Mexico: Finnish maquila signs with company union

IndustriALL Global Union, a European industrial union federation founded in Copenhagen on June 19, 2012, is calling for “mobilizations, awareness-raising activities, and letter writing” Feb. 18-24 to protest labor violations in Mexico, with a special focus on the Finnish-based auto parts multinational PKC Group. In December the company’s Mexican subsidiary, Arneses y Accesorios de México, SA de CV, laid off 122 workers from its three plants in Ciudad Acuña, in Coahuila state near the border with Texas; all the members of a militant union’s local executive committee were among those dismissed, and the rest were thought to be supporters of the local. PKC has since signed a contract with what the laid-off workers describe as a company union.

With more than 5,000 employees, the three PKC plants are among the Acuña area’s most important maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing for export). The majority of the workers are women, many of them single mothers; according to the Mexican daily La Jornada, most make 105 pesos (US$8.28) for an eight-hour day (European sources give a higher wage of $55 a week). As in the rest of the maquiladora zone along the US border, plants in the Acuña area are generally non-union; only three of 60 were unionized as of 2012, and those had signed up with affiliates of the conservative Mexican Workers Confederation (CTM).

The National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM, often referred to as “Los Mineros”) has been organizing in this sector for several years. Although like the CTM unions the SNTMMSRM has historically been linked to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), it is traditionally more militant, and it has fought back with some success against anti-union maneuvers by the center-right governments of former presidents Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012). The maquiladora owners and the local media reacted to the union’s organizing by claiming that if Los Mineros gained a foothold in the zone, the plants would shut down and the workers would be left unemployed.

Despite the campaign against it, the SNTMMSRM managed to form a local, Section 307, and to force a union election last Oct. 18. A CTM affiliate, the National Mining Metalworking Union (SNMM), won with 2,509 votes against 2,311 for Section 307. The SNTMMSRM appealed the results, charging that there were irregularities such as voting by non-employees, but the company proceeded to sign a contract with the CTM affiliate. After the signing, Harri Suutari, the president of the PKC division that handles the Mexican plants, sent a letter in English to the workers. He wrote that they wouldn’t have to pay union dues, according to an article by the Geneva-based International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF). PKC would pay the dues, Suutari reportedly said, “so that the CTM does not enter the plants and has nothing to do with you. Things will continue as usual; for example, the company will continue to recruit new staff. What will the benefits be? Labor peace and a secure job for many years.”

The outcome of this struggle could affect much more than one maquiladora, according to Julia Quiñonez, coordinator of the Coahuila-based Border Committee of Workers (CFO). “The fact of the miners’ union possibly winning a collective contract for 5,000 workers means opening the door so that many other workers could follow this path,” she told La Jornada last September. IndustriALL has produced a video on the issues, and the labor news service LabourStart has set up a sample letter that activists can email to PKC management. (LJ, Sept. 24, 2012; IndustriALL, Oct. 25, 2012, Jan. 10; IMF, Feb. 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 17.