Back in 2019, Israel Cervantes, a worker at the General Motors Silao plant in Guanajuato state, was fired. GM and its corrupt CTM union partners saw Cervantes as a key organizer of the rank-and-file dissident union group Generando Movimiento. But Cervantes, despite his firing, kept organizing from outside the plant, and his group succeeded in building a new union, SINTTIA, to represent GM workers. Cervantes didn’t get his job back, but he has become a lead organizer in SINTTIA’s effort to help other auto workers across the region win their independence as well.
SINTTIA, an independent democratic union, won a historic victory at GM Silao earlier this year. What’s been happening at the plant since then?
Francisco Carmona/Sol de Léon
Workers within General Motors started Generando Movimiento — “Generating Movement,” a take-off on the initials “GM” — several years ago, and that initial organizing proved to be the key to SINTTIA’s victory. Generando Movimiento is still organizing within the plant, even though SINTTIA has become our official union now. Generando Movimiento remains the foundation, an important structure central to maintaining worker control. Generando Movimiento is focusing now on supporting SINTTIA and the Casa Obrera, our local center in Silao for worker meetings and trainings.
SINTTIA wants to grow to become a nationwide union. How is that going?
I’m now in charge of developing the organizing in other plants that can lead to SINTTIA’s expansion. I’ve been talking with workers at two German plants, Frankishe and Draxtor. But we face a problem.
The Mexican Department of Labor was reformed and reorganized in 2019. El Centro Federal under the secretary of labor now has responsibility for both certifying union elections and contracts and protecting our right to form new labor associations. But its digital platform has broken down! Without that platform, we have no way to file a request that SINTTIA be allowed into these other plants. So for now, we’re shut out and have to wait. It’s frustrating!
But, even so, we’ve been able to identify workers who want an independent union at those plants and to bring them to Casa Obrera. Recently folks from Labor Notes, the US labor group, came to give some union training workshops, and workers from those other plants were able to attend.
CTM looms like a zombie, killed but not dead! Is that gang trying to get back control?
Yes. CTM has stepped up attacks on us. Within GM Silao, they’re acting like Trump, refusing to accept that they lost the election. GM did negotiate with SINTTIA — they had to, of course, after the election — but GM would love to have CTM, their old buddies in corruption, to partner with again. GM gives CTM free rein within the Silao plant. The conservative press in Guanajuato state also prints the CTM lies.
In the two new plants we’re organizing, we’ve seen a lot of retaliation against workers who support us. And me personally and Casa Obrera have been attacked as well, with Casa Obrera getting labeled “a criminal organization.” CTM has various social media sites, and these sites keep up a steady stream of venom against us.
Last spring, during the SINTTIA election campaign that we won, our general secretary, Alejandra Morales, found herself personally threatened. We still remember that. We see CTM as capable of using physical violence to intimidate its opponents. But I’m not worried. I’m too high-profile a target.
Since SINTTIA’s victory, several other independent unions in the Mexican auto sector have won recognition, partly as a result of the US filing suits under the USMCA. SNITIS, Los Mineros, and just a couple weeks ago, La Liga, are now representing auto workers. Are all of these new unions working together?
No. Building a federation where each union has autonomy could be a good thing, but this isn’t happening yet.
Do workers think that election victories for Morena would help independent unionism make more gains?
Morena has shown a history of negligence in responding to the needs of workers. Too many activists have been fired by employers for exercising their rights and remain still out of work. I’m one example of that. It’s still dangerous to challenge the old labor relations.
We must remember, of course, that Morena’s labor department has to spend a lot of time dealing with all the CTM unions that still hold the big majority of the labor contracts in Mexican workplaces.
Do you see a danger that the new unions could fall into old habits and become corrupt?
The risk always exists that people who come forward as leaders are just looking ahead for personal gain. I try to set a personal example as a founder of SINTTIA: I want to show that what’s important is building a movement of workers and worker power. I’m one of the many. SINTTIA started with nothing, and we won by building a solid base among the workers. From nothing, we made something big!