Liberation Road

Mexico’s Unions and Labor Movements under AMLO (before COVID) October 2019

1. Until AMLO took office last year, organized labor was dependent (and sometimes co-dependent) on the monolithic power of the PRI. PRI controlled the main labor federation, the CTM, whose members are  seen as “employer unions.”   Morena’s victory disrupted that cozy agreement. CTM has been fighting Morena’s labor law reform efforts. 

2.  There is not much independent union organizing, certainly not as much as progressives have hoped. The AMLO government has not helped.

  • AMLO and Morena have not helped. AMLO has not seen organized labor as an important partner; he prefers to have direct contact with workers.  Morena is not building a labor wing of the party. 
  • AMLO handpicked Napoleon Gomez Urrutia from the Miner’s Union (who has been in exile in Canada for the last 12 years) to be his labor advisor, which pissed off other independent leaders. The UNT – the independent union’s federation – is too tied to the PRD to be effective now. In this situation, there is a need for the independent unions to band together but this has not happened. The SME (the electrical workers union) is one of the strongest independent unions.
  • It is difficult for workers to know who to trust given the history of their labor movement, the flux and uncertainty of the time, and foreigners helicoptering in with bright ideas that don’t work.
  • AMLO’s #1 priority has been signing the new NAFTA agreement; and he is not opening up trade discussions to workers.

3.  But AMLO and Morena have instituted new labor laws that help independent organizing.  Now, a worker group must get a representation certificate verifying that 30% of workers want the union. Getting the certificate is a bit cumbersome, but it is designed to prevent a few from claiming they represent all workers, often without the workers knowledge or consent as has happened in the past.  An example going on now is maquila organizing in Matamoros.

4.  There is re-shuffling going on in the traditional unions.  Construction and white skilled unions seem to lead because they have more experience, more militancy, and are better positioned than independent unions or in non-skilled sectors, but there is a lot of infighting.  New unions are being set up by political operatives hoping to cash in on AMLOs popularity. 

5. But the workers themselves may be ready for change! For example, miners struck in Cananea and the Miner’s Union won their required share of profits that had no been paid. Some autoworkers in Guanajuato spoke out in support of the US auto workers on strike.

6.  US unions and Mexican unions – solidarity opportunities?

  • Call center worker organizing? Possible, but the Telefonista telecom union is more concerned with the breaking up of Telemax due to new anti-trust laws and how that will affect them. 
  • Auto? The Mexico plant where workers were fired for supporting the US strike shut down completely due to lack of parts due to the strike.  The most stable auto plants get parts from internal Mexican manufacturers and that will be a strategy for automakers.  These types of issues pit Mexican workers against US workers. Reinstating the fired workers with require a deeper strategy.
  • Teachers union? It is not a dissident union in spite of the strikes.

We will see whether the new labor laws translate into concrete improvements for workers.