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"No Matter What the Result, We Will Continue to Resist," Says Mexican Electrical Workers Union Leader

World  (tags: 'CIVILLIBERTIES!', 'HUMANRIGHTS!', corporate corruption, conflict, freedoms, government, politics, privatization, Unions, Workers )

- 2478 days ago -
Our organization is the oldest democratic union in Mexico. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union [SME by its Spanish initials] was founded in 1914 when the armies of Emiliano Zapata took Mexico City. Our founders saw that the peasant insurrection would->


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Kit B (276)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 11:01 am
Members of the SME protesting in Mexico City's Zocalo. (Photo: David Bacon)

Humberto Montes de Oca is the international secretary for the Mexican Electrical Workers union. Two years ago, its 44,000 members were all fired when the Mexican government took over generating stations by force to set the stage for privatizing electricity. Montes de Oca describes the role the union has played on the left in Mexico, its resistance to privatization and the way fired workers are now forced to migrate to survive. He was interviewed by David Bacon.

Our organization is the oldest democratic union in Mexico. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union [SME by its Spanish initials] was founded in 1914 when the armies of Emiliano Zapata took Mexico City. Our founders saw that the peasant insurrection would finally create the conditions for their efforts to organize and succeed. They'd already made many attempts to set up the union in underground conditions and endured repression because of it.

In 1916, we organized Mexico's first general strike. Our leaders were imprisoned and condemned to death, but their lives were saved by huge demonstrations. In 1936, we went on strike against the Mexican Power and Light Company, which at that time had US, British and Canadian owners. Mexico City went without electricity for ninety days, except for emergency medical services. The strike was successful and led to the negotiation of one of the most important labor contracts in Latin America. That strike helped set the stage for the nationalization of oil, and created the political conditions that made the expropriation possible.

By David Bacon, Truthout | Interview

Visit Site for full interview.


pam w (139)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 12:57 pm
Good luck to them. I wish they'd all stay in Mexico and solve the problem but, as the article says, many of Mexico's problems just become a problem of the States.

Vallee R (280)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 4:50 pm
We all have problems - we need t help each other now though i agree Pam - they should stay in Mexico to resolve it.

Bianca D (87)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 5:56 pm
The SME electrical technicians are the *only* ones who know the ins and outs of Mexico City's electrical supply grid - a network that serves over 20 million people, citizens who are now paying the price in many ways for the change over to the other company - increased rates (in some cases astronomical increases), unfathomable bureaucracy, and poor unreliable service.

Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. Nelson Mandela


Janelle Wong (71)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 6:51 pm
On Tuesday, September 13, hundreds of members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and their supporters ended a six-month occupation of the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City, in an apparent agreement regarding the government’s selling off and shutting down of the state-owned light and power utility—which caused 44,000 workers to lose their jobs.

Before the settlement was reached, the organization USLEAP reported:

Negotiations between the SME union and the government have intensified in recent days in anticipation of Mexican Independence Day, September 16, when the military traditionally takes over the Zócalo. Military trucks have reportedly circled the square and protestors over the weekend in what is seen as a sign of intimidation. The independent Mexican union movement, led by the National Union of Workers, is preparing for the possibility of an attempt to forcibly remove SME workers and their supporters from the square; the SME has vowed not to leave without a satisfactory agreement.

The same day the electrical workers ended their occupation, other Mexican and U.S. labor leaders briefed Congressional staffers in Washington about the impact of escalating violence in Mexico and the lingering effects of NAFTA and other U.S. policies on Mexicans.

In the wake of a historic merger between the United Steelworkers and Mexican “Mineros” union last month, USW president Leo Gerard was joined at the briefing by Marco del Toro, legal counsel of the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (Los Mineros) and Sergio Beltran Reyes, Mineros internal and external affairs and recording secretary. Francisco Hernandez Juarez, general secretary of the Mexican Union of Telephone Workers, was also present.

The briefing was hosted by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), on behalf of the Congressional Labor Caucus and International Worker Rights Caucus. Michaud said:

More than 15 years ago, we were told that NAFTA would create a thriving middle class in Mexico … and government officials said that the agreement would lead to growing trade surpluses and that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be gained. As our friends from Mexico can attest, NAFTA did not bring these benefits. Instead, workers’ rights are being violated on a regular basis, and both the U.S. and Mexico are worse off for it.

The Mineros have been a symbol of the Mexican government’s complicity in repression of workers by private companies, with more than 1,100 Mineros involved in the fourth year of a bitter strike over health and safety conditions at Cananea, one of the world’s largest copper mines, owned by Grupo Mexico.

At the briefing, Del Toro said:

We are taking this opportunity to paint a picture of the status of workers' rights in Mexico and to outline the persecution faced by unions and leaders there. The diminishing of workers rights and very low wages produce an unequal standard between wage levels in Mexico and the United States. This is affecting the United States, which is looking to create jobs for workers here.

Gerard added:

It is clear that the agenda of the Mexican government is to keep workers’ wages low and use that as an economic tool, and we are here today so that representatives and their staff have the opportunity to hear the facts. The [previous presidents] Fox and Calderon administrations in Mexico have done everything they could to repress the independent unions that were actually raising the standard of living for Mexican workers … The U.S. government must condemn this repression and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to bust unions in Mexico … It is to our advantage to help Mexican workers expose the kind of oppression and persecution they face every day. And it is very important to workers in America that Mexican workers get an opportunity to raise their standard of living.

The Mineros’ ongoing strike and the electrical workers occupation, among other examples, show how tenacious Mexican union members have been in the face of challenges even greater than what their U.S. counterparts face–even in such a dim time for unions. A declaration of support published by La Jornada about the electrical workers strike–at the time still ongoing–praised the union’s ability to hold an election with high participation in July, in the midst of their struggle:

The government has failed to take action to recognize the union's national officers who were elected by an overwhelming vote in July. Instead, it issued arrest warrants against General Secretary Martin Esparza and another national leader, along with their legal counsel, based on spurious charges regarding actions occurring two years earlier [the charges relate to an attempt by the SME to withdraw money from its own bank account, as authorized by a judge, after it had been frozen by government authorities].

A magazine published by the United Electrical Workers union in the U.S. and other Mexican and international labor activists also weighed in earlier this summer:

The country is going through a disastrous situation. The imperialist pillaging and exploitation which the country suffers has grown to levels that are leading to a national catastrophe … At the moment, poverty affects 70 percent of the national population. Life in the indigenous communities and in the slums surrounding the cities is hell. Meanwhile, the oligarchs accumulate incredible riches through the exploitation of workers and the sacking of the national resources and public and social property.

Monica Saucedo (27)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 7:35 pm
The SME are not what they claim to be at all!! They were just a bunch of over-payed , corrupt, lazy people who pretended to work but almost never did, and the service of their company was the worst. I live in Mexico City, and I'm glad they got thrown out of their VERY profitable business. There were way to much irregularities among the company, like people in the payroll who never actually went to work. For the consumer, the price of electricity was awfully high and they cut the service when they fancied to, and there was not getting it back unless there was a bribe involved. It's NOT true that we, in Mexico City are worse with the federal company, on the contrary, the prices have lowered, you can now see the relation between the what you read in the meter and what you pay, the service is reliable, and until now, I haven't needed to bribe anyone. So, as you can see, not all unions of workers in strike are heroes or victims, these ones are just here to manipulate the public opinion, and are only looking for a way to get back their very easy and profitable little empire.

John B (185)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 9:50 pm
Thanks Kit for posting the article. Read and noted.

Susanne R (236)
Sunday June 3, 2012, 10:16 pm
Two contributors who live in Mexico, Bianca and Monica, have very different opinions about this situation. I don't doubt that they're both providing truthful accounts of their individual situations. Here in the U.S., many of us would rate the quality of our service differently because we have a large number of providers.

Personally, I favor unions because of the security they provide their workers. Mexicans are fortunate to have universal health care --but a living wage, safe working conditions and job security are important, too. Without the strength of a union, many workers find themselves at the mercy of an employer whose only concern is increasing their profit margin.

Janelle Wong (71)
Monday June 4, 2012, 5:33 am
Yes but just look at what the teachers' union has done to the quality of our students' education.

Kristen H (25)
Monday June 4, 2012, 8:45 am
thanks for this article. I hope it dissipates some of the irrational hatred people have for immigrants, particularly those from latino countries. Economic refugees are still refugees, people. And most of the economic problems in other countries, that cause people to migrate to the U.S., usually originate with American exploitation of "cheap" foreign labor and manipulation of "weaker" foreign governments. Get your facts straight before you go looking for scapegoats.

Kerrie G (116)
Monday June 4, 2012, 9:43 am
Noted, thanks.

Eddie O (95)
Monday June 4, 2012, 1:14 pm
Power to the people, the common people who are so deserving of fairness, justice, and equality!
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