The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


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October 18, 2023/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Toothless: "Protections" for Mexican Workers 

Some of us remember the European fairy tales where a powerful king tells his people that if someone swam a river, climbed a mountain, and vanquished the enemy, they would win the hand of the princess. What if after the hero returned, bloodied and bruised, he was told, “Attaboy! But sorry, the princess doesn’t choose to marry you after all?”


That’s the situation of workers at VU Manufacturing in Piedra Negras, Coahuila, México, a US auto supply company headquartered in Detroit, Michigan.


In the US-México-Canada Agreement (USMCA), US unions insisted on including a labor provision protecting Mexican workers’ right to organize. In 2019, new labor laws were passed in México to do the same. VU workers faced down threats, lost pay, and got fired exercising their rights. In response they used the USMCA mechanism of “Rapid Response” requiring US governmental agencies, working with their Mexican counterparts, to ensure fair and safe processes. They had to file not once, but twice. But instead of complying, VU closed its doors, leaving the workers without their final pay and blacklisted besides.


The promise of the USMCA was not kept. The company should have been heavily sanctioned, and required to pay workers what they were owed — plus damages! — and to stop the blacklisting of former VU employees. Instead, the Department of Labor’s Thea Lee closed the case with “disappointment,” saying “we knew employers would not choose compliance in every instance.”


VU is a small company. But this is a big case. It sends a message to companies and workers that the labor provisions are toothless, that Mexican workers won’t be backed up in their union and contract struggles. That ultimately hurts US workers too: if Mexican wages don't go up, US wages go down.


VU workers, the Mexico Solidarity Project, and labor activists in México, the US and Canada are not giving up. VU workers deserve a just ending to their story — “happily ever after.” 


Donate to the fund for terminated VU workers and CFO:


We’re excited to announce MSP member José Luis Granados Ceja’s

in-person US speaking tour!

"I will send the US military into México on day one," boasted a leading Republican Presidential candidate who then suggested he is open to launching missiles. Why does the US elite fear developments in México? Because since the 2018 election, among their many projects, AMLO and the Morena Party have been improving life for the poor, and for workers and unions. At the same time México is building solidarity in the Global South. And inspiring progressives and social movements in the US!


The México Solidarity Project is sponsoring a US speaking tour of José Luis Granados Ceja, a freelance writer and photojournalist based in México City, to bring together immigrants, labor leaders, Chicanos and progressives to meet and talk about the strategic importance of solidarity with Mexico at this time. For full information about the events in the tour cities on the east coast in October and the west coast in November, click here. 


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VU Workers  Down but Not Out

Cristina Ramirez is the mother of five children, and has worked in maquiladoras and in her own small businesses. In 2021, she was hired at VU Manufacturing. She quickly became a a union leader of La Liga Sindical Obrera Mexicana (LSOM). Now she is an organizer with Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO),and continues to fight for justice for the former workers of VU.

Sergio Arturo Villalobos González is a political scientist in international relations, and has advised local governments and communities on a range of issues. Currently he is a union organizer for the VU campaign; he’s a firm believer in working for justice and equality.

Victor Noe Sevilla Peralta has lived in Piedras Negras for many years. He was a VU worker for more than seven years and even though he has a new job at the wholesale store CityClub, he continues to organize his fellow ex-workers to receive the compensation they’re due.

You worked at VU, which closed its doors rather than deal with a unionized workforce. What were your hours and wages? Did women face special conditions?

VU Manufacturing

Cristina:  We all worked 12 hours a day, Monday through Thursday — 48 hours a week — preparing and sewing leather and fabric used in auto interiors. There was often work on Fridays and Saturdays too. We could refuse the extra days paid at double time; I always accepted because I needed the money. Everyone got the same pay, no matter whether you worked there seven years or were a new employee: the  minimum wage, as set by the federal government, 312 pesos a day ($17.00). We didn’t have a union.

For women, it was harder since we spent so many hours away from home. If your child was sick, you had to get special permission to miss work. Harassment? I know of a woman who was sent suggestive messages on WhatsApp from a man in — Human Resources!

VU workers celebrating the victory of La Liga.

Photo: Charlie Saperstein

Did you get involved in trying to unionize?


Cristina: Inside the plant, we had a Base Committee who led our fight. I was the Recording Secretary. 

VU workers celebrating the victory of La Liga.

Photo: Charlie Saperstein

Victor: Both of us worked to convince our fellow workers that we needed a union. When the VU management heard we were organizing, they brought in the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), which is a union on the company’s side. Most of the workers knew the CTM would not stand up for us. But we couldn’t get a vote for union recognition until a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was filed with the US government. That led to a vote — and our independent union, La Liga, won.

Two of those union committee members were fired, right? And what did you do when VU refused to bargain a contract with your new union?


Victor: When VU refused to bargain a contract, a second RRM was filed. This was the first company where 2 RRMs had to be filed. The US and Mexican authorities found our complaint was valid, and they set down a remediation plan for the company. But VU ignored the plan.


At one point, we were told the company owner was going to come to Piedra Negras and talk with the workers to investigate the problems. He did come from Michigan. But when the Treasurer and Special Delegate, Dario and Vicente, tried to talk with him, the executive refused. Two days later the company called the police, and they were dragged off the property and fired on the spot.


Cristina: I was let go too, not for my union activism but along with over 300 other workers. We did get our severance pay and what was owed us, but Dario and Vicente still haven’t gotten anything.


Victor: Some of us caught them moving equipment out of the factory, so we knew they were getting ready to close and maybe move to another location. They did close before the end of the remediation period, and the 71 who worked up to the end are still unpaid.


After the plant closed, were you able to find another job?

Victor: I got a job at CitiClub, which is like a Costco. But the majority haven’t been able to find work; the other maquilas don’t want them. Some just get turned down. Others are hired but are let go after their probation — and after the company finds out they worked at VU.


Sergio: We’ve visited former VU workers at their homes and compiled their stories; there is evidence that a blacklist is in effect. For example, Fujikura is “looking for you” as their ad says, but VU workers aren’t getting hired.

Where do you believe México’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) and the RRM process failed you? Do you have recommendations for how to strengthen labor law enforcement in both Mexico and the RRM?

Jim West Photography/Protesters at the VU headquarters in Detroit on Sept. 26, 2023. 

Victor: After the second RRM, when VU refused to bargain, they were given six months to carry out the “Course of Remediation.” That was too long. It gave them time to take all the steps needed to close the plant. Also, specific actions with specific deadlines should have been demanded to meet the requirements. There should have been monthly monitoring. Out of 19 complaints, only two were addressed.

Cristina: We didn’t get support from the federal México labor officials either. The Secretary of Labor visited only once and put no pressure on VU; the officials seemed to be just waiting for the six months to run out.


Sergio: A legal complaint was filed for the unpaid workers and the fired union activist, but no one trusts the process. At one point, we filed to go on strike — which has to be approved  and the local labor court [which is still run by the old conservative regime-ed.] turned us down without a legal basis. That same court is now hearing the cases of the VU workers!

Should VU be punished?


Sergio: VU should be punished for violating the law. But the statement just issued by the US government just closes the case, it doesn’t resolve our issues. We’re afraid that if we’re the ones who lose and VU walks away free, other workers will be afraid to organize, and companies will be more likely to ignore our rights. Therefore, we’re going to file a third complaint against VU. They closed the plant without declaring bankruptcy.


To support you, the México Solidarity Project organized a protest at VU headquarters in Michigan, with support from UAW members, DSA, and Casa Obrera del Bajío, and wrote letters of protest to the US government. Do you think these actions can help?

Cristina:  What has happened is painful and unjust. We’re grateful that we have friends in the US who are outraged by that too.


Victor:  We understand that workers in México and the US are in the same fight, and in turn, we have sent letters of support to striking UAW workers. We ex-VU workers can’t win this alone, and we appreciate that you are pressuring your government to not abandon us. You are keeping our case alive; we must keep hope alive.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Saperstein/VU workers in solidarity with the UAW strike


Republican Talk About Invading Mexico:

Dangerous and Unhinged

Writer, playwright, and journalist Kurt Hackbarth is a naturalized Mexican citizen living in Oaxaca. His  political commentary is regularly featured in Sentido Común, Al Jazeera, and Jacobin. Every month we excerpt from his Jacobin article and edit for clarity and brevity.

In 2016, Donald Trumps campaign brought Mexican rapists, bad hombres,” and build the wall” into mainstream political discourse. This time around the rhetoric has escalated further, no longer centered on a defensive wall alone but on an offensive campaign against Mexico, taking whatever form the feverish minds of the Republican primary contenders can come up with.

Scott promised to unleash” the military against the cartels, Ramaswamy promised to "annihilate” them, and Haley pledged to lay down the law with the Mexican president by means of a you do it or we do it” pledge. And lest this be seen as simply an attention-getting ruse by primary has-beens, front-runner Donald Trump has promised to deploy all necessary military assets” to Mexico, including special forces, cyber warfare, and other overt and covert actions.”

To pin the blame on Republicans alone for this turbocharged rhetoric would be a mistake. For although the GOP is the only party thumping the tub on invasion, Democrats have been in lockstep with them on virtually everything else - NAFTA, militarizing the border, deportations. And now Joe Biden, in a full-scale reversal of his 2021 proclamation, announced on October 5 that he would allow construction of the border wall in Texas to resume. Democrats in Congress have not pushed back on the GOPs invasion rhetoric — at all — and they have consistently provided bipartisan cover to the incendiary assertions of their colleagues across the aisle.

And then there is the media. From Times placing of Mexico on its 2019 list of biggest geopolitical risks” to a US-funded London think tank dubbing AMLO the tyrant of the year” for 2022, coverage of the presidents five years in power by establishment media and its allies in the NGO-sphere has been hysterical, mendacious, patronizing, and ignorant. This nonstop media carpet bombing has set the culture necessary for the GOPs ideas to mutate from far-fetched to plausible — so much so that something that would have sounded absurd only a few years ago is now a highly touted part of the platform of the likely Republican candidate.

In the (still unlikely) event that the physical bombs do begin to rain down, legacy media will be the first to denounce the Republicans, secure in the knowledge that this will be more than enough to drown out the role they played in allowing it to happen. For the Mexican and US publics, however, the horror would just be beginning.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border compiled by Jay Watts

Kurt Hackbarth Republican Talk About Invading Mexico Is Dangerous and Unhinged Jacobin. "Invading Mexico" has become the latest part of the GOP psychosis - and absent any pushback from Democrats, the idea has only gained traction. But what could happen if it were actually carried out? Jacobin writer and México Solidarity Project member Kurt Hackbarth’s latest.


Martín Esparza En México, la clase trabajadora inicia su ruta de unidad nacional Contralínea. Se acordó la integración de un mecanismo de coordinación nacional democrático e incluyente. Pondrá en marcha los ejes de articulación de una plataforma de lucha, donde destaca la defensa más amplia a los derechos sindicales, laborales y sociales en el país.


David Raby, AMLO’s term ends - progress continues Morning Star. David Raby, of Mexico Solidarity Forum, surveys the record and future path of the political project initiated by President AMLO.


Pablo Meléndez Sheinbaum con 43% de ventaja sobre Gálvez: Parametría, Sentido Común. Xóchitl Gálvez se encuentra entre los pocos personajes con un saldo de opinión negativo, junto a Alejandro Moreno (PRI) y Marko Cortés (PAN).


Legislators cancel 13 trusts to Mexico’s Judicial Power Prensa Latina English. The judges have long been in violation of a 2018 Mexican Congress ruling which states no public employee should earn more than the President. While the average salary in Mexico is 16,000 pesos per month (about 900 USD), theirs is 700,000 pesos.


Lenin Contreras, Palestina, las ambigüedades de la 4T y los verdaderos terroristas Rebelión. Si la 4T fuera plenamente consecuente con los principios de la Doctrina Estrada, doctrina que guía las políticas de relaciones exteriores del país, y con lo establecido en el artículo 89 de la Constitución, tendría la obligación diplomática de reconocer al Estado Palestino.


The 21 main points of the Mining Law reform Opportimes. The Mexican government says the new law contributes to the equitable distribution of public wealth, guarantees environmental protection, balanced and sustainable development, and improves people’s living conditions.


Emir Olivares y Alonso Urrutia, Convoca AMLO a 11 presidentes y cancilleres para abordar crisis migratoria La Jornada. La intención de López Obrador es que las naciones convocadas elaboren una propuesta para enfrentar el flujo migratorio, particularmente enfocada en atender las causas.


Cuban president thanks his Mexican counterpart for his support against U.S. blockade Cuba Si. President AMLO says the blockade has been promoted by those who have received many economic and political benefits from it for 60 years, such as legislators who promote it to maintain their positions and be re-elected.


Viri Ríos, El salvavidas de Clara Brugada Milenio. ¿Qué pasa si todas las encuestas internas de Morena las ganan hombres, pero se tiene que tener 50% de candidatas mujeres?


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice. We see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty.


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Victoria Hamlin, Agatha Hinman, Peter Shapiro, Courtney Childs.  To give feedback or get involved yourself, please email us!

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