Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mexican Electrical Workers Union fights for its Life

Mexican Electrical Workers Union Fights for Its Life

by Dan La Botz
October 19, 2009

The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), made up of
approximately 43,000 active and 22,000 retired workers
in Mexico City and surrounding states, is fighting for
its life.  The union's struggle has rallied allies in
the labor movement and on the left in Mexico and
solidarity from throughout the country and around the
world, but, if it is to survive, the union and its
supporters have to take stronger actions than they have
so far, and time is not on their side.

On the night of October 10, President Calderón ordered
federal police to seize the power plants, while he
simultaneously liquidated the state-owned Light and
Power Company, fired the entire workforce, and thus did
away with the legal existence of the union.  The
Mexican president's attack on the Electrical Workers
Union might be compared to Ronald Regan's firing of
more than 11,500 members of the Professional Air
Traffic Controllers (PATCO) in 1981 or to Margaret
Thatcher's smashing of the National Union of
Minerworkers (NUM) in 1984 in which over 11,000 miners
were arrested and the union defeated.

Changing the Balance of Force

Calderón's move to destroy this union represents an
important turning point in modern Mexican labor
history, a decisive step to break the back of the
unions once and for all.  Following up on his three-
year war on the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union
(SNTMM), Calderón has now decided to take on the
leading union in Mexico City.  But, even more
important, it is, as one Mexican political leader
noted, it is an act intended "to change the balance of
forces," so that they favor the government.

   After its electoral defeat and out of fear of
   social protest which the [economic] crisis is
   provoking, the government wants to give a
   demonstration of its power which everybody will
   understand: the left, the social movements, the PRI
   [Institutional Revolutionary Party], the unions,
   the Congress, the businessmen and the media.  The
   logic is the same that was used in the [Salinas
   government's] attack on La Quina [head of the
   Mexican Petroleum Workers Union] in 1989: if you
   can do it the strongest, then you can do it to the
   weakest.  If the most combative union can be
   defeated, then so can any other force.1

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