The Struggle of Electricians in Mexico Goes On

This article was originally published in The Progreso Weekly on 1/13/10.

The year 2010 began in Mexico with the continuation of the mobilization of Mexican Electricians Union (SME) workers amid a repressive environment. Despite difficulties – such as the lack of a favorable response from the Supreme Court to the appeal against the shutdown of the Central Power and Lighting Company (CLyFC) and repression and provocation from the government – the SME continues to fight.

Reacting to the attack three months ago that eliminated 44,000 jobs, the SME begins the year issuing an account of the bad state the country is in. It is titled, “Calderón’s Three Years: A Nightmare for the People of Mexico.”

Foisted upon us through electoral fraud, and three years into his misgovernment, Felipe Calderón is an interminable nightmare for the people of Mexico: public insecurity, crime and drug trafficking, crisis in public finances, damaged sovereignty, systemic violation of human rights, social and economic backwardness, unemployment, etc. Far from being solved, these problems have exacerbated and led to levels of misery and poverty never before seen in Mexico’s contemporary history.

In effect, although Felipe Calderón promised to be the “president of employment,” he contributes – with economic and fiscal policies imposed by the centers of world power – to sink the working class. According to official statistics, in the past year more than one million Mexicans have lost their jobs. In addition, tens of thousands of micro, small and mid-size enterprises have gone bankrupt in the past year, sending millions of people to find informal jobs.

Although the worldwide financial crisis has impacted Mexico worse than any other country, the government maintains the course it has kept for 30 years, sacrificing the countryside and the national industries and maintaining the country entirely dependent on the U.S. economy, all of which benefits only a very small minority. As Jeff Faux writes, “the attack on the electrical workers is part of a systematic and unscrupulous campaign by the Mexican plutocracy to destroy any effort to establish independent labor unions that can represent the employees, for the sake of the employers’ interests.”

Behind the shutdown of the CLyFC is Calderón’s obligation to fulfill his commitments with foreign corporations that are behind the business of energy generation and distribution.

International pressure on Mexico has been huge, from free-trade treaties like the TLCUEM with the European Union (through which Mexico promised to “keep up to date” in its openings to foreign investment) to covert mechanisms under the obscure Alliance for the Security and Prosperity of North America (ASPAN), which allows big corporations to “recommend” to Mexico to move forward in the “integration” of the “energy market in North America.”

At the same time, these mechanisms impose on the country an escalation of military and police repression, under the pretext of the war on drugs. This repression is made evident by the takeover of the CLyFC facilities.

The intention to destroy a democratic labor union like the SME (see Román and Velazco Arregui) foretells a sharpening of social conflicts in the nation in 2010, rather than a superficial “dual celebration for Mexico.” The SME workers have said so: “It’s either them or us. The time has come for the people, for the excluded, exploited and discriminated people, the ones who are always pushed back.”

SME leader Fernando Amezcua warned that “the electricians will not take a single step backward” in their struggle to revert the closing of the CLyFC and that they’ll abide by the rule of law, without discarding political and social mobilization.

The success of this movement will depend on national and international solidarity. Far from succumbing to repression, the SME leaders work with international labor-union representatives to present an accusation to the International Labor Organization, asking that the ILO send a mission to Mexico. Also, SME leaders have gone to the European Parliament and are preparing to submit a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

With the support of the main labor organizations in the United States and Canada – the AFL-CIO and the CLC, respectively – the SME claims that the labor violations incurred in Mexico are in violation of NAFTA itself. For this reason, any international support, assistance and encouragement that anyone can give the SME is vital for the defense of human rights and constitutional order in Mexico.

Manuel Perez-Rocha is an associate researcher for the Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the Executive Council of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade.