workers, workers in smaller outlying 
industrial centers, and among public employees in the 
states, particularly the southern states.

The struggles have taken a number forms, from strikes to 
work stoppages and job actions. In January the Union of 
Laborers and Industrial Workers (SJOI), an affiliate of 
the Confederation of Mexican Workers, pulled out 13,000 
workers for three days in ten maquiladoras plants in 
Matamoros, Tamaulipas on the northern border. This month 
auto workers at DINA in Ciudad Sahagun, Hidalgo struck for 
eight hours to win a wage increase. Public employees from 
federal and state government agencies have carried out 
work stoppages throughout Mexico. For example, workers 
employed by the Agriculture Department engaged in work 
stoppages from Tamaulipas to Chiapas during the last two 
months. In addition to work stoppages they carried out 
sit-ins and seized buildings in some areas. Public health 
workers employed by the Department of Health also engaged 
in work stoppages in Oaxaca and Veracruz over the last 
several months. Throughout this the National Coordinating 
Committee of the Teachers Union (la CNTE) has remained 
among the most active of Mexican workers, organizing work 
stoppages and demonstrations, especially in the southern 
states. More recently, some strikes have also begun to 
appear in industry in the Valley of Mexico, such as the 
strike early this year at the Herdez canning company. 
Perhaps what we are witnessing is the shifting of the 
center of struggle from peasants and farmers to workers, 
but first to workers in the periphery. Will the struggle 
now move toward the center, to urban workers, large groups 
of workers in the public sector, and workers in heavy 
industry? It remains too early to tell, but we should 
watch for the signs of a trend.



 A group of dissident railroad workers has asked the 
Secretary of Labor to refuse to recognize the re-election 
of Victor Flores Morales as the head of the Mexican 
Railroad Workers Union (STFRM). Flores Morales was 
formally re-elected on February 1 to hold office until the 
year 2001. Enrique Oropeza, Hector Galvan, and Francisco 
Zarco, leaders of the Movement for the Defense of the 
Collective Bargaining Agreement, argue that Flores Morales 
should not be recognized because he never called for a 
union convention and only permitted his most loyal 
supporters to attend the special session that elected him.

The dissidents claim that throughout the on-going 
privatization of the Mexican railroads, Flores Morales has 
worked with the government and the private companies 
purchasing the railroads, and against the interests of the 
union's members. Meanwhile, the Mexican government and the 
new private owners continued to lay off railroad workers. 
The Pacific North line laid off another 500 this month. 
Carlos Figueroa Ramos, the head of Local 8 in the state of 
Sonora, said his union would file a complaint with the 
government because the company had forced workers to sign 
voluntary retirement papers.



 Mexican banks are laying off workers--by the thousands.

The layoffs result indirectly from the banks' enormous 
problem with bad loans. Since the so-called "Tequila" 
crisis of 1994-95, Mexican banks have had high levels of 
non-performing loans. New accounting measures recently 
revealed that non- performing loans represented not 6.7 
percent, as earlier believed, but actually 12 percent of 
all Mexican bank loans.

In order to deal with the debt crisis, some Mexican banks 
have undergone a series of mergers. Bital, for example, 
merged with Atlantico last December 23. Previously 
Atlantico had absorbed Sudeste and Interestatal. But now, 
following that succession of mergers, Bital has announced 
that it will lay off 5,000 workers, or 90 percent of the 
Atlantico workers.

But even other banks which have not been through such a 
merger process are laying off workers. Banco Nacional de 
Mexico (Banamex) will layoff about 20 percent of its more 
than 30,000 employees, or about 6,000 workers.

Some banks have suffered a catastrophic collapse. The 
Banco Nacional de Comercio Interior (BNCI)--with an 
astounding 88.5 percent of its loans in the non-performing 
category--closed 34 of its branches throughout the nation, 
stopped offering credit, and is in the process of 
liquidation. Three thousand BNCI workers will lose their 

According to analysts of the banking industry, Mexico's 
banks will lay off a total of 25,000 workers this year. 
The biggest layoffs will come from the biggest banks with 
the largest number of employees, such as Banamex with 
31,400 workers; Bancomer with 29,439; and Serfin with 
15,575. Those three banks, together with Inverlat which 
also has several thousand employees, will lay off the most 

The union's response to the crisis has been weak. Enrique 
Aguilar Borrego, general secretary of the National Union 
of Bank Workers, and other union leaders recently sent a 
letter to President Zedillo asking him to stop the merger 
or closing of several government development bank, among 
them: Nafin, Bancomext, Banrural, Financiera Azucarera and 
the Patronato de Ahorro nacional.

Aguilar Borrego also wants the legislature to create laws 
making it possible for the bank workers to move from 
Apartado B, the public employees law, to Apartado A, the 
private sector labor law.



 The 2,000 auto workers at Diesel Nacional (DINA) won a 
total wage increase of 24.5 percent, about six percent 
higher than most recent wage settlements in a contract 
settlement on February 7.

The new agreement came after a short strike lasting about 
eight hours that affected three DINA plants. More than 
2,000 workers from various unions also marched in support 
of the DINA workers through in Ciudad Sahagun, Hidalgo at 
the end of January.

The wage increase takes the form of a 19 percent increase 
in wages, a three percent increase through promotions to 
new job categories, and 2.5 percent in benefits, according 
to Juan Aguillon, a member of the strike committee. The 
union's original demand had been for a 45 percent 
increase, while the company was offering only 12.5 



 Public health workers continue to engage in a series of 
job actions, work stoppages, and public demonstrations in 
various parts of Mexico, responding to the Department of 
Health's decentralization and to austerity measures.

At the beginning of February, 2,000 administrative workers 
of the Department of Health in the state of Oaxaca carried 
out a 72-hour work-stoppage for economic, social and 
political demands. They demanded the intervention of 
governor Diondor Carrasco Altamirano and state Secretary 
of Health Federico Cabrera Campos. The union wants the 
state to fill 2,000 unfilled positions necessary for 
medical service and to provide adequate medicine, which 
are 70 percent below necessary levels.

A week later in Jalapa, Veracruz, administrative workers, 
manual laborers, nurses, and doctors at the Luis F. Nacho 
civil hospital carried out work stoppages to demand 
improvements in wages and more medicine.

Led by Miguel Angel Diaz Ortiz, the workers demanded the 
intervention of governor Patricio Chrinos Calero, calling 
upon him to see that the government meets the needs of the 
state's 22 public hospitals.

"Unfortunately," said Diaz Ortiz, "this public servant has 
turned deaf ears to our petitions; we need transport 
equipment, typewriters, medicine, beds, surgical and 
medical supplies; but on the other hand all the big shots 
enjoy high salaries, perquisites, expense accounts, and 
generally high rewards."




 Thousands of workers, members of the National Union of 
Workers at the Service of the Department of Agriculture, 
Cattle, and Rural Development, carried out job actions and 
work stoppages throughout rural Mexico during late January 
and early February. Workers from Chiapas on the border 
with Guatemala to Tamaulipas on the border of the United 
States stopped work to demand that they be moved up the 
salary schedule and over other economic issues.

At the same time, some 750 Department of Agriculture or 
SAGDR workers continued a "planton" or sit-in in front of 
the entity's headquarters in Mexico City. The SAGDR 
workers have been sitting in there now for almost three 
months. In Tapachula, Chiapas SAGDR workers seized an 
office of the Department of Finance in protest.


About Mexican Labor News and Analysis Mexican Labor News 
and Analysis is produced in collaboration with the 
Authentic Labor Front (Frente Autentico del Trabajo - FAT) 
of Mexico and with the United Electrical Workers (UE) of 
the United States and is published the 2nd and 16th of 
every month.

MLNA can be viewed at the UE's international web site: 
HTTP://www.igc.apc.org/unitedelect/. For information about 
direct subscriptions, submission of articles, and all 
queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail 
address: 103144.2651@compuserve.com or call in the U.S. 
(513) 961-8722. The U.S. mailing address is: Dan La Botz, 
Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3436 Morrison Place, 
Cincinnati, OH 45220. MLNA articles may be reprinted by 
other electronic or print media, but we ask that you 
credit Mexican Labor News and Analysis and give the UE 
home page location and Dan La Botz's compuserve address.

MEXICO   http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3102/

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