Confronting the Crisis with the Unification of the Labour Movement

The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish, on January 22nd, 2015 in La Jornada, Mexico City’s leading daily newspaper, considered by many scholars as one of the last remaining independent newspapers in the Americas.

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It’s time for a radical change in our way of thinking. Profound changes in the political,

economic and social strategies of today’s world are needed if we’re to reach new development

targets that will genuinely enable us to improve our living standards, as well as creating new and

better opportunities. This conclusion is just as applicable on an international scale as it is In

Mexico’s specific case. As I have articulated in my previous articles, the growing inequality in

many places in the world carries with it an implicit contradiction between the factors of

production and the authors who suffer and experience it. This is very likely to lead to serious

social tensions and political crises linked to instability, because as it stands no drastic changes in

terms of objectives or direction are on the horizon.

 

The risks are increasingly real; even though some people have reached inordinately comfortable

and luxurious living standards, the threats are increased by the social problems that surround

them, problems resulting from the high costs of human exploitation and marginalization. For

those who have already run out of alternatives for happiness and survival, the consequences are

depression and anxiety, physical and mental illnesses, vice and extreme community poverty,

which find their expression in violence, drug and alcohol abuse, demoralization and reduced self-

worth and a host of other social ills that are more prevalent in nations with greater inequality.

Ultimately though, this situation is becoming irreversible and damaging to society as a whole.

 

Currently, and this is ever more evident in Mexico, politics has lost its sense of idealism and the

ability to inspire. Serial attempts to bring about change and reform have gradually eroded the

sense of a coherent, purposeful and statesmanlike political vision. Even politically progressive

strategies and actions have lost the ambition to push for a social movement and economic change

that would mean a better standard of living for all. Trade unions, campesinos and indigenous

people, women, young people and other sectors of society have all been excluded from putting

forward and even participating in the generation of proposals to reduce inequality.

 

Rather than improving the country and society, conservative policies, a climate of distrust, the

unchecked ambition and greed of certain corporate groups and thoughtless and reactionary

politicians, have all contributed to generating greater problems related to capital being

concentrated into ever fewer hands. Trade unions cannot nor should not keep skirting around the

fringes of this worrying and dangerous situation. Either we need to promote stronger and more

robust unification between our organizations, or it won’t be long before the contradictions will

cause the trade union movement to disappear altogether, if not at least be dragged into answering

serious and profound questions about its future.

 

Growing social inequality and low wage policies, accepted by most official workers

confederations, and even by some other less institutional organizations, mean trade union leaders

no longer offer a viable alternative for democracy and freedom, let alone represent the interests

of those who have fought their entire lives for a standard of living that is fair and decent enough

to meet the basic and growing needs of families.

 

How is it possible that Mexico has practically the lowest salaries in Latin America today, with

the minimum levels of wellbeing and growing exploitation, and that corporate trade unions agree

and sign to say that there is no need to increase workers’ incomes, and meanwhile, we have a

right-wing political party manipulatively demanding a change in the labour strategy and the

setting of poverty wages, while imposing limits or ceilings on those who try to negotiate a little

more freely. It is absurd and contradictory, and not simply for reasons of justice and dignity, but

also from the point of view of economic good sense, because a model like this reduces

consumption, demand and stimulus for investment.

 

The growth and development of the informal economy cannot solely rely and be based on

increases in productivity and competition. These, in turn, depend on investment in capital and

technology, finding new and improved market opportunities, restructuring companies, the

productive efficiency, honest and transparency of such companies, as well as on the humanity

and social morality with which governments, business owners and trade union leaders conduct

themselves.

 

The reality is that the working classes and a good proportion of society find themselves under the

control of governments who aren’t brave enough to lend their support and drive to the organized

labour movement, of company bosses or administrators of state departments whose greed and

short-sightedness breed fear and mistrust of their employees, and of trade union leaders who are

either weak or acquiescent to the will of business, whether for convenience or personal gain.

This smacks at the very least of callousness and a lack of foresight, because a country without

strong trade unions loses a fundamental structure for generating change and transforming

society.

 

It won’t be through statements and proposals that this lack of progress and fairness will be

reversed. A whole new development model is needed, one which truly looks to apply greater

seriousness and consistency to transforming the conditions of neglect and marginalization that

we see in so many sectors and regions of the country today. Now is the time to establish real

commitments and seriously push to unify and strengthen the labour movement, so that we can

create a new kind of trade unionism, with a distinct vision and aims. The purpose here is to curb

and put a complete stop to corruption, indifference and selfishness, since these cannot be the

aims of a society which is left increasingly in need and facing greater injustices, insecurity and

inequality.

 

On the contrary, good government involves having the sensitivity, clarity, insight, foresight and

intuition of a statesman. A decent politician should work for the wellbeing of the many with

sincerity, and steward the nation’s assets and resources such that they are shared fairly and

effectively. A trade union leader needs to be genuinely committed to serving his or her members

with honesty and transparency, without selling collective bargaining agreements. To be a

businessman with a sense of social responsibility means treating others with justice, respect and

dignity, especially by acting in the interests of the nation and one’s workers.

 

It’s at these moments in the life of the nation that we can either all shift our mentality and do

away with injustice and inequality by changing the economic, political and social system, or we

can expect to see even tougher times ahead for everyone, with greater insecurity and uncertainty.

This is something nobody will be able to avoid. For at least ten years I’ve been telling key trade

union leaders that we have to reorganize and unite with greater solidarity, firstly because there is

strength in unity, which gives us the power to defend and protect the rights of those who have

least, but also because it we should use our preservation instincts to combat all the injustices and

abuse committed in today’s world. Although we all seemed to be in agreement almost nobody

acted on it – until now that is, overcome by the reality of the crisis we face. Either we seriously

put ourselves to work for the good of the working classes and the future generations of our

nation, or we’ll all regret having made the same mistakes, without even putting up a fight and

making a stand for justice, democracy and freedom.