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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Maximizing México’s ‘CIO Moment’: Tri-National Labor Unity

from the Feb. 1, 2023 Bulletin

labor unions

Jeffery Hermanson has been a union organizer and officer since 1977 with several different US unions and, until recently, he directed organizing at the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center in México. A resident of Atlixco, Puebla, Hermanson is currently volunteering with the International Union Educational League, a nonprofit labor support organization. This interview draws from a longer New Labor Forum analysis that includes up-to-date information on independent unionism in México.


You see our current moment as a unique opportunity for workers to gain back the ground lost since NAFTA’s enactment 30 years ago. For the first time, you note, both the US and Mexican governments are protecting independent union organizing. What can the North American labor movement do to take advantage of this opportunity?

I believe the US and Canadian labor movements and their allies can and should make a serious commitment to build a continental alliance of US and Canadian unions together with the many Mexican workers seeking to organize independent and democratic unions.


We’ve had enough of corporations like General Motors, John Deere, and United Technologies coming to the bargaining table to say they are shutting US and Canadian plants and moving to México. It’s time to fight the multinational corporations, so when U.S. and Canadian workers strike, these corporations won’t be able to fill the shelves with products made in México.


Building an active and practical alliance between US, Canadian, and Mexican independent unions can become a source of tremendous power to improve wages, working conditions, and job security in all three countries.


As a consultant to the México Solidarity Center and as its organizing director in 2021 and 2022, you oversaw the development of a set of strategic priorities. Can you describe them?

We need first to better understand the North American political economy, everything from the strategy of the US, Canadian, and Mexican ruling classes to the chief features of our growing economic integration.


We need to map out the economic relationships between and among U.S., Canadian, and Mexican production, extraction, and distribution networks.

The Casa Obrera Potosinafunded by the Solidarity Centers,
Unifor Canada, and Partners of the Americas
educates workers
on their rights and on how to organize.
Photo: Solidarity Centers. 

US, Canadian, and Mexican scholars could carry this work out jointly, from centers like the Economic Policy Institute in the US, the Canada Labor Institute for Social and Economic Fairness, and the Institute for Labor StudiesInstituto de Estudios del Trabajo —  in México. University labor centers could also participate.


Second, the US and Canadian labor movements should join forces with the existing independent and democratic unions of México. Since June 2021, the México Solidarity Center has regularly convened Mexican organizers to discuss common issues and plan out the formation of a Union Organizing Institute. US and Canadian union representatives have an open invitation to attend these meetings. I’m hoping that a national coalition of Mexican organizations can form and work in alliance with their US and Canadian counterparts.


We can compare today’s situation in México with what was going on in the United States during the New Deal era, after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 and the formation of the CIO, the Committee for Industrial Organization. Those years saw a massive upsurge of worker organizing, and that created the great national industrial unions in basic industries like auto and steel.


This organizing wave doubled the size of the US labor movement in just five years, from three million union members in 1935 to six million in 1940. In contemporary México, this could be the time to replicate the successes of the CIO mass organizing drives.


Our role? US and Canadian unions could provide support in the areas of research, worker training on organizing and collective bargaining, and political action. Together with Mexican unions and workers, we could develop a strategy for a continental labor movement capable of taking on the corporations operating throughout North America.

Third, US and Canadian unions can use their experience to promote an industrial organizing outlook and counter the enterprise-union mentality that limits the vision of many Mexican independent unions to the shop floor of their own employer.


Many Mexican workers, given their experience with the corrupt and powerful corporatist unions like the CTM, have become deeply skeptical of the possibility of maintaining independence and democratic governance in multi-plant unions and multi-union federations and confederations. But to achieve the scope and scale necessary to transform the labor relations regime from below, Mexican workers will have to organize national industrial unions in the principal sectors of the Mexican economy, in everything from auto and aerospace to mining and export manufacturing.

These sectors all have enormous importance, to Mexican workers and US and Canadian workers whose employment opportunities and working conditions are threatened by the economic integration and wage-depression strategies of our corporate ruling class.


The fourth key point: US and Canadian unions must get involved with the Mexican labor organizations in their own sectors. US unions should not leave solidarity work only to the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center, or — in Canada — to the Canadian Labor Congress. These national bodies simply do not have the direct organizing and collective bargaining experience or structural position within key industries to build the kind of movement necessary to fight multinational corporations.

Industry-specific organizing and bargaining remains the domain of individual unions. Who knows the auto industry better than the UAW or the aerospace industry better than the International Association of Machinists? Who’s better suited than Workers United to advise Mexican trade unionists organizing apparel subcontractors producing for Levis and Gap?  Who has more interest in organizing Amazon and DHL than the Teamsters, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the Amazon Labor Union? 

US workers meet with maquila workers. Photo: Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera

This work also needs to involve more than union staff and top leaders. Educating rank-and-file US and Canadian union members — on why supporting Mexican labor struggles will advance their common interest — will be essential. Bringing workers together across borders will be an important way to build the kind of solidarity we need.


How much time do we have?


We’ve never had a better time to take on this fight, but the opportunity will not last forever. Just as the New Deal came to an end and US unions came under Taft-Hartley Act attack, we have no guarantee that our current pro-labor governments in the US and México will last beyond the next election. Good laws need good administration and strong enforcement. Without that, they can become a dead letter.


We need now to make the decisions that will build a North American labor movement capable of organizing and bargaining in key industries across the continent. If we do that, we can fight and we can win against corporate greed and domination.