In a sign that things are changing for trade unions in Mexico following the election of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) the independent Mexican mining and metalworkers’ union Los Mineros has won an important union victory at the El Boleo Mine in Santa Rosalia in the State of Baja California Sur.
This follows a long battle going back April 2016, when workers at the mine went on strike to demand the removal of a company appointed union and free elections.
The strike was broken by the police and a month later the company fired 130 Los Mineros supporters. The federal authorities then blocked the Los Mineros’ demand for an election for two years in an attempt break the union.
Workers reported various problems including low wages, unpaid overtime, poor health and safety (including lack of proper lighting and ventilation in underground work areas) and lack of adequate safety equipment.
By a vote of 280 – 238, the workers at El Boleo have voted for Los Mineros over an imposed company union that was installed by the labour contractor, Servicios y Desarrollos Meseta Central SA de CV, without consulting the workforce. The mine is controlled by Korea Resources Corporation (KORES), which is owned by the government of South Korea.
Not withstanding this victory there are still massive problems with Mexico’s current labour legislation which AMLO has vowed to change including measures to guarantee workers’ freedom of association, specifically in global manufacturing supply chains.
The Federal Labour Board has now scheduled a recognition election on this week at the Arneses y Accesorios de México plants in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila which produce wire harnesses for Ford and other US automotive companies.
The plants are owned by a Finnish company (who recognise unions in their home country) PKC, a subsidiary of Motherson Sumi Systems Ltd. (MSSL) which is part of the Samvardhana Motherson Group. Most workers make around $50 per week.
Los Mineros are challenging the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM – a ‘protection’ or yellow union) for representation. 6,000 PKC workers have been fighting to establish an independent union for over ten years.
In 2011, PKC signed a contract with the CTM without the knowledge or participation of the workers. In 2012, Los Mineros lost a union recognition vote by 2509 – 2311 in an election marked by PKC’s interference and intimidation in the election and sacking union activists in retaliation for their union activities.
Los Mineros filed a legal demand for a new election in 2012 but the Federal Labour Board used procedural objections to delay the workers’ right to choose their representative for more than six years.
The company fired Los Mineros leaders in the plant, including the workers who had acted as union observers during the election.
Ten union leaders complained that they had been unjustly dismissed with the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board who ordered the re-instatement of four union officials in 2915. The company appealed, but the Board again issued a decision in 2016 ordering that the workers be reinstated.
The workers went to the plant entrance accompanied by an official from the Labour Board, but the company refused to allow them to return. In 2017, the Labour Board issued an order threatening to arrest the company’s legal representative if the workers were not reinstated. The Company ignored the order, and the Board took no action!
PKC has continued an aggressive anti-union campaign, aided by the media and the CTM union (which holds 55 protection contracts in automotive companies in the region).
The company has given complete access to the workplaces to paid CTM “delegates”; excluded Los Mineros from the property; allowed distribution of anti-union materials; offered incentives to workers who oppose Los Mineros; backed a social media campaign “Save Arneses (the company) and Acuña (the town)” which repeats threats that the plants will close if the workers vote for Los Mineros.
PKC’s campaign violates the Federal Labour Law, which makes it illegal for an employer to “intervene in any form in the internal regime of the union, impede its formation of the development of union activity through implicitly or explicitly reprisals against the workers”.
The fact that the current government is calling elections at the last minute shows its determination to try to weaken independent unions before the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as President this weekend.
AMLO is already planning to establish independent labour courts, and to combat employer domination of unions by guaranteeing workers’ right to vote on their collective bargaining agreements as well as reforming procedures for union elections and stopping the collusion of employers, and government officials.
This is the only way to ensure independent unions such as Los Mineros and Mexican workers can win justice in the workplace – and it can’t come soon enough.
Los Mineros (Mexico) along with Unite the Union (UK & Ireland) and the United Steelworkers (USA & Canada) form the global trade union Workers Uniting.
This article appeared in the Morning Star, Latin America 2018 supplement on December 1st