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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Canada and its Unions: Relations with México

from the Aug. 16, 2023 Bulletin

Paul Bocking is the Canadian co-coordinator of the México Labour Solidarity Project, an initiative that provides support to Mexican worker organizations, encouraging them to use the new rules in Mexican labor law and in the USMCA that protect their right to organize. Formerly, he was chief negotiator for Toronto's occasional teachers  in  the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, and a staff representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (University of Toronto). He’s the author of Public Education, Neoliberalism and Teachers.

In the US, we often ignore the “C” in the USMCA! In Canada, it’s called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA. Did NAFTA and CUSMA change Canada’s relationship to México?


Canada historically didn’t have much trade with México, compared to the US. They had guest worker programs, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. These began in the '70s and have grown in recent decades.

The picture changed with NAFTA. Canadian companies jumped into three sectors. In the finance market, when President Calderón privatized social security in favor of individual savings accounts, Scotia Bank was one of the winners. In the auto sector, Canadian auto parts manufacturers opened factories; one of the largest is Magna.

The biggest investments were in the mining sector — 74% of mining concessions are 


owned by Canadian companies such as Equinox Gold, Alamos Gold, Acapulco Gold, First Majestic Silver, Kootenay Silver, and more. These extractive and polluting operations have generated community, environmental, and labor resistance.


The US has used the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism in CUSMA to investigate and demand remediation from companies that interfere with their workers’ right to organize independent unions. What about Canada?


México-Canada has its own parallel RRLM. For example, Canadian auto union Unifor and SINTTIA, the independent Mexican union, recently filed a complaint with the Canadian government against Frankische, an auto parts company SINTTIA is organizing. Frankische did come to the table and rehired workers fired for union activity. SINTTIA won the union election at Frankische and began bargaining for a new collective agreement. This has been the only complaint filed with the Canadian government so far, but we could see more.


The Canadian government also allocated $20 million to support Mexican labor reform (the US is spending $80 million). The Mexico Solidarity Project, which I co-coordinate with my colleague in México, Rita Robles, is one of the initiatives they now fund. The project is steered by the Canadian Labour Congress, Centre International de Solidarité Ouvrière of Quebec, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Humanity Fund of the United Steelworkers.


What has been the relationship of Canadian unions to labor issues in Mexico?


Since the 70’s, The Authentic Labor Front — Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) — has strong relations with major unions in Quebec. For decades, the FAT organized against the corrupt protection unions collaborating with employers and the PRI government to suppress workers’ demands. The FAT always understood the need for international worker solidarity. In the lead-up to the negotiation of NAFTA, it built ties with the United Steelworkers in both the US and Canada, and with the predecessors of the Canadian auto union Unifor. 

In the run-up to NAFTA, education activists feared the trade agreement would privatize education in all three countries. As a result, the Trinational Coalition in Defense of Public Education was formed, mainly organized by the teachers unions in Quebec and British Columbia; Mexican teachers in the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), the radical wing of the national teachers union — Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE); and Los Angeles and Chicago teacher unionists.


Mexican and Canadian Trinational leaders Mariluz Arriaga and Larry Kuhn at their 2017 convention/

photo: Mariluz Arriaga

The Trinational has opposed neoliberal reforms for 30 years. In all three countries, we have fought the rise of standardized testing to discipline and rank schools and teachers.


What got you interested in Mexican labor?


As an undergrad, I studied abroad at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma De México (UNAM). I met members of the FAT and couldn’t get enough of their story. I wanted to know everything about their history and their politics. I was an annoying student, hanging around their office, and pestering them with questions!

I was in México in 2006, when teachers in Oaxaca, organized by the CNTE, rose up in massive numbers. The size of the protest, the cooperation with allies in the community, the shut-down of roads and official business, the repression and deaths — this was class struggle up close and personal. Mexican labor has always been on my mind.


popularresistance.org  teachers, unions, and students build a trinational movement against neoliberal education

What organizations are involved in the Project you’re coordinating?


 Canadian government decided to channel funds directly to Mexican unions and workers’ organizations, rather than going through the Labor Department. Four organizations submitted detailed proposals.


The FAT runs a union training school, including courses on union organizing and collective bargaining. The Border Workers’ Committee — Comité Fronterizo de Obreras, CFO) — delivers labor rights information in homes, bus stops, and small workshops; they go through their grassroots network of women in maquiladoras.

The Network of Women Workers (La Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas) is reaching hundreds of thousands of workers through a national radio broadcast, as well as workshops.


The Miners’ Union (Sindicato  de los Mineros) is the fourth partner, educating their members and potential members on how to take advantage of the labor reforms.

CFO meeting in with workers in Pedra Negras, Coahuilo

Where does US labor fit into your strategy? What’s needed for a hemispheric worker solidarity movement?


We need to see more organic linkages between the three countries, working sectorally. Canadian and US unions must become aware of the Mexican labor movement, and include international solidarity in their organizing strategies.

We tend to be so wrapped up in the day-to-day that international solidarity is often seen as a “frill.” There is so much potential in México right now — it’s a critical political moment — the most important in nearly a century — to support México’s independent labour movement and build worker power. We don’t have time to waste. Mexican workers don’t need our charity or our pity: they need solidarity now!

Paul standing with St. Gobain glass workers in Morelos/

photo: Paul Bocking