The Solidarity Center and our allies in Mexico work to strengthen the organizing and bargaining capacity of unions and grassroots organizations and to empower workers, especially women, to stand up for their rights at work, at home and in their communities.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Women miners in Mexico are breaking new ground through their union, Los Mineros. See more.

A key component of Mexico’s economic policy is the repression of independent trade unions and the general diminishment of worker protections via federal labor law reform as a means of keeping wages and inflation low in order to attract foreign investment. Although access to education, housing and healthcare are improving and Mexico’s overall economy is growing, Mexico’s poor are not seeing their incomes rise as quickly as prices. Mexico’s poverty rate of 53.2 percent in 2014 is almost identical to the poverty rate of 1994. Meanwhile, the rest of Latin America saw a drop in poverty that was more than two-and-a-half times as fast as that of Mexico.

Mexico’s Constitution, created in the early 20th century, includes a broad range of worker rights, but employers and public officials violate the country’s obligations to uphold international labor standards, including workers’ freedom to form and join unions. Workers who attempt to form unions are routinely fired.

One of the biggest obstacles to freedom of association for workers in Mexico is the prevalence of “employer protection contracts,” simulated collective agreements signed by employers and “official” unions or corrupt lawyers, which prevent creation of truly representative unions. Protection contracts are negotiated without the knowledge and/or consent of workers and are often in place in a factory before workers are hired. Mexican labor rights experts estimate that the vast majority of collective bargaining agreements in the country are protection contracts.

In rare cases of recognition, independent unions must then compete against state- and employer-supported unions in an election where members vote publicly in front of their employers and labor ministry officials. As a result, fewer than 14 percent of Mexican workers belong to unions—some 7 million workers out of 52 million.

In spite of these overwhelming obstacles, a handful of independent grassroots worker organizations has emerged, particularly in the maquilas, Mexico’s export processing zones. The Solidarity Center works with the Border Committee of Workers (Comité Fronterizo Obrer@s) in helping empower the mostly women maquila workers through gender equality training and education about their legal rights at the workplace. Empowered maquila workers go on to negotiate with employers around workplace policies, wage scales and treatment on the job.