Mexican union leader ‘not optimistic’ about new NAFTA
Women smack pinatas in the likeness of Donald Trump in Mexico City, Jan. 20, 2017. | Marco Ugarte / AP

ST. LOUIS—A top Mexican union leader is “not optimistic” that his nation, the U.S. and Canada will successfully negotiate a “new NAFTA” to replace the 25-year-old so-called “free trade” pact between the three nations.

In an interview with People’s World during the AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis,  Mario Gonzalez Aguilera, co-president of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores, based that prediction on the record of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Speaking through a translator on October 24, Gonzalez Aguilera explained the Mexican union federation saw what Trump did in campaigning for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, “with no regard for the impact” on millions of people in the U.S. “So we realize NAFTA could be shut down overnight.

“We need to negotiate without being under threats of (construction of) a wall or that ‘If you don’t, there will be tariffs on autos,” he said.

In the latest round of NAFTA talks, which ended the week before, the U.S. delegation demanded higher domestic content rules for autos, while proposing a labor section the AFL-CIO calls extremely weak. The U.S. language lacks enforcement teeth and does not cover Mexican wages, a key draw for multi-nationals who have decamped south of the border, taking at least a million U.S. jobs with them.

The third partner, Canada, has proposed a strong labor section, demanding Mexican adherence to international labor standards and increases in Mexican wages and worker freedom, along with stronger U.S. labor laws, including repeal of so-called right to work laws.

But two union representatives, speaking at various labor forums in the past week, say the anti-RTW language is just for show.  And Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, siding with multinational corporations, has rejected both the U.S. and Canadian proposals.

Aguilera discussed NAFTA, U.S. immigration laws and enforcement, trade and other issues with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. The two signed an agreement between UNT and the AFL-CIO.

The UNT, one of several Mexican labor federations, submitted changes to NAFTA’s labor chapter, concentrating on increasing Mexican wages and strengthening worker rights, to Pena Nieto, Gonzalez Aguilera said. “We need to have workers on both sides of the border included” in the NAFTA talks, he added. “There are so many jobs at stake.”

“The idea of competition that has to be based on who has the lowest salaries is unrealistic.”

Other Mexican labor federations have been silent on the NAFTA talks, which will resume next year.

But Mexico’s unions are under pressure from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party “to stop questioning” the government’s stands on NAFTA and other issues, since Mexicans will go to the polls next July 1 to elect a new president and Congress.

UNT’s also almost finished with its presidential endorsement process, Gonzalez Aguilera said. The two leading hopefuls are Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, governor of the state that includes Mexico City, and the city’s current mayor, Miguel Mancera. Obrador is considered the progressive in the race but is also trying to assure Mexican corporations that he will not be an extremist, said Gonzalez Aguilera.

On other issues, Gonzalez Aguilera added:

  • “We’re trying to make immigration policy have something where we’re in agreement, and not based on attacks on immigrants or on racists’ statements.”
  • After anger at Trump’s statements calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, Mexicans and workers have calmed down, he said. “Now we see he’s provoking people everywhere, and we have to take this stuff with calm because the U.S. already has plenty of people who are our friends and who listen to us.”
  • Security in Mexico is a problem, not just for unionists. The Mexican elections may complicate a solution, Gonzalez Aguilera said. Mexico has seen years of gun battles between its military, at Pena Nieto’s order and drug lords – with thousands of civilians murdered as well.

    Mario Gonzalez Aguilera.

Gonzalez Aguilera also thanked the AFL-CIO and the Teachers for pursuing the case of the “disappearance” of 43 Mexican teachers in 2014. The 43 were murdered, amid allegations the Mexican state governor of their province was complicit in the crime. Their bodies have not been found.

Gonzalez Aguilera noted workers face other violence in Mexico. “They beat the hell out of people who are trying to organize unions,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the joint UNT-AFL-CIO agreement commits the two federations to “achieve a model of sustainable development based on fundamental rights.”

Those principles include defending human and worker rights of all regardless of immigration status, and building an alternative to NAFTA which includes defending human rights. They also pledged to fight, “all forms of corporate control of workers,” including advance yellow-dog-like contracts that firms sign with company-controlled unions before a firm even opens its doors.

In discussions with the People’s World,  Gonzalez Aguilera noted that full labor rights for all immigrants is not just an issue in the United States. He noted that many of the tens of thousands who flee right-wing violence and repression in Central America end up staying in Mexico. “The idea that they all go to the United States is not correct,” he said, “so in Mexico we fight for full rights for these immigrants the same way that we insist on immigrant rights in the United States.”

And the two federations also pledged to advance gender equity, promote freedom of association and “democratization of the world of work” and campaign for “fair trade based on the well-being of people rather than profit and exploitation.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People's World.