Mexico: electrical workers end hunger strike

After 90 days, a mass hunger strike by laid-off electrical workers in the center of Mexico City came to an end on July 23 following a preliminary agreement between federal governance secretary Jos茅 Francisco Blake Mora and the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) the night before. Although dozens of workers and supporters had taken part in the strike at various times, only 11 men and three women remained at the end. Most were taken to the Centro M茅dico Nacional Siglo XXI, a hospital run by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), but Cayetano Cabrera Esteva, the only striker to last out the full 90 days, refused to accept care from a government facility and was being treated by a private medical service.

The IMSS reported that the 13 strikers at the hospital were in stable condition and might be released on July 24, except for Miguel 脕ngel Ibarra, who had endured 85 days of the liquids-only fast. As of July 24 there was no report on Cabrera’s health. On July 22 governance under secretary Roberto Gil Zuarth had noted the danger that in the cases of Ibarra and Cabrera the hunger strike might have a “fatal d茅nouement.”

The action, held at an encampment in the Mexican capital’s huge Z贸calo plaza, began on Apr. 25 to protest President Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa’s sudden liquidation of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) in October 2009 and the government’s denial of recognition to the union’s leadership. More than 17,000 of the 44,000 laid-off LFC workers rejected the government’s offer of a severance package, choosing to fight the layoffs with lawsuits and protests. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ruled on July 5 that Calder贸n’s closing of the LFC was constitutional, but the justices also upheld the SME’s right to represent retired and laid-off workers.

The agreement came late on July 22 after six hours of negotiations between Governance Secretary Blake and SME leaders, including General Secretary Mart铆n Esparza Flores. In exchange for ending the hunger strike, the union regained recognition from the government and won a verbal agreement to resume talks starting July 26 on a solution to the conflict. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 24/10; La Opini贸n, Los Angeles, July 23 from EFE; La Cr贸nica de Hoy, Mexico City, July 24)

The union is seeking jobs for the workers who didn’t accept the severance offer. SME leaders told the media they have given various proposals to Blake, including one for a new company to provide fiber-optic telecommunication services to the Mexico City area. Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarc贸n, however, has indicated that he wouldn’t consider plans for alternative companies. On July 24 Esparza expressed his confidence in the “climate” with Blake despite Lozano’s comments.

Congress members from both the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) suggested that the labor secretary鈥攍ike President Calder贸n, a hardliner from the center-right National Action Party (PAN)鈥攚as trying to sabotage the agreement. (LJ, July 25)

Calder贸n named Blake governance secretary on July 15, replacing Fernando G贸mez Mont, who took over in November 2008 after the previous secretary, Juan Camilo Mouri帽o, died in a plane crash. In addition to handling domestic security鈥攊ncluding the current “war on drugs”–the governance secretary manages political negotiations. (Businessweek, July 15 from Bloomberg)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 25.

See our last posts on Mexico and the labor struggle.