Trade union activists around the world are focussing on Mexico again this week and next in the vitally important struggle to block regressive labour legislation which stands to further legitimise Mexico’s breaches of international labour standards.
The proposed labour code revisions would legitimise the illegitimate and pervasive use of “protection contracts,” increase the undermining of freedom of association through outsourcing and temporary contracts, sharply curtail the right to strike, and restrict the contesting of unfair dismissals.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in proposing the harsh provisions, is widely seen as pandering to big business in the build-up to presidential elections in 2012. The draconian revisions have the full backing of President Felipe Calderón’s ruling National Action Party (PAN).
Legislators are planning to fast-track the bill through public consultations, in which high-level trade union delegations are contributing, so that the legislative commission of labour can approve the proposal in the final days of this parliamentary session, ending 18 April. The next stage of the bill will likely occur during the Easter holiday. Legislators are refusing to discuss the 30 most contentious articles of the new legislation during the consultation stage.
Further dangers posed by the proposed changes include a cap on backpay when a worker is found unjustly sacked. The proposed cap of 12 months salary, when legal proceedings commonly take five years, effectively gives employers a green light to sack workers arbitrarily with impunity.
Another concern is over a proposal that would give employers the right to negotiate individually with workers on terms other than what is in a collective agreement. This would outrageously destroy the process of collective bargaining, enshrined in international labour law.
Mexican labour law can never begin to resemble acceptable standards without first addressing “protection contracts,” which make democratic trade union organising near impossible, and the “toma de nota,” which allows authorities to remove elected union leaders arbitrarily and without legal basis. Legislators from the PRI and PAN political parties ignored trade union demands on these issues and other amendments, including establishing a 40-hour work week and improving seniority bonuses and the holiday system.
Also ignored by the authors of these legal changes was the 23 March report of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, which discusses the complaints of the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) and identifies “protection contracts” as a priority issue which must be dealt with through social dialogue with trade unions.
A trade union demonstration marched from Mexico City’s main square, the Zócalo, to the Congress on 31 March, where discussions over the regressive labour bill continue. Then, last Thursday, 7 April, a large national day of demonstration was conducted against the proposed labour law.
In Mexico City, protestors marched from the Angel Monument of Independence to the Zócalo and heard speakers from trade unions of all Mexico’s democratic unions. Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, exiled to Canada, sent his message to the demonstration, calling the proposed changes a “robbery of labour rights in Mexico,” and called for Labour Minister Javier Lozano Alarcón to resign immediately so that he does not cause “more damage to industrial relations and social peace of the republic.”
Public opinion on Mexico around the world is repeatedly drawn away from the shocking denial of human and workers’ rights toward the bogus war on drugs, funded by the Obama administration as a way to finance Calderón’s military strength, which in turn is used to crush trade union campaigns such as in Cananea.
An international tribunal on trade union freedoms will be held on 29 April in Mexico City and that body will hear a strong globally-supported case against the proposed labour law, as well as specific cases from affected unions.
The government-business campaign to weaken trade unions in Mexico was again highlighted by an avoidable methane gas explosion which killed two mineworkers in Barroterán, Coahuila, on Saturday, 26 March. The explosion at Mine No. 7 belonging to Northern Steel, took the lives of 33-year-old Juan Francisco Rodríguez Piedra and 43-year-old José Camacho Grimaldo. The accident has been described as “industrial homicide” due to dangerous and negligent safety conditions in the mine. Union leadership at Barroterán was forced onto workers through coercion.
Mario Alberto Castillo and Héctor Álvarez
Next week, 20 April, Los Mineros will honour the five-year anniversary of the two miners killed at Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, in 2006. Mario Alberto Castillo and Héctor Álvarez were murdered by federal and state police in violent suppression of a strike at the Sicartsa steel plant.