The Struggle of Electrical Workers in Mexico Goes On

Note: This article was originally published on Progreso Weekly on 12/15/09.

Social unrest grows daily in Mexico. It is expressed in the agglutination of diverse social movements in support of the struggle of the electrical workers who were fired arbitrarily and high-handedly through a presidential decree that violates various articles of the Mexican Constitution and various international agreements, some of them involving the International Labor Organization.

The most pressing struggle of the SME [Mexican Electricians Union] workers is to regain their jobs, but it is also the struggle of all of us who want to restore Mexico to its status as a sovereign country where the government respects the constitutional order and human rights.

December 10th marked two months after the closing of the Central Light and Energy Company, on a Saturday night, that left 44,000 workers jobless and 22,000 retirees defenseless. So far, we don’t believe the Calderón government has triumphed in its anti-labor, eminently Thatcher-like strategy.

As the Stratfor geopolitical intelligence agency warned, after the blow was administered to the workers: “There is a high level of dissatisfaction with the economy in Mexico, and even on a good day the potential for social unrest is high. But if Calderon is making a policy of shutting state-run companies and taking on the unions — no holds barred — Mexico can expect to see a great deal of unrest in the future”.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of people from hundreds of social organizations have protested in the capital and other cities in the country. They have carried out a National Civic Stoppage and seized Mexico City in a symbolic manner, in full solidarity with the electrical workers who were fired. The network All Rights for All, which brings together 68 human rights organizations in the country, said this:

“The step taken by the Executive branch, in addition to being unconstitutional and illegal, represents a violation of the human rights of the workers from the Central Light and Energy Company. In the first place, because it violates their right to job security by firing them without a cause that might justify the dismissal according to law, and by not following the procedures set by law. As a consequence of the above, the other human rights derived from work, such as the earning of wages and the right to strike, have been violated, too.”

These violations are justified by the Calderón government by means of a propaganda campaign supported by the country’s television duopoly that accuses workers of being “inefficient” and receiving wages that are high beyond measure. However, as the Secretary of Labor himself has admitted, the workers earn an average of less than 600 dollars a month.

In contrast, the top executives of the extinct company, who are the real culprits of its financial state, receive wages above 100,000 pesos a month (about US$8,000 a month) and, in the case of the board of directors, up to 200,000 pesos a month (about US$16,000). But the principal cause for the financial hole the extinct Light and Energy Company finds itself is the subsidies to the big companies and the federal government itself through “special accounts,” which means they simply don’t pay for their electricity.

As the workers of the Mexican Electricians Union (SME) say so well, the high administrative leaders must be made responsible for the company’s inefficiency. Also, the government’s energy policy, which, for several presidential terms, has boycotted and dismantled the sector for the purpose of privatizing it.

Despite the growing poverty and unemployment in Mexico, the most unequal country in the world, the current government insists on continuing the failed process of “structural reforms” by dismantling the nation’s energy industry. The purpose is to surrender the industry to the transnational corporations, mostly from the U.S. and Europe, to whom the democratic labor unions, such as the SME, are a hindrance.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is a research associate for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and a member of the executive council of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade (RMALC).