Mexican Johnson Controls workers attacked, U.S. unions respond

The United Steel Workers and United Auto Workers unions in the United States and Canada, as well as the International Metalworkers’ Federation, have issued a call to express solidarity for unionized workers at the Johnson Controls Interiors Plant in Puebla, Mexico.

In May, the newly organized Section 308 of the Mexican Mine and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMSM), often called “Los Mineros,” succeeded in ousting a company union from the plant, and signed a contract with Johnson Controls.

Nevertheless, according to statements by the International Metalworkers’ Federation, physical attacks have been launched against Mineros activists and leaders in that plant and another, also in Puebla.

The Mineros are besieged all over Mexico, but seem to be holding their own against attacks by government and industry. Their Section 62, at the famous Cananea copper mine, owned by the transnational Grupo Mexico, has been under siege for several years, and has been subjected to direct intervention at the mine by security forces of the successive Mexican governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon.  The Mineros’ leader, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, has been forced into exile in Vancouver, B.C. in Canada after being threatened with trumped-up corruption charges, but they continue to have support from their membership as well as in the wider society.

Johnson Controls is a venerable transnational which fore more than a hundred years has been producing a large variety of switches and other control mechanisms for the auto industry and others. It is said to have more than 130,000 employees worldwide.

The Mine and Metal Workers Union had replaced a company union, the COS, after a 3 day strike in May. Plant workers complain that during the first shift on August 16, unidentified persons were allowed by management to enter the plant, where they proceeded to threaten and assault workers.  Two union activists, Candido Barruecas and Virgilio Melendez, were beaten to the point of needing hospitalization.

Also, outside supporters of the Mineros have been threatened, allegedly by members of the the CROM (Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers), which is one of the older labor federations in Mexico.  In the 1920s, the CROM, under its flamboyant, gangsterish leader Luis Morones, acted as an enforcer for the political forces around President Plutarco Elias Calles. It was pushed into the background by another federation, the CTM, from the 1930s on, but still exists and has a history of acting as an enforcer for bosses and politicians.  The CTM at a later stage also began to act in a subordinate role to the government. 

The Mineros were originally a CTM union and also subservient to the demands of the Mexican state, but under Gomez Urrutia began to get better contracts from employers. This, and their leadership in a campaign for justice for victims of a major mine accident and their independent, left-tending political activism, seem to have driven some people in the Fox and Calderon administrations around the bend. In particular Calderon’s labor secretary, Javier Lozano Alarcon, seems to see the Mineros in the same way that Captain Ahab saw the great white whale: He will go to any lengths to destroy them (and also destroy another militantly independent union, the SME, Mexican Electricians Union).

So the possibility of a political dimension to the problems at Johnson Controls can not be excluded.

To take action in response to these abusive acts against Mexican workers, go to the International Metalworkers’ webpage.

Photo: United Steel Workers District 7 travel to Mexico in solidarity with Mexican trade unionists. (USW)




Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.