The Abuse of Workers’ Rights in Mexico

The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and published on March 8th, 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.


The Abuse of Workers’ Rights in Mexico

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia

Thursday, 8th March 2015

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s state visit to Great Britain concluded, and despite all of the Mexican government’s efforts to steer clear of any discussion of hugely pressing and as yet unresolved social issues, the national delegation wasn’t able to avoid robust critiques expressed with force and clarity by local news media, some politicians and members of parliament, as well as by trade unionists and academics.

The meetings between the authorities of both countries were held at a time of real interest in promoting bilateral trade and boosting the number of UK visitors to Mexico up to 500,000 per year. Negotiations certainly took place regarding the plans, programmes and measures that need to be put in place to achieve these targets. No effort was spared in terms of the support, treatment and conditions required to facilitate and promote business investment, as well as explaining the content and significance of the reforms that have been passed in Mexico.

This aside, the shameful way that the Mexican government has conducted itself by failing to recognise and respect workers’ rights was evident, although throughout the trip the emphasis was on promoting an image that doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality. Sadly, in many political circles in Mexico, hypocrisy, lies, corruption and double speak between what is said and done still prevail.

We see these sorts of underhand practices going on every day, such as when the government expresses respect for trade union autonomy and the right to freedom of association on the one hand, while simultaneously promoting and registering protection contracts that leave workers further enslaved, and creating and giving recognition to employer trade unions that violate freedom and shamelessly find new ways to exploit the workforce and our country’s natural resources.

This is precisely what I denounced in my last article published in La Jornada entitled ‘Cynicism as a Form of Government’, in which I expressed my rejection with absolute clarity, a rejection surely also felt by many other democratic trade union leaders who flatly oppose this aberrant practice of corruption and ignorance on the part of civil servants. These civil servants include the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Work Rafael Avante Juárez, and the Director of the Registry of Associations Lucio Galileo Lastra González, and probably other bureaucrats from the same department and others besides, all of whom hide behind a mask of false transparency and respect, inflicting such damage on the government and the efforts it is making, at great expense, to promote a national image so far removed from reality.

My stay in London coincided with the Mexican delegation, but also with some important protests happening at the same time in solidarity against massacres of students and teachers, as well as the cowardly and disgraceful political persecution that we miners have faced, and me personally as its president and national leaders, alongside our families.

The general secretary of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, expressed it well, and I quote: “The miners have been the target of constant attacks by the Mexican government, of the most unpleasant and perverse kind; some trade union leaders have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and four members have been assassinated since 2006.”

“Napoleón’s case and the rights of Mexican workers are not very well known.The union has organised thousands of new workers in mining and manufacturing industries, challenging Mexico’s corrupt system of employer-dominated ‘protection unions’. Because these actions have threatened Mexico’s export-driven, low-wage model, the Mexican government has targeted Los Mineros in a massive campaign of persecution, including refusing to recognise workers’ free union election results and their right to freedom of association”, he said.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union of Britain and Ireland, the largest trade union in the UK with 1.4 million members who work in the economy’s most important sectors, also said: “Los Mineros has built strong ties of solidarity with the most important unions around the world. In 2005, it signed a strategic alliance with the United Steelworkers, USW, which then joined up with Unite in 2008 to form Workers Uniting. Over the last 10 years, Los Mineros has won wage increases averaging eight per cent, plus four per cent in benefits, against a national average of four per cent, which may explain the government’s obsession with persecuting them.”

Finally, the general secretary Len McCluskey affirmed: “Unite stands in solidarity with our Mexican colleagues and calls on the British government to put pressure on President Peña Nieto to clean up his government’s act and start to respect the employment rights of its own citizens”.

This is something so very apparent to Great Britain, but obviously not quite so clear here in Mexico.