A new Labor Center in Mexico will advise workers about their rights and how to mobilize and organize unions and collectively bargain. The Labor Center, at the Autonomous University of Querétaro in central Mexico, is supported by the Solidarity Center and the UCLA Labor Center.
“The aim is to strengthen and promote the full recognition of labor rights, freedom of association and organization, and the democratic participation of workers through research, linkage and accompaniment,” said Labor Center Director Dr. Javier Salinas García. Salinas spoke at a recent Solidarity Center event in Mexico to announce the opening.
The Labor Center comes three years after Mexico’s government announced a series of comprehensive labor reforms to establish a democratic unionization process, address corruption in the labor adjudication system and eradicate employer protection (“charro”) unions prevalent in the country.
The Labor Center is “a way to respond to the needs of the situation,” said Beatriz García, Solidarity Center Mexico deputy program director.
“I think we all agree that Mexico is going through a historic moment. The labor reform responds to the demands that have been the objectives of the struggle of many workers for years, for decades, and reflects some positive practices of the independent unions,” she said.
The event featured a panel of independent union members and leaders who discussed the future of the labor movement in Mexico in the wake of historic labor law reforms.
Panelists explored the role that democratic and independent trade unions in promoting labor reform implementation in Mexico three years after the 2019 Labor Reform and negotiations of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (UMSCA/T-MEC).
Speakers shared how they are using the tools of labor reform to organize on their worksites.
“We are the delegates, and we call our colleagues to share information about the Union League,” said Sonia Cristina García Bernal. “We have helped colleagues who were told they were going to be fired without severance pay. We have been able to get them severance pay. We have been able to get them rehired.”
“After these three years, the tool that we use the most is fast response mechanisms,” said Imelda Guadalupe Jiménez Méndez. “This has been a very important tool.”
In addition to Beatriz García, speakers included: Imelda Guadalupe Jiménez Méndez, Secretary for Political Affairs, the Miners Union (Los Mineros); Julieta Mónica Morales, General Secretary, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana); Rita Guadalupe Lozano Tristán, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana); Alejandra Morales, General Secretary, Independent Union of National Workers in the Automotive Industry; and Sonia Cristina García Bernal, Special Delegate, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana).
As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, women workers around the world are leading struggles to safeguard democracy and improve wages and working conditions, often facing arrest or violence.
Berinette, a worker who was part of the February 9 and 10 demonstrations, spoke about the shocking police violence. “We thought they were protecting us and they were destroying us,” she said. “They shot rubber bullets and they fired tear gas at us. They beat us but, despite this, we didn’t fear and we were never afraid.”
In February, General Secretary María Alejandra Morales Reynoso led the National Independent Union for Workers in the Auto Industry (SINTTIA) to a landmark election victory in Mexico, when the independent union won the right to represent over 6,000 workers at a truck plant in Silao.
In a union election with a 90 percent turnout, SINTTIA won with 4,192 votes out of 5,389 valid ballots. SINTTIA defeated the entrenched CTM labor group that had held the contract at the plant for 25 years and derived its strength from cultivating relationships with politicians and corporations while keeping wages low.
SINTTIA General Secretary Maria Alejandra Morales Reynoso Credit: Solidarity Center
Workers succeeded in making their voices heard despite attempts to buy votes and threats of violence against union leaders and activists. Just before voting began, three individuals threatened Reynoso and her family with harm if she showed up to vote.
“They just came by my house, two men and a woman, telling me to send a statement saying neither I nor any other worker should show up tomorrow, or if not there will be problems,” said Morales Reynoso.
In a podcast interview with Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, Morales Reynoso said the union’s victory “gave people hope, hope that it was possible to represent workers freely.
“We proved it’s possible to get organized and to fight for our rights and to leave behind the fear that we’re going to lose our jobs,” Morales Reynoso said.
On February 1, one year after the overthrow of Myanmar’s democratically elected government by a military junta, Phyo Sandar Soe, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), was among five-member presidium elected by the First People’s Assembly of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC). Sandar is the youngest person and the only woman elected to the presidium.
Women workers played a leading role early on in the protests against the Myanmar coup, in which the country’s 450,000 garment workers were especially active in organizing civil disobedience and factory shutdowns. They have asked international corporate fashion brands to cease doing business in Myanmar until democracy is restored.
CTUM General Phyo Sanda Soe, Credit: Solidarity Center
An estimated 1,500 people have been killed since the military coup, and nearly 12,000 imprisoned, most tortured. The military junta especially targeted union leaders, arresting dozens, and many others fled the country or went into hiding. Demonstrating workers continue to be arrested under the pretense of spreading Covid-19 as Cambodian authorities repeatedly abuse the country’s COVID-19 law to break up the strike
Speaking from a safehouse, in a podcast interview with Bader-Blau, Sandar spoke of the strength of workers standing together despite repression and personal danger.
“We are facing a bloody crackdown, but all people protect each other. We are finding solutions to fight back. That’s why I want to tell our brothers and sisters to endure this duration because we have very high motivation to fight back against the junta, she said.”
In early January in Cambodia, Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) President Sithar Chhim was one of nine union leaders arrested during a peaceful strike and was violently taken away when she attempted to join her colleagues in a picket line at the NagaWorld hotel and casino.
Hundreds of slot machine workers, dealers, housekeepers and technicians are on strike to demand the reinstatement of 365 workers who were fired months earlier. While management claimed the layoffs were due to COVID-19, union leaders say nearly all of those laid off were union leaders or members.
The layoffs took place shortly after the union won a wage increase that boosted pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September 2019 for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages.
Thousands of workers in Mexico recently formed an independent union at a GM auto plant in Silao, in central Mexico, voting out a corporate-supported union that did not operate in their interest. On the latest episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast, Maria Alejandra Morales Reynoso, general secretary of SINTTIA, the union that now represents the workers, tells why this victory is a milestone for many Mexican workers who are forced to be part of sham unions. (En español)
Morales shares how workers at the Silao plant stood strong in the face of widespread corruption, laws tilted against them and incredible pressure to cast their vote for a protection union that did the bidding of the company.
The union victory “gave people hope, hope that it was possible to represent workers freely,” she says. “We proved it’s possible to get organized and to fight for our rights and to leave behind the fear that we’re going to lose our jobs.”
“It takes courage to take on an entire, entrenched, corrupt system. Yet the workers in Silao did just that, inspiring workers all over the world,” says Podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.
“And they did so at one of the biggest companies in Mexico, with more than 6,000 workers. This is living proof that worker power and global solidarity is a powerful voice and force for democracy and worker and human rights. When workers come together, we cannot be stopped.”
The new, independent union, Sindicato Independiente Nacional de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Industria Automotriz (SINTTIA), won the right to represent more than 6,000 workers at a truck plant in Silao, Mexico, in a closely watched election. SINTTIA won the election by a wide margin, defeating the entrenched CTM labor group that had held the contract at the plant for 25 years, and two other groups with ties to CTM.
The victory happened despite attempts to buy votes and intimidate workers, and threats of violence leveled against union leaders and activists. One of those threatened was SINTTIA General Secretary María Alejandra Morales Reynoso. She spoke about the victory at a press conference.
SINTTIA General Secretary Maria Alejandra Morales Reynoso / Credit: Solidarity Center
“Today is a day in history for Mexican workers,” says Morales Reynoso. ” And we have just begun.”
SINTTIA’s victory could signify the beginning of the end of CTM’s decades-long hold on power. The labor group derived its strength from secret contracts, intimidation of workers and close relationships with Mexico’s previous ruling party and employers, whom they appeased by keeping wages low.
The election is a significant test of the impact of trade reforms, which expand worker rights and establish union votes by secret ballot to validate labor contracts. Mexico’s government estimates that prior to reforms, about 80 percent of union contracts were signed without workers’ knowledge, and helped suppress wages and give employers more control over workers.
At this one truck plant this week, workers were able to overcome corruption and threats of violence to vote out the sham union. Thousands of workers now have a chance at collective bargaining, raising wages and improving working conditions, but much work remains to ensure free and fair elections at thousands of workplaces for millions of Mexican workers.
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