Four years after 400 workers at a bottle manufacturing plant in Mexico were fired for trying to form a union, their wives released a documentary about their lives that recounts a bitter-sweet experience of worker struggle, family survival, and community empowerment and their ongoing case through the Kafka-esque bureaucracy of the federal labor authorities.
Just days after workers at the San Luis Potosi bottling plant, owned by Grupo Modelo, overthrew a longtime “protection” union, voted for true democratic union representation, and negotiated a 19 percent salary increase, the leaders and most outspoken supporters of the new union, Sindicato Unico de Trabajadores de la Empresa Industria Vidriera de Potosi (SUTEIVP), were fired and told they would never work again in their town. Thousands of livelihoods were on the line as families and their communities buckled under the stress of unemployment, discrimination, and intimidation.
Today, the 40 workers and their family members who have been able to hold out without accepting severance or other forms of buy-out from the company are optimistic that victory is in sight. Their cases are advancing at a torturously slow pace through the federal labor system, but the International Labor Organization recently called for an immediate legal resolution, and the factory has received a reinstatement order from the Labor Board in favor of one worker.
On January 26, the fourth anniversary of the firings, SUTEIVP launched a video produced by the wives of the men who had been fired. The day began as leaders and activists from Mexico’s largest independent and democratic unions traveled hundreds of miles to join SUTEIVP members in a rally outside the factory and ended in a gala presentation of the video, “The Other Face of the Resistance: Women’s Role in the San Luis Potosi Glass Makers’ Struggle.”
SUTEIVP leaders read a statement of support from United Steelworkers Union President Leo Gerrard. After that came speeches by Mexican unions representing teachers, municipal employees, tire workers, oil industry engineers, electricians, and power station and railway workers. The Solidarity Center’s country program director for Mexico, Lorraine Clewer, encouraged Grupo Modelo to do the right thing and break with protection unionism. Finally, the SUTEIVP leaders addressed the workers behind the heavily guarded perimeter fences of the bottle factory, letting them know that they are not alone in their struggle against workplace corruption and fear.
At the shift change, busloads of workers stopped to watch the rally, which transformed into a caravan of strength and solidarity as participants marched to the city center. Then at 5:30 p.m., the wives of the fired activists welcomed hundreds of guests from San Luis Potosi´s university, feminist, environmental, and other community groups to the premiere of their self-directed video. Supporters acknowledged in discussion afterward that by making visible the firings’ impact on women’s lives, livelihoods, and relationships, and by illustrating the positive transformation that the women and their families had gone through in order to get beyond surviving to fighting for their right to have a public voice in a male-dominated, classist society, the documentary provided a much needed example of female empowerment that should open doors for new alliances and new victories for working families in San Luis Potosi and other sites of conflict in Mexico.
Concepción López Pardo, the unofficial spokesperson for the wives, who admits she had never raised her voice to defend herself in public before her husband was fired, told the audience as she brushed away tears, “My son was hit by a pickup truck recently. As I rode to the hospital in the ambulance with him, I thought ‘why us?’ My husband said that he’d go and get his severance pay in order to pay the bills, but I said no. I’d rather sell our house than our dignity. I won’t accept any crumbs that the factory will throw to us.”
Another wife, Rosa Rodríguez, described a woman who offered to give the men free haircuts. until they had their jobs back and could afford to pay. “There are so many other stories like this that we could tell,” she said.