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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Independent Unionism and the ‘Rapid Response Mechanism’

from the May 25, 2022 Bulletin

Mexican workers have recently won three significant victories, with huge majorities voting to join independent unions at three major U.S.-based corporations, the Tridonex and Panasonic factories in Tamaulipas and the General Motors plant in Guanajuato state. In all three cases, workers acting together with US labor organizations and legal experts used the new labor protections in the United States-México-Canada Agreement to gain worker-driven union recognition. What can we learn from these three struggles? Melinda St. Louis, the director of Public Citizens’ Global Trade Watch, last week moderated a webinar, Big Victories for México’s Independent Unions, that explored that question. We excerpt highlights here.

Melinda St. Louis

Melinda St. Louis: Chuy Garcia, as a US congressional representative from Illinois, you championed labor rights during the USMCA negotiations.  What was the result?

Rep. Chuy Garcia: My father came to the US and endured the Bracero program in the 1940s, so I know the importance of international agreements.


I voted against the USMCA, because I wanted stronger environmental and labor standards. On the day the agreement was signed, an independent labor leader was murdered, and Susana Prieto was in jail for her support of striking maquila workers. Things were that bad.  

Rep. Chuy Garcia, Photo: The Hill

Now that the USMCA is in effect, I want it enforced. I organized 100 Congresspeople to petition AMLO to get the state government leaders who had jailed Susana to comply with the worker protections in the USMCA and drop the charges against her. I believe that the rules in the USMCA should be the floor, not the ceiling, for any new trade agreements.

MS-L: Eric Gottwald, you’re the AFL-CIO specialist on trade and economic globalization. Can you explain the Rapid Response Mechanism — the RRM — in the USMCA?


Eric Gottwald: The AFL-CIO knew that NAFTA and other similar trade agreements left workers unprotected because the labor rules were not enforceable against companies, just against countries. For example, we filed a complaint about violations in Honduras ten years ago. The companies in question have yet to be punished. The RRM represents a big leap forward. Anyone can file a complaint against an Individual company, and the company can be called on the carpet and held accountable in a timely way.       


MS-L: Daniel Rangel, you wrote the first complaint using the RRM, against Tridonex, when you were research director here at Global Trade Watch. You’re now at the American Liberties Project’s Rethink Trade program. What are your takeaways?


Daniel Rangel: Success in an RRM complaint depends on three things: US agencies willing to enforce the labor provisions — and the Biden appointees stepped up; a Mexican government that supports workers — and Secretary of Labor Luisa Maria Alcalde did so; and, most importantly, independent worker-organizers and supporters willing to file complaints. Some corporations and some conservative states will keep trying to skirt their obligations, so more complaints will be needed. Binational coalitions are critical to keep the pressure on.


MS-L: Susana Prieto Terrazas, your courage and tenacity are incredible. You were imprisoned for your advocacy for independent unionism, and now you are now an elected congressional representative! What advances have been made?

Susana Prieto Terrazas: Many of you here today helped so much. If it wasn’t for Chuy, I might still be in jail! I agree with Daniel that these victories are possible only with binational cooperation, and I was so happy to work with him on the RRM complaint. US and Canadian workers need support from México too. The GM Silao workers recognized that when they acted in support of striking UAW workers in 2019.

Susana Prieto Terrazas, Photo: Internationalist.org

Thousands of workers in Matamoros disgusted with the CTM union went on a wildcat strike in 2019 to demand payment of wages they were entitled to under federal wage laws. They won, but then many activists organizing a new independent union, SNITIS, were harassed and fired. Thanks to the RRM challenge charging that the right to free association had been violated at Tridonex, workers there finally got a fair, secret-ballot union representation election. But some of our supporters were beaten by CTM thugs. Many were fired and blacklisted. In spite of this, on March 1, our independent union SNITIS won 85 percent of the vote.

The rebellion has spread. We just heard that the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has agreed to file its third RRM, this time against Panasonic, in Reynoso. Tamaulipas still has a reactionary governor from the PAN party, and union activists are criminalized, as I was. But he is no longer in charge of labor affairs. The new federal system that took several years to be put in place is now operating there too. We know that workers’ rights will continue to be violated. And we know we will not stop fighting!

Katherine Tai, Photo: Reuters

MS-L: Jeffery Hermanson, the Solidarity Center has worked closely with the independent auto workers union SINTTIA at GM Silao. They’ve been negotiating their first contract, right?


Jeffery Hermanson: In the case of GM Silao, the US trade representative filed an RRM complaint without an official complaint from the workers or anyone else, after finding obvious fraud in the first contract certification vote now required by Mexican labor law. The workers rejected that CTM contract, went on to vote in SINTTIA as their union representative, and on May 10 reached agreement on a tentative contract. It includes an 8.5 percent wage hike, seniority bonuses, vacation schedules not assigned by management, bathroom breaks when needed — and more. This is a big win.


MS-L: Ben Davis, US Steelworkers international affairs director, you’ve had ties with Mexican labor for a very long time. What’s coming?


Ben Davis: I’m afraid that Mexican worker demands for justice exceed the supply! If the three cases so far are an indication, when workers finally get a free vote, they vote by a massive percentage for an independent union. But there are 80,000 collective bargaining agreements that are supposed to be ratified, and only 4,000 have been done. Elections will continue to be marred by beatings, bribes, blacklisting, and not enough independent poll watchers. In many places, workers will not get a fair vote.


The companies want to delay, hoping that someone more anti-union will replace AMLO in México and Biden in the US. Political and economic support from US labor is coming, but it is not nearly enough. Rising real wages will be the measure of success, since wages in México have gone down both in terms of worker buying power and in relationship to US workers for three decades.


MS-L: Any concluding thoughts?


Ben Davis: The RRM is not a panacea. It’s a tool that can take some of the pressure off the employer’s thumb weighing on the scale of justice.


Jeffery Hermanson: These victories are a hopeful sign that US and Mexican labor can raise the bottom, rather than race to the bottom.