Viewpoint: The Agenda of the Mexican Working Class

It is not clear that the interests and rights of Mexican workers will be protected in the labor chapter negotiated between the U.S. and Mexico. Photo: Sindicatos Unidos con Napoleón Gómez Urrutia

Earlier this week, the U.S. and Mexico announced an agreement to update parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Below we publish an English translation of a statement from Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, president of Los Mineros (the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel, and Related Workers of the Mexican Republic), on the deal. Gómez Urrutia returned to Mexico to take his seat in the Senate this week, after 12 years in exile on bogus criminal charges filed by the Mexican government after he led vigorous protests following the deaths of 65 miners in an explosion. Mexico will inaugurate a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-leaning MORENA party, on December 1, and there are high hopes that his administration will reform the country’s labor laws, which have long left most unions under the control of corrupt, state-linked leaders. The statement originally ran as a paid advertisement in Mexican newspaper La Jornada.—Eds.

The overwhelming electoral triumph on July 1 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the contest for the Presidency of the Republic paves the way for a new stage in labor relations in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

Today, the Mexican working class suffers the bad effects of decades of underdevelopment, a product in turn of the combined results of corporatism in labor relations and neoliberalism in economic policy, which violated or at best ignored the interests of workers.

TWO PROCESSES TO REVERSE INJUSTICES

There are currently two very important processes that could serve to reverse the injustices of the past and improve the life of the working class: the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the reform of labor legislation.

On the one hand, there is the effort to conclude the renegotiation of NAFTA in the coming days, including the labor chapter and an agreement on the rules of origin in the automotive industry. It is not yet clear when a vote will be held in the U.S. Congress. Although Canada has not yet returned to the negotiating table, there is a lot of pressure on the part of multinational companies to finish the negotiations, and supposedly it is convenient for Lopez Obrador that the renegotiation be concluded by the current government, with the corresponding responsibility.

In addition, there is concern that oil companies in the U.S. want to shield themselves against Lopez Obrador’s intention to reverse at least some elements of the energy reform. [Current president Enrique Peña Nieto controversially opened up Mexico’s oil sector to foreign investors for the first time since its nationalization in 1938—eds.]

FREE AND SECRET VOTE IN COLLECTIVE CONTRACTS

It is also not clear that the interests and rights of Mexican workers will be protected in the labor chapter negotiated between Trump and Peña Nieto.

According to the existing reports, the labor chapter includes a very important section which could guarantee the rights of the workers to have a free, personal, and secret vote on their collective contracts and to choose their unions through a democratic and effective process (without the unjustified delays that currently prevail). The process would be supervised by impartial labor tribunals.

But there is a very strong doubt concerning the lack of a mechanism in the Treaty that would oblige transnational corporations to comply with these requirements, under penalty of commercial sanctions. Without this obligation, we return to the current situation where NAFTA faithfully protects the rights of capital, but does not defend the rights of workers at all.

The Democrats in the U.S. Congress (who are anticipated to be the majority after the November elections) have indicated that they would vote against a text that did not guarantee these rights, both in the criteria and in the compliance mechanism. We hope that the new government of Mexico—both the executive and legislative powers—will not endorse an agreement that does not end, once and for all, the system of corporate control over the working class, which has caused so much damage to the economy and to democracy in our country.

UNCERTAINTIES IN RENEGOTIATING NAFTA

On the rules of origin, there is a lot of noise but we do not have clarity about of its real meaning. The idea that a minimum wage of $16 per hour will be imposed on the automotive industry in Mexico, which has been disseminated in the media, is simply false. According to the most reliable reports, 40 percent of the production for the automotive chain would be limited to factories that pay $16 per hour. But there are still many doubts—for example, the time when the new salary rules will take effect and whether they will be retroactive. It is unknown what percentage of the automotive industry is currently in Mexico and how its boundaries are defined.

There are other outstanding trade issues to resolve, such as the impact of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on the steel and aluminum industries. The abuse, harassment, and discrimination faced by Mexican workers in the U.S., attacks on immigrant families, raids and deportations without due process, and attempts to increase temporary visa programs while weakening labor protections, should also be a concern. There is no doubt that the Executive Power of Mexico must inform the new Congress about the details of all these negotiations as of September 1.

THE PENDING LABOR REFORM

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On the other hand, the constitutional reform of 2017 promised to establish impartial labor courts and the right of workers to a personal, free, and secret vote on their collective contracts. These measures are fundamental for the recovery of the power and dignity of the working class. For this reason, the treacherous labor leaders, headed by Senators Tereso Medina of the CTM and Isaías González Cuevas of the CROC, tried to stifle a real labor reform with their proposal for pro-business changes to the Federal Labor Law in December of last year.

Now it will fall to the new Congress, as of September 1, to approve a secondary law that will give real effect to the constitutional labor reform as well as to the international treaties on this matter ratified by Mexico. This is a historical responsibility that we must fulfill faithfully. With these reforms, and with the ratification of Convention 98 of the International Labor Organization (ILO)–pending in the Senate since November 30, 2015—we will begin the real recovery of the rights of Mexican workers.

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia
Senator, MORENA Party

For the Spanish version, contact dan[at]labornotes[dot]org.
For updates on the Mexican labor movement, in Spanish and English, we recommend following the Mexico Labor Update Facebook page.

What Would NAFTA Changes Mean for Labor?

The details are still secret, both Congresses would have to approve any deal, and at this point Canada isn’t on board. From the New York Times:

The revised deal with Mexico makes significant alterations to rules governing automobile manufacturing, in an effort to bring more car production back to the United States from Mexico. Those changes are being watched carefully by the United States auto industry, which has built its global supply chain around Nafta and expressed concern that the Trump administration’s efforts to rewrite it could raise prices of American-made cars and trucks. Automakers like General Motors and Ford have set up plants in Canada and Mexico, and American automakers routinely import car parts from other countries.

Under the changes agreed to by Mexico and the United States, car companies would be required to manufacture at least 75 percent of an automobile’s value in North America under the new rules, up from 62.5 percent, to qualify for Nafta’s zero tariffs. They will also be required to use more local steel, aluminum and auto parts, and have 40 to 45 percent of the car made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, a boon to both the United States and Canada and a win for labor unions, which have been among Nafta’s biggest critics.

So how much of a difference would this make for workers in the three countries?

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the presidents of the Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Machinists, and Communications Workers released a short statement, “NAFTA Negotiations on Track but Not Done.” It says in part, “We remain committed to working with the administration to get NAFTA right. Our members’ jobs depend on it. But, as always, the devil is in the details.”

The statement from the officers of the United Electrical Workers is more critical, concluding that the deal “falls short of meeting the demands of working people.” Specifically they say the deal excludes Canada and allows the U.S. to continue to enact “right-to-work” laws.

The Citizens Trade Campaign says the deal needs “more work” and emphasizes that the game isn’t over: “with Canada not yet having signed on to even that initial framework, the ultimate renegotiation could still go in multiple directions.” The group points to two key improvements needed—the deal should “add strong, new labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement” and “eliminate the harmful Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system that threatens jobs, the environment and public health.”

What’s your take? Let us know at editors[at]labornotes[dot]org and look for more comprehensive Labor Notes coverage coming soon.