The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish on Thursday April 2nd, 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.
There are two key factors affecting the future of national industry and economic activity. The
irresponsible provocation of disputes through poor decision-making, and the ignorance that leads
to our country’s industrial and commercial policies being guided by improvisation and error.
Vested interests and corruption are further elements that seriously affect the system, impeding
the development of strategies to redress the crisis and the resultant inequality.
How can Mexico move towards development, when openness measures are imposed that mean
national companies are clearly competing at a disadvantage? This is the case in the steel working
industry, with the ease of freely importing steel products at subsidised prices from countries that
have a production and stock surplus. Countries like China, Russia, Korea, Japan, India and
Ukraine among others are taking advantage of this situation to market their production surpluses
with the added competitive advantage of lower prices due to the devaluation of their currencies,
making their products tempting to importers, even though they are not always of the highest
Operating within this context are some socially irresponsible businessmen motivated solely by
their own personal or collective interests, as well as certain politicians who are benefiting from
intervening in favour of the free market. It’s up to the government to conduct a thorough
investigation into who has been profiting from this anti-nationalist commercial policy, neglecting
our country’s sovereignty and future growth.
In some companies this situation has even begun to lead to lay-offs and short-time working, and
in others, spurious pretexts for introducing employment reduction measures or cancelling
benefits gained in contract reviews, which has a knock-on effect on the income and spending
power of the country’s working class. Warnings of imminent short-time working and lay-offs are
now being used with the worst possible consequences for the labour force, who find themselves
increasingly under threat from their bosses.
Only last week the Arcelor Mittal company announced a potential temporary period of short-
time working, currently still under review, but which will have a partial effect on more than 900
workers, particularly in terms of the payment of production bonuses and incentives. This
company is the world’s largest private manufacturer of steel products, with facilities in more
than 60 countries and close to 310,000 employees in total. In the case of Arcelor Mittal’s largest
plant, located at the Lázaro Cárdenas industrial port in Michoacán, the decision could affect
more than 13,000 people. The company argues that it is suffering from the seriously detrimental
impact of the world’s oversupply of steel and falling steel product prices.
The National Chamber of Steel (Canacero in Spanish) and the Michoacán Association of
Industrialists calculate that Mexico has imported around four million tons of steel at well below
Arcelor Mittal’s production prices. The suspension of activities is primarily reflected in flat steel
products, production of which has dropped by a third, equivalent to a two million ton reduction
in general terms, from six to four million tons annually.
The question that workers, trade union leaders and the companies themselves are asking is what
exactly is the principle guiding the government, or what interests are behind its decision to open
up the economy and trade in a way that is so variable and negative for national industry? Or
might it perhaps be that its policies are affected by powerful vested interests which are totally
divorced from nationalism, sovereignty and the necessary insight, which prevent it from seeing
that the future of our nation and the solution of its problems depend upon efficiency, logic and
social and economic justice for the benefit of the great majority of the Mexican population?
Faced with this situation, the landscape looks extremely bleak for industry and for Lázaro
Cárdenas, Michoacán, the largest and most important port on Mexico’s Pacific coast, which
borders the state of Guerrero and was founded 35 years ago as a flagship for industrial
development. Located close to iron mineral deposits, the port is also a site of intense maritime
activity that would be destabilised, provoking a crisis that would only serve to deepen the
insecurity and inequality of a region that is so vital to the country’s growth. If these decisions
aren’t remedied in time, there is a serious concern that Michoacán’s public debt will skyrocket,
and along with it corruption and the power of organised crime in the area. This is something not
to be taken lightly – individual or collective interests and impunity mustn’t be allowed free rein.
On the other hand, these policies seem to be the product of a strategy intended to destabilise and
create problems, whether social, economic or employment-related, adding unnecessary fuel to
the fire. At times they could be interpreted as creating artificial disputes between companies and
trade unions, or more often supporting some companies over another for special benefits. These
decisions variously become the pretext or the excuse used by companies to cut employment,
wages or workplace benefits, with no regard for the welfare of their employees and workers,
such as in the case of Alonso Ancira Elizondo’s Grupo Acerero del Norte, which has already
instigated a programme of restructuring staff and bringing local corrupt officials under their
Mexico cannot and must not tolerate such outrages, or these corrupt political and business
practices. On the contrary, now is the time to investigate and demand respect for labour
conditions and people’s human rights, for the sake of justice, stability and social harmony, as
well as enforcing the rule of law, which is so desperately needed.
Under the circumstances, the question is: who is defending Mexico, and Mexicans?