These are astounding days for global solidarity. We’re witnessing massive global support for the people of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as they strive to end archaic autocracies. Other worldwide actions foreshadow a renewed international push against injustice.
Last Wednesday, I marched with nearly 200 workers and colleagues in front of the Mexican Embassy in Washington to demand for Mexican workers’ rights. It was one of dozens of protests included in the Global Days of Action to Defend Trade Unions in Mexico, organized by global union federations (the IMF, ICEM, ITF and UNI) and by a renascent Tri-National Solidarity Alliance formed by unions in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
With growing dissent in Mexico for the escalating violation of workers´ rights, protests have been held from Boston to San Francisco, Toronto to Vancouver, and in other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, and Russia. It’s an unprecedented show of support for millions of Mexican workers, who for decades have undergone systematic repressions heightened during the present administration of Felipe Calderón. According to the ongoing global days of action campaign, “The rights to recognition of union leaders, to collective bargaining, to strike and to stability of employment, all of which are enshrined in national and international law, are under attack.”
Examples of the extreme violence against workers in Mexico abound. Five years after a mining disaster at Pasta de Conchos caused by the negligence of company owners, the bodies of 63 of the 65 miners remain buried and the Mexican government has failed to investigate or prosecute those responsible. Mexican Miners’ Union official Juan Linares remains imprisoned since December 2008. In 2009, following Calderón’s orders, the federal police forcibly entered the Luz y Fuerza electricity company premises and violently removed the workers from their workplace. The following day, by presidential decree, the company was dissolved and 44,000 workers were fired with the goal of eliminating the collective bargaining agreement and the union itself, in violation of the Mexican constitution and the International Labor Organization’s conventions 87 and 98, which guarantee the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Recently the Mexican Congress issued a study that concludes that the goal of this action is to hand over the operations of energy provision to transnational companies.
Mexico workers who try to set up independent trade unions are often subjected to intimidation, threats, violence, firing, and blacklisting. Therefore, workers and community organizers from all over the world united in this campaign to demand the Mexican government to:
- Hold employer and government officials accountable for the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion that killed 65 miners on February 19, 2006.
- Abolish systemic violations of workers’ freedom of association, including employer-dominated “protection contracts” and interference in union elections.
- End the use of force—by the state or private parties—to repress workers’ legitimate demands for democratic unions, better wages and working conditions, and good health and safety conditions.
- End the campaign of political persecution against the Mexican Miner’s Union and the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union.
Just as everyone seems to want justice for the Egyptian people, Mexicans need international solidarity to help us move to a real democracy too. As Cecil Roberts, president of the United Metal Workers of America, said during the protest in Washington “it is wonderful for the American government to praise Middle Eastern citizens for standing for democracy. But our government needs to look a little closer to home at the exploitation of workers in Mexico.”Fortunately the level of commitment for solidarity is on the rise. The global days of action to defend trade unions in Mexico are a brilliant example.