Mexican labor officials meet with Congress about worker abuses

Mexican labor leaders representing independent unions held a Congressional briefing Sept. 13 in Washington, D.C., to highlight Mexico’s ongoing repression and assault on the rights and wages of Mexican workers.

Workers in Mexico are facing repression from the Mexican government and corporations, say the labor leaders. And more and more working people in Mexico are being driven into poverty through the erosion of their wages and human rights, they added.

U.S. Rep Mike Michaud, D-Maine, on behalf of the Congressional Labor Caucus and the International Worker Rights Caucus, sponsored the briefing.

“More than 15 years ago, we were told that NAFTA would create a thriving middle class in Mexico,” said Rep. Michaud. “Economists and government officials said the agreement would lead to growing trade surpluses and that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be gained. As our friends from Mexico can attest, NAFTA did not bring these benefits. Instead, workers’ rights are being violated on a regular basis, and both the U.S. and Mexico are worse off.”

Three Mexican union leaders – Francisco Hernandez Juarez, general secretary of the Mexican Union of Telephone Workers (STRM), Marco del Toro, legal representative of the National Union of Mine, Metal Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (known as Los Mineros), and Sergio Beltran Reyes, recording secretary for Los Mineros, – appealed to the U.S. Congress.

“We are going through very difficult time and are on the receiving end of a high level of aggression and anti-unionism by the Mexican government and business leaders,” said Juarez. “The attacks on Los Mineros and its elected leader, the dismissal of more than 44,000 electrical workers and the threat of a new labor law are all designed to reverse 100 years of rights for Mexican workers. The Mexican government, through its spokespeople, has been trying to sell the idea that they defend labor and human rights. We’d like to show how they do not.”

The labor leaders said they plan to meet with U.S. members of Congress to discuss worker rights and safety standards for Mexican workers. They intend to highlight the repeated efforts by Mexico’s government under the conservative and right-wing President Felipe Calderon. The Calderon administration is trying to strip union members with Los Mineros of its right to exist as the union continues a four-year strike by 1,100 copper miners over safety issues against the company Grupo Mexico.

Del Toro noted, “We are taking this opportunity to paint a picture of the status of worker rights in Mexico and to outline the persecution faced by unions and leaders there. The diminishing of workers rights and very low wages produce an unequal standard between wage levels in Mexico and the U.S. This is affecting the U.S., which is looking to create jobs for workers here,” he said.

The Mexican labor leaders detailed the widening threat to the wellbeing and livelihoods of Mexican workers, increasing violent acts against unions and the growing and detrimental inequality between U.S. workers and their Mexican counterparts. They note the decline in real wages in Mexico hurts not only Mexican but also U.S. workers by encouraging plant relocation and depressing Mexican consumption of U.S. exports. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has lowered the standards and working conditions for workers in both countries, they added.

The Mexican unions represented by their labor leaders at the press briefing said they are aggressively working to improve wages, standard of living, and health and safety standards, particularly in Mexico’s dangerous mines and steel mills.

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW), joined the Mexican labor officials.

“It is clear that the agenda of the Mexican government is to keep workers’ wages low and use that as an economic tool, and we are here today so that representatives and their staff have the opportunity to hear the facts,” said Gerard. “The Vicente Fox and Calderon administrations in Mexico have done everything they could to repress the independent unions that were actually raising the standard of living for Mexican workers. The U.S. government must condemn this repression and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to bust unions in Mexico,” he added. “It is to our advantage to help Mexican workers expose the kind of oppression and persecution they face every day. And it is very important to workers in America that Mexican workers get an opportunity to raise their standard of living.”

After the press conference, Gerard and the Mexican labor leaders met with members of Congress and their staff.

 Photo: Union workers of the Mexicana de Cananea copper mine demonstrate in Cananea, northern Mexico, Jan. 12, 2008. Miners there have been on strike ever since demanding the mining company, Grupo Mexico SAB, fix safety and health violations. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.