In Mexico’s first major demonstration of 2010, on Jan. 29 thousands of unionists and campesinos marched from the Angel of Independence in Mexico City to the city’s main plaza, the Zócalo, continuing a tradition of annual protests against the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the federal government’s neoliberal economic policies. The demonstration was focused on the high cost of living, and the demands included an emergency pay raise to counter the effects of the world economic crisis. Another goal was to show support for the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), whose 44,000 active members were laid off when President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s administration suddenly liquidated the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) the night of Oct. 10.
The march was led by the SME; the National Campesino Confederation (CNC), which is close to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); and the National Workers Union (UNT), Mexico’s second-largest union federation. There was also a protest in Cuernavaca, Morelos, south of Mexico City, where more than 2,000 people rallied in the main plaza; participants were largely SME members and their families. Hundreds of teachers from the militant Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) and members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) held a march and rally in Oaxaca city, capital of the southern state of Oaxaca. In the southeastern state of Chiapas, some 200 members of the Independent Regional Campesino Movement blocked the Pan American highway for four hours.
Late-January protests against NAFTA started with a demonstration in Mexico City in 2003. This year—the bicentennial of Mexico’s war of independence from Spain and the centennial of the country’s social revolution—the emphasis was on bringing together the struggles of unionists, campesinos and other sectors. The march’s title was “Build Unity Among Those Below.” At the conclusion, SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores announced that the electrical workers were starting an encampment in the Zócalo as an open-ended protest to press their fight against the layoffs. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 29; Notimex, Jan. 30; La Crónica de Hoy, Jan. 30)
By Jan. 31 the SME’s encampment occupied about half the plaza. At a rally that day, Esparza said the protesters would hold workshops in the Zócalo, work on outreach and prepare strategies for a “social congress” to be held on Feb. 5 in the central state of Querétaro. The encampment would grow, he told the crowd. Sergio Tolano, secretary of Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM), announced that workers from his local and the SME would do a joint educational tour in northern Mexico. Section 65 represents miners at the giant Cananea copper mine in Sonora state, where workers have been on strike for more than two years. Two SME officials reported on their visit to the US, where they said they’d received offers of support from the AFL-CIO and unions in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and other California cities. (LJ, Feb. 1)
Some SME members have been carrying out more militant actions without the union’s support. In a number of places around Mexico City, workers have set up barricades to prevent the removal of equipment from LFC installations by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the country’s other government-owned energy utility; when President Calderón liquidated the LFC in October, he put the company under the CFE’s control. On Jan. 8 the police arrested three of the protesters, charging them with “crimes against the nation’s consumption and wealth.” The union has called on the militants to remove the barricades. (Narco News, Jan. 14)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 31