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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

A Test for Labor Rights

from the June 2, 2021 Bulletin

labor unions social movements electoral politics immigration and border issues

The trade deal now in effect between México and the United States — the revised NAFTA, or USMCA as the new acronym goes — has two mechanisms that give Mexican workers, at least on paper, a better shot at breaking free of corrupt “protection” unions. Under the deal’s “rapid response” provision, individual companies can be charged with violating the treaty. The “state to state” process lets one signatory country ask another to investigate alleged labor rights violations. Activists, notes Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch founder and director Lori Wallach, are now putting both these mechanisms to the test. Wallach recently hosted a discussion on the revised NAFTA with leading activists in the fight for labor rights. We have highlights here.


Lori Wallach: On May 10, the first USMCA “rapid response” complaint was filed against Tridonex, an auto parts company, by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, SNITIS — the independent maquila workers union — and Public Citizen. Ben Davis, international director of the United Steelworkers, you played a leading role. Can you explain?


Davis: This case comes out of a massive uprising in 2019 by the Tridonex workers in Matamoros on the Texas border, in the state of Tamaulipas, an uprising fired up by Susana Prieto and her idea of an independent union. AMLO had more than doubled the minimum wage in México, but workers at Tridonex, a firm with US and Canadian parent companies, were not getting the raise. They won the raise — but not independent union representation.


Under the USMCA, the Tridonex workers have the right to choose their union. We filed with the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The USTR filed its own case against a GM plant in the state of Guanajuato for ballot tampering. Everyone in México is watching these cases, which test the AMLO administration’s support for labor rights.


LW: Susana Prieto Terrazas, because you were organizing an independent maquila union, SNITIS, you suffered arrest and detention. What happened?


Prieto Terrazas: In México, the unions in the Federation of Mexican Labor have always been an arm of the former PRI government, and the PRI assigned the CTM the job of keeping wages from rising and protecting both Mexican and foreign companies from worker unrest. Human Resources departments tell workers: either join the CTM or you’ll be fired.


I was helping workers learn and demand their rights. That made me an enemy to Mexican and US business. I was accused of being Donald Trump’s agent, sent to destabilize the Mexican government. Others said that AMLO sent me to Matamoros to destabilize the government of the state of Tamaulipas! My arrest was purely political, to stop me from organizing. At least I’m out of jail now, but I’m still not free to travel beyond the state of Chihuahua.


The Morena government needs to recognize that it can’t afford to leave labor rights in Matamoros in the hands of the rightist governor of Tamaulipas. We need to take away the power of corrupt governors and their arbitration boards. Chapter 23 of the USMCA looks like the best tool we have for accomplishing that, so we must try to use it.


LW: Our Global Trade Watch research director Daniel Rangel has a new report out on the implementation of the USMCA and the new Mexican labor laws. What were your key findings — and recommendations?


Rangel: México’s northern states, where the vast majority of maquilas are located and we see the most labor strife, won’t get the newly mandated federal courts until 2022, under the current schedule. If a labor complaint comes in a state with no federal court, the workers must use the old corrupt system that’s stacked against them. The states with the most problems must be moved to the front of the line for federal attention.


Matamoros workers with labor attorney and union organizer Susana Prieto Terrazas