File spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_1997/aut-op-sy.9704, message 118

Date: Fri, 16 May 1997 12:34:01 -0400
Subject: Mexican Labor News, Vol. 2, No. 10

MEXICAN LABOR NEWS AND ANALYSIS      National Teachers Day Issue
May 16, 1997
Vol. II, No. 10
               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:// For information about direct
subscription, submission of articles, and all queries contact
editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: or call (525) 661-33-97 in Mexico
     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
     The UE Home Page which displays Mexican Labor News and
Analysis has an INDEX of back issues and an URGENT ACTION ALERT
     The last issue mistakenly reported that the Authentic Labor
Front (FAT) marched on May Day with both the Foro group of unions
and with the May First Inter-Union group. The correct information
is that while the FAT participates in both the Foro group and the
Inter-Union group, and marched with both last year, in light of
the importance of the up-coming workers' assembly which is being
called by the Foro, the FAT decided to march with the Foro group
this year. My apologies for the error.-Dan La Botz, ed.
     *Teachers' Opposition Group Threatens General Strike
     *Clinton's Visit Brings Repression to Unions, Workers
     *Mexico City Mayoral Election: Cardenas Leads in Polls
     *Canadian, Mexican and U.S. Groups 
          Demand Renegotiation of NAFTA
     *Roche-Syntex: What Globalization Means for Workers
     *PEMEX Explosion Kills Two, Injures Two Others
     *Second Democratic Taxi Union Leader Murdered
     *CT and CTM Blame CROC for May Day Fiasco
     *Foro Group Debates National Workers Assembly
     *Social Statistics
                       by Dan La Botz
     The National Coordinating Committee of the Teachers Union
(la CNTE), the powerful opposition caucus within the National
Teachers Union (el SNTE), has threatened to call a general strike
of teachers throughout Mexico if the Mexican government does not
meet its demands. [See list below.] 
     La CNTE leaders angrily rejected the 16 percent--six percent
in wages and 10 percent in benefits--negotiated by Humberto
Davila Esquivel, head of the el SNTE on May 14, calling it a
"cruel joke." The opposition caucus has been calling for a 100
percent wage increase. According to La CNTE, teachers have lost
70 percent of their purchasing power since 1980.
     Davila Esquivel had earlier rejected a seven percent wage
increase in a different package before accepting six percent. La
CNTE wants his resignation, calling him a "traitor."
            Forty Thousand March in Mexico City
     To show their anger at the SNTE settlement, tens of
thousands of teachers marched in protest in several major Mexican
Cities on May 15, National Teachers Day. Demonstrations took
place in states from Chiapas on the border of Guatemala to
Tamaulipas on the border of the United States.
     In Mexico City, 40,000 teachers--25,000 from Oaxaca, 5,000
from the Federal District, 3,000 from Tlaxcala and 5,000 from
Michoacan, as well as thousands of others from 14 other states--
marched for seven hours, attempting to get to the presidential
residence Los Pinos in order to present their demands to
President Ernesto Zedillo.
     Teachers' chants (most of which lose much in translation)
     "Six percent, ha, ha, ha--give it to your mama!"
     "Work stoppage, work stoppage, it's the state's fault!"     
     "My wage to the president, let him see what it's like!"
     "Davila, you thief, you've sold out the teachers!"
     Riot police stopped the demonstrators, and in violent
confrontations several teachers were seriously injured and had to
be hospitalized. Teachers then chanted, "Stupid cops, we're
fighting for your children!"
     Zedillo, who together with Secretary of Education Miguel
Limon Rojas and SNTE leader Humberto Davila was at an official
ceremony presenting awards to teachers with 50 years of service,
told the press, "My government has given its best effort," in
giving the teachers a six percent wage increase. Zedillo said his
government had increased the education budget for Mexico's 25
million public school students at all levels by 7.2 percent over
last year.
     Limon Rojas argues that with the 17 percent increase in
wages and benefits which the teachers received in January, and
this new increase of 16 percent, the total wages increase of the
year has been 33 percent. Limon told the teachers to return to
their schools and classrooms. In the streets the teachers
chanted, "Sweet orange, rotten lemon [Limon, Secretary of
Education], I'll take your pay and you take mine!"
     La CNTE has been meeting with the Mexican Secretary of the
Interior (Gobernacion), the political ministry, and has demanded
to be included in the negotiations with the SNTE and the SEP, and
has also asked the state governments and the public employees
social security administration (ISSSTE) be included in the talks
as well.
          La CNTE Calls Out Four States, 250,000 Teachers
     Last week the National Coordinating Committee of the
Teachers Union (la CNTE) called out approximately 200,000
teachers on an indefinite work stoppage in four states: Chiapas,
Guerrero, Michoacan and Oaxaca. Teachers in eleven states (out of
32) are now said to be prepared to joined la CNTE's call for a
general strike, this would mean that about 40 percent of Mexico's
more than a million teachers would be on strike.
     Last week, teachers' strike were accompanied by marches,
protest demonstrations, the blocking of highways in some areas,
and sit-ins in many places, including in the historic center of
Mexico City.             
          Like a Strike in the Midst of a Civil War
     La CNTE and a dozen other local opposition caucuses
cooperating with it, are demanding breakfasts for school
children, wages increases for themselves, freedom for their
jailed and "disappeared" members, and the return of government
troops to the barracks.
     If it sounds like a strike in a country in the midst of a
civil war, it is, for these teachers come from the poor southern
states of Mexico where government troops occupy towns and
villages, where union activists, and community leaders in the
towns in which they teach, have frequently been rounded up,
beaten, tortured, jailed and sometimes killed.    
               Teachers in the Southern States
     The center of La CNTE, the union opposition caucus, lies the
southern states of Mexico, particularly Chiapas and Oaxaca where
the movement began fifteen years ago. The heart of the movement
have been the bilingual teachers. These teachers teach in one of
52 variants of 33 major Indian languages and Spanish. They work
mostly in small towns in rural agricultural or in relatively
small cities, and receive miserable salaries for long hours of
work, often in poor facilities with inadequate supplies.
     In 1979 these teachers began to organize, but found that
their first problem was their union. They spent years demanding
the right to hold state teachers union conventions in order to
elect their own union officers, and finally won several years
later in Oaxaca and Chiapas. In the course of the struggle they
created a remarkably democratic union organization, la CNTE. The
teachers organization often helped inspired actually helped to
organize other movements.   
     The people in those Indian and peasant communities respect
the teachers. The teacher, an Indian herself who speaks Spanish,
has gone away to college, and has come back to the community,
becomes a link between two worlds. The people look up to those
teachers, and turn to them for help. The teachers do help, they
speak on behalf of the community, and sometimes it costs them
their lives.
                     Return Our Teachers
     In the north of Chiapas, some 50 indigenous bilingual
teachers went on strike on May 8 to demand that their colleague
Domingo Vazquez Avendano who had disappeared on April 14 be
released by whatever police or military authority was holding
     The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (CIDH), a part
of the Organization of American States (OAS), has agreed to look
into the cases of Victor Pineda Henstrosa and Modesto Patolzin
Moicen, two Oaxaca who disappeared. Pineda Henstrosa disappeared
in 1978, Patolzin Moicen in 1988. 
     Teachers, parents and children in Guerrero want Gregorio
Alfonso Alvarado Lopez, who disappeared on November 26, 1996, to
be returned to his friends, his family, and his classroom. The
list goes on, because there are constantly new additions to it.
                    Teachers in Mexico City
     The historic problem of Mexico City teachers is that they
cannot make a living in this expensive city with one teaching
job, so they have two: the "doble chamba" as they call it. The
basic monthly salary of a Federal District teacher was 2,672
pesos (or about 330 U.S. dollars) before the present contract was
negotiated; with the six percent increase offered it will be
2,871 pesos (or about 355 U.S. dollars).
     A recent poll by the SNTE Foundation for the Culture of the
Teacher conducted among 3,724 teachers at 333 schools found that
53 percent of the teachers held two teaching jobs. Almost all of
these teachers in their two jobs were responsible for 80
students. Union activists have complained for years that the
"doble chamba" keeps teachers too busy to participate in union
     In 1988 and 89 Mexico City's teachers finally entered the
democratic movement, helping to bring down Carlos Jonguitud
Barrios, head of Revolutionary Vanguard, the clique that
controlled the union. But Carlos Salinas de Gortari intervened
and finagled to get his political protege Elba Esther Gordillo
elected head of the union (el SNTE). 
     Gordillo's regime ended the dictatorship that had controlled
the union, but she also managed to keep the democratic movement
from getting out of control. She retired a couple of years ago,
to be followed by Humberto Davila. Some of the Mexico City
teachers, such as those in SNTE Local 9, play an important role
in the union and social movements, but other Mexico City teachers
find it difficult to overcome the daily grind and the
bureaucracy. Some Mexico City teachers will join the La CNTE
protests, and perhaps the strike.
               *    *    *    *    *    *    *
                       LA CNTE DEMANDS
     *Defense of free public education.
     *Students to be given free text books.
     *Scholarships and school breakfasts for students.
     *Increases in the education budget.
     *A 100 percent wage increase.
     *A Christmas bonus (aguinaldo) of 90 days wages
          in one payment.
     *Recalculation of wages for areas with 
          higher cost-of-living.
     *Decentralization of union dues.
     *Temporary teachers to be put on permanent staff.
     *No reform of the public employees 
          Social Security system (ISSSTE).
     *Freedom for teachers held as political prisoners
          (accused of ties to guerrillas).
     *Release, alive, the teacher 
          Gregorio Alfonso Alvarado Lopez.
     *An end to the repression of the dissident 
          teachers movement.
     *Troops to be returned to their barracks.
     *Fulfillment of the peace accord in Chiapas.
               *    *    *    *    *    *    *
Information on the Mexican Teachers Union
     Those interested in learning more about the teachers union
should read the following pamphlet and book.
David Monroy, Mexican Teachers and the Struggle for Democracy 
     (San Francisco: Global Exchange, 1997).
     This pamphlet is available from Global Exchange, 2017
Mission Street, Suite 303; San Francisco, California 94110,
telephone, (415) 255-7296. The e-mail address is: The pamphlet can be found on Global
Exchange's Web site,, in the "campaigns"
section as well.
Maria Lorena Cook. Organizing Dissent: Unions, the State, and the
     Democratic Teachers' Movement in Mexico. University Park,
     Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
     This book can be found or ordered at your local book store.
     Thousands of Mexicans--union members, indebted farmers,
community activists, and others--intended to engage in marches
and demonstrations in front of the U.S. embassy to protest U.S.
President Bill Clinton's visit to Mexico during the first week of
May. But they never got the chance.
     Four thousand police, including hundreds of riot police
carrying shields and clubs, blocked Mexico City's Reforma
Boulevard and other major arteries, bottling up demonstrators,
and keeping them away from the embassy. Hundreds of teachers
union members were prevented from marching while police took away
their placards and leaflets. El Barzon, a debtors' organization,
also attempted to organize a demonstration, but was prevented
from doing so.
     Police also arrested scores of opposition leaders and
activists, and carried them to police stations on the periphery
of the city. Among those arrested were: Gerardo Fernandez Norona,
president of the Citizens Assembly of Bank Debtors (ACDB);
Teodoro Palomino, former leader of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Teachers Union (la CNTE) and presently a leader
of Socialist Alternative (AS); several leaders of the University
Student Council (CEU); several members of the Assembly of
Neighborhoods (Asamblea de Barrios); as well as many individual
high school and university students, workers and professionals.
     Enrique Bennets, a worker at the Fine Arts Palace who is
responsible for lights and chairs of the National Orchestra, was
arrested after he talked on the phone with a friend about
possibly joining a protest with members of the National Teachers
Union (el SNTE) Local 9. Clinton was to appear at the theater.
Police apparently listened in on Bennets's call, arrested him,
and took him away for over 24 hours.
     Human rights organizations filed formal protests with the
Federal District's Human Rights Commission, a government agency.
Mariclaire Acosta, leader of the Mexican Commission for the
Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), a non-
governmental organization, and Malvina Flores of the Roman
Catholic human rights group, the Fray Francisco de Vittoria
Center, both condemned the government's repression of the
     Flores said that repression against social activists was not
merely confined to the demonstrations against Clinton, but had
gone on constantly since General Salgado Cordero was appointed to
head the Federal District Public Security forces.
     Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the candidate of the Party of the
Democratic Revolution (PRD), currently leads in the polls in the
race for the July 6 election for the mayor of Mexico City. A mid-
May poll by the newspaper REFORMA shows Cardenas of the PRD with
39 percent of the vote; Carlos Castillo of the conservative
National Action Party (PAN) with 21 percent of the vote; and
Alfredo del Mazo of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI) with only 17 percent of the vote.
     In the July 6 voting nearly 50 million Mexicans will elect
1,100 governors, senators, congress persons, and other officials,
but attention has focussed on Mexico City's first mayor's race
(until now the mayor has been a presidential appointee). Mexico
City with about 14 million inhabitants and around 18 million in
the Metropolitan Area, is the nation's and perhaps the world's
largest city. About one fifth of all 91.5 million Mexicans live
in the Mexico City Metropolitan area. Mexico is a highly
centralized country, and the political control of Mexico City is
therefore particularly important.  
     Cardenas, son of president Lazaro Cardenas {1934-1940) has
been one of the principal leaders of the opposition to the PRI.
Many believe that Cardenas actually won the 1988 presidential
elections, but was denied the presidency by president de la
Madrid of the PRI. Cardenas also ran for president in 1994, but
came in third behind the PRI and PAN candidates.
               Cardenas's Program and Labor
     While the PRI and the PAN have favored NAFTA and the neo-
liberal program of privatization, deregulation, and free trade,
Cardenas and the Party of the Democratic Revolution have
generally been more nationalist, favoring more government
regulation and planning. The PRD has, for example, supported the
renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Cardenas's constituency, the debtors' movement El Barzon, the
reformists in the state-controlled unions, the left-of-center
professionals and the peasants tend to want more state control of
the economy.
     But when Cardenas visited New York on May 6 and met with
industrialists and financiers, he told that the PRD would promote
foreign investment, and told that he and his party believed in
free trade. "We are not trying to control the markets nor do we
believe that the government should intervene in economic
activity," said Cardenas to the bankers. At that same meeting
Cardenas also emphasized the need to create jobs and raise
salaries of Mexican workers. 
     Back in Mexico, Cardenas told members of the Mexican
Electrical Workers (SME), "The PRD has come out against
corporativism [state control of unions] and consequently in the
next democratic government of the City there will be a commitment
to the complete autonomy of the unions." The Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI) has for decades controlled the Congress
of Labor (CT) and the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), and
though that control seems to be weakening, the "official" unions
still support the PRI.
     Formed in 1989, the PRD has been a coalition of former PRI
leaders, such as Cardenas, and former Communists and other
leftists. While it recently affiliated with the Socialist
International, a federation of the world's labor and socialist
parties, the PRD has virtually no labor union leaders among its
party leaders, elected officials or candidates. The only
candidate on the PRD list in this election is Bertha Lujan of the
Authetic Labor Front, a small independent union federation.
          The PRD at its Base--a Radical Plebeian Party
     The PRD today governs 235 municipalities with a total
population of about 10 million people, that is a little more than
a tenth of the Mexican population. The PRD's most stable base is
to be found in the poorer central and southern states: Tabasco,
Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, the State of Mexico, Morelos,
Campeche, Veracruz, Michoacan and in the Federal District which
contains Mexico City. The party's greatest following tends to be
in poor, rural agricultural areas and among the urban poor and
professionals. The PRD has not generally been successful in
reaching unionized workers, with the exception of school
     In many states the PRD leaders and activists are also the
leaders of social movements who find themselves in conflict with
the PRI, landlords and employers. The PRD's peasant base is
particularly militant, engaging in the seizure of land, the
taking of town halls when they have been cheated out of
elections, and in frequent confrontations with authorities. Since
the party was formed it has faced terrible repression, including
the assassination of more than 500 of its activists, often by PRI
officials, the police, or local gangsters. In the state of
Guerrero alone, the PRD has had 171 of its members murdered since
     Canadian, Mexican and U.S. organizations say that the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has failed to provide
economic growth and jobs that it promised, and should be
renegotiated. At a press conference held on May 6, the Mexican
Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), the Development Group for
Alternative Policies from the United States, and the Ecumenical
Coalition for Economic Justice of Canada called for "real
development for the peoples of the continent which attempt to
reduces imbalances while they permit and encourage the
integration of our economies."
     Bertha Lujan, a leader of the Authentic Labor Front, as well
as the chairperson of RMALC, argued that despite the signing of
NAFTA, the United States continued to use protectionist policies.
     The Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC) criticized
U.S. President Bill Clinton at a press conference on May 7 for
talking about human rights while his government attacked Mexican
immigrants in the United States.
     RMALC also criticized the Zedillo government for its
repression of protestors during Clinton's visit. "This is
degrading and it show the subordination of Ernesto Zedillo who
wanted to look good in the eyes of the U.S. president," said
Andres Penaloza of RMALC.
               Health and Safety 
                    EXPLOSION IN PEMEX PLANT
                       KILLS TWO WORKERS
     An explosion in a Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) plant in the
Mexico City area on May 1 killed two workers and injured three
others. Two workers, Eleuterio Suarez and Javier Lopez, employed
by REMSA, a private company, were engaged in rehabilitating a
drainage system, when an explosion occurred burying them alive
and suffocating them. Three other workers, Juan Carlos Castro
Hernandez and Paulino Victoria of REMSA and Miguel Cruz Olivares
of PEMEX, were also injured.
     Residents of the Colonia Granjas Mexico in Delegacion
Iztacalco of Mexico City organized demonstrations to demand the
removal of the PEMEX facilities over the next two weeks.
     Also on May 1 in the town of Cuautlalpan, near Texcoco,
Mexico, a fire in a cardboard box factory left three injured, one
with third degree burns over his body.
     While PEMEX is the biggest culprit, explosions and fires
continue to take too many Mexican workers lives, largely because
of the government's unwillingness and inability to make workers'
health and safety an issue. 
     The globalization of the economy, we are told almost every
day by the news media, means more competition, therefore higher
quality products, and a better world for all of us consumers. But
globalization has another meaning for workers.
     In 1995 the Swiss firm Roche acquired the Syntex
Laboratories, famous for its contraceptive pill, creating the new
multinational Roche-Syntex. Syntex had a plant in the Mexico City
area for fifty years, organized by the Confederation of Mexican
Workers (CTM). For a CTM union, the Syntex union was rather
independent. Though the CTM had never struck Syntex, because of
the company profitability and the high productivity of the Mexico
plant, workers had enjoyed better wages and benefits than most
other workers in the petro-chemical industry. 
     In August of 1996 Roche-Syntex took over the contract,
making some few changes, such as sub-contracting the dining room
and cleaning services. AS usual, sub-contracting meant hiring
non-union workers at lower wages and with fewer benefits. At the
same time the company declared that the security services were
"confidential" employees, that is they could not be unionized.
The CTM union accepted these losses, believing or hoping that
would be the end of the matter.
     But the management decided that it would also sub-contract
the packing and shipping workers. The union balked, and on March
10, management fired 19 workers, including the entire union
executive committee.
               Ghost Union and Protection Contract
     Management then decided that it would bring in what in
Mexico is often called a "ghost unions," so-called because they
are unknown to the workers, which would offer a "protection
contract," a contract to protect the employer. Corrupt attorneys
provide the service of managing such "ghost unions," some
attorneys have many such unions covering scores of workplaces and
thousands of workers. Roche-Syntex arranged to get the services
of the "Justo Sierra" Progressive Union of Service Workers of the
Mexican Republic. (Sindicato Progresista Justo Sierra de
Trabajadores de Servicios de la Republica Mexicana). 
     On May 8, the Roche-Syntex manager of labor relations told
the workers they would have to leave the CTM union and join the
new company union, and so within a week. So, if management
succeeds in forcing the workers to join the new union, that union
will then negotiate a new "protection contract." Such contracts
usually offer little more than the legally required minimums, and
sometimes less.
                         Help from UE
     The executive board of the Roche-Syntex union has taken its
case to the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, has been in
contact with the Roche-Syntex offices in Basil, Switzerland. The
CTM union's executive board also contacted the United Electrical
workers (UE), requesting solidarity and the filing of a complaint
before the National Administrative Office which hears cases of
violations of labor law  under the labor side agreement (NAALC)
of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The UE
immediately sent letters of protest and put the CTM Roche-Syntex
union in touch with the Teamsters and Oil Chemical and Atomic
Workers (OCAW) which represents sister locals in the U.S.
     So, next time you hear the rap about how wonderful
globalization is for everybody, remember the workers at Roche-
Syntex. Form them globalization means the destruction of their
union, the lowering of their wages and benefits, and in some
cases the loss of their jobs. 
     Armando Lopez Navarrete, a leader of the Union of Democratic
Taxi Cab Drivers (Union de Transportistas Democraticos-UTD) was
stabbed to death in the town of Iyotla part of the municipality
of Leonardo Bravo (Chichihualco) on May 2. Because of his wounds,
he is presumed to have been tortured before being murdered. 
     Lopez Navarrete was the second UTD leader to be murdered
this year. On March 29 Santana Alonso Arellano, another UTD
leader, was shot in the head and killed in Tierra Caliente.
Alonso Arellano had also been tortured. The UTD is affiliated
with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and it is
presumed that politics was the motivation for both murders.
     PRD officials in Guerrero say that member of the taxi cab
union controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
had threatened to murder Alonso Arellano. Lopez Navarrete, say
the PRD leaders, had also been harassed.
     After the first murder, five hundred member of the UTD
marched in Chilpancingo on April 3, 1997 to demand that the
assassination of their leader and other PRD members be
investigated and the killers brought to justice.
     The Congress of Labor (CT) and the Confederation of Mexican
Workers (CTM) blamed Alberto Juarez Blancas, head of the
Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), also
part of the CT, for the May Day fiasco. 
     On May 1, Mexico's traditional labor day, leaders of the CT
met with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo in the National
Auditorium in Mexico City with several thousand supposedly loyal
workers in attendance. The workers, however, instead of playing
their part as cheerleaders for the state-union alliance, booed
their union leaders and ridiculed the president.
     Leonardo Rodriguez Alcaine, second in command in the CTM,
contends that Juarez Blancas pulled the stunt in an attempt to
humiliate the CTM and the CT. The CT and CTM may prefer this
explanation to the notion that the workers simply find their
union and political leaders ridiculous and disgusting.
             Fidel Returns to Lead PRI Campaign
     Meanwhile, Fidel Velazquez--who does appear to be immortal--
returned from the hospital to the CTM offices in order to lead
the labor movement in its campaign of support for the
Institutional Revolutionary Party. Now 97 years old, Velazquez
told reporters the CTM would take its campaign for the
Intitutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to its 32 state
organizations, to its industrial unions, to local unions and to
the rank and file.
     The PRI's "sector obrero," or labor sector, made up of labor
union officials, has 32 candidates in this election. In recent
elections when the PRI has done poorly, the "sector obrero"
candidates have done even worse. The "sector obrero"
representatives give the official unions some influence within
the PRI, as well as providing political patronage and graft to
union leaders.
     On May 12 Velazquez announced that if either the Party of
the Democratic Revolution (PRD) or the National Action Party
(PAN) won the elections of July 6 that the CTM would break its
pact with the government and the employers. Many observers found
ironic, since the opposition has been demanding for years, nay
for decades, that the CTM break its deal with bosses and the
                    FORO GROUPS DEBATES ISSUE OF
                     NATIONAL WORKERS ASSEMBLY
     The Foro group of unions, made up of "official" Congress of
Labor (CT) unions and independent unions, continues to debate the
question of the National Assembly of Workers scheduled to be held
on July 31 of this year.
     Francisco Hernandez Juarez, head of the Telephone Workers
Union (STRM) and Alejandra Barrales Magdaleno the head of the
Flight Attendants Union and of the Federation of Unions of Goods
and Services argue that the Foro groups large turnout for the May
Day march to the Zocalo indicates that the time is right to form
a new federation. But Pedro Castillo Medellin, leader of the
Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and Joel Lopez Mayren of
the Revolutionary Workers Confederation (COR) are more cautious,
suggesting that perhaps the time has not yet arrived for such a
     In any case, so far only four of the Foro unions in the
Congress of Labor have promised to leave it: the telephone
workers, the streetcar workers, pilots and flight attendants.
     [Nestor de Buen is a well known and highly respected
attorney who represents both corporate and union clients. He
became famous or notorious in labor union circles in 1995 when he
authored a proposed "Reform of the Federal Labor Law" for the
conservative National Action Party. His proposal combined long-
time demands of the democratic and independent unions for labor
union freedom, including an end to the corrupt Boards of
Conciliation and Arbitration, with the employers favorite neo-
liberal and lean-production demands for flexibility and
productivity. His proposal, whatever one thinks of it, resulted
in an important discussion among labor union activists about the
role of unions in this era of neo-liberalism.
     [In the following essay, de Buen makes a strong attack on
the views of Bertha Lujan, leader of the FAT, and attorney Arturo
Alcalde, who represents independent and democratic unions. De
Buen's essay is also an attack on the alliance between U.S. and
Mexican labor unions, such as that between the FAT and the UE,
and on efforts such as this newsletter. De Buen's is an important
argument of which we feel our readers should be aware. We will
print a reply in a future issue. - Dan La Botz
     [The following article originally appeared with the title
"Imperialismo Sindical," in the Mexico City daily newspaper LA
JORNADA, 11 May 1997.]
                    LABOR UNION IMPERIALISM
                      by Nestor de Buen
     In these Clintonian day, one of the things which has most
caught my attention is the renewal of the old attempt of the U.S.
labor unions to modify the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA). In reality, it is an indirect demand that the North
American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) [labor side
agreements] be changed. Agreeing of course, with the proposals of
the tough Mexican Action Network on Free Trade [RMALC].
     It is a problem which should be analyzed with care.
     The U.S. unions hope--and they are not without arguments--to
modify the corporative [state-controlled] structure of our labor
union system, in such a way as to avoid "protection contracts"
which lead to poorer working conditions and the notorious lack of
enforcement in the rules of law to the detriment of the worker.
And with such agreements, to unfair commercial advantage for
firms located in Mexico.
     Throughout the discussion of the NAALC, a field of epic
battles, the U.S. delegation--headed by the very intelligent
Joaquin "Jack" R. Otero, a long-time leader of the AFL-CIO--
attempted to get a judgement against Mexico for violating any
rule of the game, and in particular those related to collective
rights. He argued that labor union freedom, collective
bargaining, and the [right to] strike were denied by the process
of union registration [registro] and filing of union officers
names [toma de nota], protection contracts, and ruling strikes
     The Mexican delegation, presided over by Norma Samaniego,
and with the constant presence of Jaime Serra Puche, refused to
accept it and the result, clearly convenient for us, reduced the
thorny issues to consultative matters. As a result only three
questions of a lower level--health and safety, the minimum
working age, and the minimum wage--could bring about the
intervention of an arbitration panel for the solution of the
controversies, with possibilities of final sanction.
     The various grievances presented until this date in the
United States have referred systematically to the collective
issues (called "political" issues), and obviously have not gone
forward. That is why the AFL-CIO wants to change the rules of the
game. But, what's the problem?
     One and very simple: the Americans want to avoid being left
without jobs in the face of the possibility that their
entrepreneurs move below the border in order to take advantage of
our corporativism [state control of unions]. This is the concept
behind the so-called "social clause" which they want to impose in
order to hand down the "most favored nation" status on certain
nations in the Caribbean. Therefore they demand the fulfillment
of the basic conventions of the International Labor Organization,
among them number 87--referred to as the labor union freedom
convention--, that the United States, of course, has not signed.
     The reason is clear and understandable. But there are two
problems before accepting their demands. In the first place, what
they want to do is deprive us of employment, which is so much
needed among the Mexicans. In the second place, we could never
accept in any way the interference of either Canada or the United
States in those problems which we are obligated to resolve.
     The most dramatic thing is that the famous Network [RMALC]
which fights shoulder to shoulder with the Americans in favor of
change, is right about the need to do away with corporativism in
Mexico, and with protection contracts. But the Network is not
right when it endeavors to bring the change from outside. This is
an old issue of debate with my dear friends Bertha Lujan and
Arturo Alcalde.
     Strictly speaking, the attitude of the AFL-CIO is genuine
labor union imperialism. But what is certain is that our
interests don't coincide with theirs and that to align oneself
with them, as has already occurred, is to align oneself against
employment in Mexico and in favor of an intolerable
interventionism in the control of our labor union life.
     Which is not to say that it shouldn't be us ourselves who
should struggle to do away with the hateful corporativism, which
seems to find more possibilities to continue living. And this is
not a eufemism [referring to Fidel Velazquez's recent return from
the hospital to work].
     In summary: no to any change in the NAALC side-agreements.
It was a great Mexican victory.
Social Statistics
Mexico's Foreign Debt
     In 1996 Mexico paid 13.5 billion U.S. dollars in interest on
its foreign debt, which amounts to more than its total petroleum
exports of 11.6 billion U.S. dollars, according to the Bank of
Mexico. ("Pago Mexico 13 mil 510 mdd en intereses en deuda
externa en 96," LA JORNADA, 4 May 1997.)
     The total Mexican foreign debt in December 1996 was 157,548
billion dollars, of which 98.2 billion was public debt. (Alicia
Salgado, "Suma 157 mil 548 mdd la deuda externa total," EL
FINANCIERO 12 Mayo 1997.) This means that each new Mexican born
owes 1,700 U.S. dollars to foreign banks. (Victor Felipe Piz,
"Pobreza, deuda social," EL FINANCIERO 14 Mayo 1997.)
Mexico's Domestic Debt
     Mexico's banks hold 92 billion Mexican pesos in overdrawn
accounts, up from 38.7 billion in December 1996. Although the
criteria for what is considered an overdrawn account have
changed, these figures still indicate that the domestic debt
problem is far from over. (Alejandro Ascencio, "Alcanza cartera
vencida de banca $92 mil millones," REFORMA 6 May 1997.)
Industrial Manufacturing Productivity Rises--Wages Fall
     The productivity of Mexico's industrial workers grew by 8.5
percent in 1996, while their income fell by 10.9 percent,
according to the bank of Mexico. ("Aumento 8.5% la productividad
del sector industrial durante 96," LA JORNADA 4 Mayo 1997.)
     In March industrial production rose by 4.2 percent, while
the increase for the first trimester was 6.2 percent, according
to the Mexican National Institute of Statistics (INEGI). (Antonio
Castellanos, "Aumento 6.2% en el primer trimeste la actividad
industrial," LA JORNADA 15 Mayo 1997).
     Today Mexico has 3,508 maquiladoras in all parts of the
country, 898,000 workers or 22 percent of the total manufacturing
employment, according to the Secretary of Commerce. Now thirty
years old, in the last ten years maquiladoras grew by 49 percent
in terms of firms, 40 percent in terms of new jobs; 30 percent in
exports. Half of the firms belong to U.S. companies, 44 percent
belong to Mexican companies, and four percent belong to Asian
companies, Japanese or Korean mostly. Two percent are Latin
American and one percent European. ("En tres anos la maquiladoras
surtiran el mercado nacional," LA JORNADA 12 May 1997.)
     In Ciudad Juarez, a city of the maquiladora zone, 85 women
have been murdered in the last four years, all under 22 years
old, and the police have only clear up 14 of the cases. (Ruben
Villalpando, "En 4 anos, 85 mujeres asesinadas en Cd. Juarez," LA
JORNADA 21 April 1997.)
     More than 6.7 million Mexican receive less than one minimum
wage per day according to an analysis by the Confederation of
Mexican Workers (CTM). One minimum wage is about 30 Mexican pesos
per day, and eight pesos equal almost one U.S. dollar. ("Mas de
6.7 millones reciben menos de un salario minimo diario," LA
JORNADA 4 Mayo 1997.)
     Workers' real wages, in terms of purchasing power, fell 49.4
percent since 1994, according to the Businessmen's Coordinating
Council (CCE). (Humberto Ortiz Moreno, "CCE: rezago de 49.4% del
poder adquisitivo del salario desde 94," LA JORNADA 9 May 1997.)
     However, the Center for Multi-Disciplinary Analysis (CAM) of
the Economics Department of the National Autonomous University of
Mexico (UNAM) says that workers purchasing power lost 69.4
percent of its value in the last nine years. ("En 9 anos, perdio
el minimo 69.6 de su poder de compra," LA JORNADA 2 May 1997.)
     The Mexican Association of Studies in Defense of the
Consumer (AMEDEC) says that the basic shopping basket became 22.4
percent more expensive between January and April. ("Se encarecio
22.4% la canasta basica entre enero-abril: Amedec," LA JORNADA 2
May 1997.)
Women Heads of Households
     Today women head 3.4 million homes, or 18 percent of the
total, according to the National Population Council. (Jose
Antonio Roman, "Dirigidos por mujeres, casi 3.4 millones de
hogares: Conapo," LA JORNADA 1 May 1997.)
Inflation and Employment
     Inflation increased only 1.08 percent in April, according to
the Bank of Mexico, while the number of workers registered with
the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), an important
indicator of employment, rose 3.1 percent.
     In the last 15 years, poverty in Mexico has doubled because
of increasing inequality and lack of education, according to Juan
Luis Longono, a researcher for the Interamerican Development
Bank. According to the Colombian researcher, in 1995 40 percent
of the Mexican population lived in poverty. (Patricia Sotelo, "Se
ha duplicado la pobreza en Mexico.-BID," REFORMA 9 May 1997.)
Hunger and Malnutrition
     Chronic malnutrition affects 840 million people today, of
whom 60 million can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The figure in 1980 was 48 million. This according to the United
Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. (Maria Elena Sanchez,
"Aumenta desnutricion en America Latina," REFORMA, 3 May 1997.)
Strikes and Struggle
     During the first third of 1997, while unions made 1,757
strike notifications, only eight strikes occurred according to
Economists and Associates Group (GEA). Average wage and benefit
increases for the period were 20.5 percent, just over the
government 17 percent ceiling. The Confederation of Mexican
Workers (CTM) unions were responsible for 60 percent of all
contract revisions, and their wage increases average 19.4
percent. The Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants
(CROC) represented seven percent of the contract revisions with
settlements of 18.8 percent. The independent unions made two
strike notifications, and their increases were 20.3 percent.
(Jesus Castillo, "No fueron salarios causal de huelgas," REFORMA
6 May 1997.)

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