Liberation Road

Bottom-Up Unionism: Getting to Yes Begins with No

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

October 20, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

We all get scam calls and emails. The scammers pose as officials from the IRS, our credit card company, or the Grand Poohbah of Police — or even our own grandkids! We learn to deal with fly-by-night scams like these. But some scams don’t just zip in and out of our lives. These scams can become institutionalized — and get really tough to handle.

In México, unión “members” of the Confederation of Mexican Workers typically don’t get any calls from their union. The CTM doesn’t need to talk to them. This union can effect its scams without worker participation in any way, shape, or form.

For generations, CTM officials have been skimming precious pesos from meager worker wages. Instead of protecting workers from their employers, they protect employers from workers. If workers protest, they get Donald Trump’s favorite TV show line: “You’re fired!” And maybe blackballed and beaten up for good measure.

In the US, workers have also endured corrupt union leaders who siphon off dues money for personal extravagances, sometimes in collusion with employers, as in a recent United Auto Workers scandal we highlight in this week’s issue.

No relationship between workers and employers can work in a workplace without structures and rules rigorously observed and enforced. In México, new labor laws — and a government willing to enforce them — are making it easier for scammed workers to file for divorce from the CTM. For US autoworkers, existing rules have brought their corrupt leaders to justice, and, for now, these workers feel satisfied with the process and are hoping new agreements will let them keep their marriage with the UAW intact.

But life never hands us guarantees. In abusive relationships, victims first have to say “No!” Building unions of, by, and for workers — gaining the broad support that can end abuses in the workplace — will continue to take courage, smarts, and organizing. 

Jeffery Hermanson has been a union organizer for over 40 years, working with unions ranging from the ILGWU and the Carpenters to the Writers Guild of America West. From 2000 to 2003, Hermanson directed the Mexico Country Program for the Solidarity Center, a Washington, D.C.-based worker rights group, and later founded the Center’s Trade Union Strengthening department to help build union capacity worldwide. He currently serves as the lead organizer for the Solidarity Center’s Mexico program.

México’s 1917 Constitution has strong labor protections. These provisions give workers the right to organize unions and to strike — and promise an eight-hour day and a living wage. Have these rights been upheld?

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