Workers so far have voted on only 5,000 existing contracts, and most of these contracts, as terrible as they might be, have been legitimized. Why? For one thing, the existing corrupt unions oversee the voting!
The Morena labor authorities have also acted in a contradictory way. They say they’re promoting greater union democracy, but, in practice, they’re looking for a new understanding with those yellow unions. They haven’t been in dialogue, much less partnership, with independent unions.
And even where existing yellow contracts don’t get legitimated, the result may not be a better union and a better contract. The government remains full of old PRI leaders masquerading as Morena. Some of the old CTM leaders claiming to be Morena’s “labor arm” even have an office in Washington, and they’re learning in the US about the “right to work” — the freedom to have no union at all! That “freedom” could become another possibility.
AMLO’s role? He has increased financial benefits for the poor and has raised the minimum wage, but he has not helped foster independent unionism. He only sees “me and the people” and doesn’t recognize the in-between layer of movements and civil society organizations as anything he needs to pay attention to.
What’s CILAS doing to ramp up independent organizing and take advantage of the current window of opportunity?
México’s long history with unions that aren’t operating as true workers’ organizations has left us with little experience in rank-and-file unionism to draw from. Workers can easily fall into an old habit of trusting non-workers to lead them, feeling that “professionals” have the needed expertise. These new leaders could foster a paternalistic relationship with workers and fall into the old corrupt practices of the CTM.
In Silao, CILAS has set up a Casa Obrera, a workers’ center, a place where workers can get a political education to understand how the capitalist system works and the role of unions within that system, as well as basic skills training on how to handle grievances, negotiate contracts, and put democratic processes in place. We’ve started several Casas Obreras, and we’re planning to open more of them all around México.
Does international support make a difference? What should we be doing in the US?
In the last decade, we’ve had more international attention on México and support from institutions like the ILO, the International Labor Organization. That support has been significant. Official support from government and labor, of course, has the biggest impact.
US ambassador to México Ken Salazar, for example, invited me, SINTTIA general secretary Alejandra Morales, and GM managers to a meeting at his home. He wagged his finger at GM and told them they’d better negotiate a fair contract! Official union support, including funding from the UAW and the Canadian auto workers’ union Unifor, have also been also major factors in SINTTIA’s victory in Silao.
But please don’t think that the statements of support and the material support provided by the México Solidarity Project and Labor Notes haven’t also been important! We appreciate your supplying a printer and paper to the Casa Obrera office in Silao, your organizing resolutions of support from local unions and community groups, and we hope that worker delegations in both directions will be possible in the coming years.
In fact, growing the kind of worker-to-worker support you’ve brought to bear will be the most significant kind of solidarity. US government and official union support often have strings attached. in all of our struggles for worker power, the only thing in the end that will bring us to victory will always be: “Workers of the world, unite!”