In Mexico, independent glassworkers’ union fights for members

It takes courage and persistence to be a member of a democratic union in Mexico. Just how much of these qualities one needs to fend off exploitative bosses, repressive officials and corrupt labor “leaders” is shown by the struggle of the SUTEIVP (Sindicato Unico de la Empresa Industria Vidriera del Potosi, or Sole Union of the Glassworks Industry of Potosi), which has been fighting since 2008 to restore the jobs of 33 of its members.

The 33 glass workers are part of a group of 220 who were fired by Industria Vidriera de Potosi (the Glassworks Industry of Potosi) based in the city of San Luis Potosi, in Northeastern Mexico.

The fired workers included the entire executive committee of the union. The purpose of the firing was, the union charges, a matter of union busting: The company wanted to bring in a corrupt union belonging to the government controlled CROC labor federation (the anything but revolutionary Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants) to replace SUTEIVP. The CROC, founded in 1952, is very large, with 4.7 million workers in affiliated unions, but has a reputation for corrupt practices. It is considered a “protection union”, one of the unions that participate in the “corporativist” arrangement whereby the government and the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party exercise control. “Corporativist” or “protection” unions often present a united front, with the government and management, against independent, democratically run unions like the SUTEIVP.

This company is owned by Grupo Modelo, the Mexican beer company that produces Corona beer and exports it to the United States and other countries. Last year, Anheuser-Busch, which produces Budweiser, and previously had a 50% stake in Grupo Modelo, acquired the whole Mexican company.  

Industria Vidriera is one of three companies that provide bottles for Grupo Modelo. Before being acquired by Anheuser Busch, Grupo Modelo was owned by Maria Asuncion Aramburuzavala, the extremely wealthy wife of George W. Bush’s ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza.

The SUTEIVP, breaking away from the corporativist CTM (Mexican Labor Federation) gained recognition to represent the 800 workers in the plant in 2007. In Mexico, the government has the final authority to recognize or not recognize a union as representing the workers in a given plant (called “toma de nota” or “taking of note”). This has been frequently utilized by Mexican governments to control labor militancy and to try to marginalize unions that don’t submit to the “corporativist” setup. Once recognized by the government, the SUTEIVP began to work toward increasing the wages of its members, which were much lower than those of other glassworkers in the Grupo Modelo complex. This led to action by management and its allies to get rid of the new union. The company announced cutbacks in production, which served as a pretext to fire 207 workers.

Although the company claimed that this retrenchment was necessary because the world financial crisis had led to a drop in exports to the United States, the union claims that this was not true and was a mere pretext to get rid of the union. The company then brought in a representative of the CROC to create confusion among the workers by pressuring them to sign blank sheets of paper that the company claimed were to authorize representation by the CROC.

Eventually Grupo Modelo worked to decertify the union, threatening to close the whole factory if necessary. To oust the independent union completely, the government complied by flooding the factory with federal, state and city police so as to control what the workers call a farce of a union election.

The SUTEIVP, with the support of international labor groups including the IndustriALL union, has been fighting since then to get its members’ jobs restored.

The demands of the SUTEIVP members are as follows:

*The immediate reinstatement of the 33 workers who continue to resist.

*That Grupo Modelo-Anheuser Busch BV comply with international treaties including ILO Convention 87 (which guarantees workers’ right to organize)

*Anheuser Busch BV, which now has total ownership of Grupo Modelo, should accept its responsibility for resolving the dispute.

*Recognition of the independent trade union SUTEIVP.

*An end to the harassment of workers inside the factory.

*Freedom of association.

*No to the protection union.

*No to mass dismissals at Vidriera del Potosi.

Photo: Suteivp San Luis Potosí Facebook page.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.