Liberation Road

Los Charros y los Carros: Cowboys and Cars

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

September 22, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Labor unions in México first came under direct PRI government control in the late 1940s when the Aléman administration started appointing union presidents. One of the first and worst: Jesús Diaz de León, a character ousted for fraud but then reinstated by his federal friends. Diaz de León always showed up for union events decked out in cowboy regalia, and disgusted union members soon nicknamed him el charro. That charro label would stick, as a tag for corrupt, gangster-ridden, corporate- and state-controlled unions that ensure employers a passive, exploitable workforce in exchange for dues rake-offs to union leaders.

Workers in these charro squeezes find themselves doubly ripped off, by both company and union, the situation for years at the massive General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato.

The US-México-Canada trade agreement signed last year allows each nation involved to sue another for not following the pact’s labor provisions, including the right to free and fair union elections. The Biden administration lodged a complaint against México under this provision after the discovery of fraud in the GM Silao union contract ratification vote earlier this year. In the subsequent ordered re-vote, dissatisfied workers achieved a huge victory. Their ballots scrapped the charro contract and set the stage for efforts to create a true, independent union voice for the Silao plant’s 6,500 workers.

Some observers have framed what’s happened in Silao as the story of a heroic USA waving a fantastic trade agreement in México’s face to rescue helpless Mexican workers. This take on Silao — the US riding in on a white horse to save the day! — neatly fits in with classic north-of-the-border cowboy mythology. But this version of events fails to credit México’s own role in the outcome: the new labor law reform that requires contract ratification votes, the Mexican labor ministry’s serious probe of the Silao plant’s fraudulent first vote, and, most of all, the determination of the Silao workers themselves.

In this week’s issue, we talk with Israel Cervantes, a key autoworker leader and an organizer of the Generando Movimiento, the alternate “GM” that laid the groundwork for the Silao victory. Mexican autoworkers, the Generando Movimiento believes, don’t need cowboys in either black hats or white ones, from either México or the United States. They need the capacity to self-organize within their own plants. They need connections across their industry — and across national boundaries. An audacious goal!

Breaking News: México’s Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare has just announced its decision to accept the Silao re-vote and terminate the Miguel Trujillo Lopez contract. More below in this issue’s Reflections.

Back in 2019, Israel Cervantes, a worker in the General Motors Silao plant in Guanajuato state, publicly expressed his support for striking US autoworkers. Cervantes had already been organizing internally in the Silao plant against the company union, and, soon after his show of solidarity with US workers, company officials had him terminated. But that firing has only strengthened his resolve to build a strong independent labor union for all workers in the auto industry. Stay tuned!

To read the rest of this exciting bulletin click here!