Mexico: government fires 41,000 electrical workers

At around 11 PM the night of Oct. 10, Mexican soldiers and federal police agents occupied facilities of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) in Mexico City and several central Mexican states, reportedly using force to remove workers on the night shift. About an hour later Mexican president Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa’s center-right administration published a decree liquidating the company and terminating some 41,000 active employees. The decree promised respect for the workers’ labor rights: the government said it would guarantee severance pay and pensions, at an estimated cost of some $20 billion pesos ($1.512 billion).

The independent Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which represents about 43,000 active workers and 23,000 retirees, had warned in late September that the government might attempt to seize the facilities. But the military and police operation on a Saturday night seemed to take SME leaders by surprise. The leaders had met with President Calder贸n’s private secretary, Luis Felipe Bravo Mena, on Oct. 8 and were expecting a response from the president on Oct. 12.

The SME leadership moved quickly to mobilize supporters. Thousands of unionists gathered in front of the SME headquarters on Insurgentes Avenue in Mexico City on Oct. 11 as union general secretary Mart铆n Esparza Flores announced that the SME would challenge the government decree in Mexican courts on constitutional grounds and would also appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, CIDH in Spanish) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). He advised laid-off employees not to sign up for the severance pay–which might be used to indicate they had accepted their terminations鈥攂ut instead to file individual challenges to the layoffs.

Esparza Flores denied that the union would try to sabotage operations of the LFC, which provides power to the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), and M茅xico, Morelos, Puebla and Hidalgo states, but he called for mobilizations. The union announced a major march on Oct. 15 from the Angel of Independence to the Z贸calo, the capital’s giant central plaza.

The government claimed the LFC’s liquidation was necessary because the company was wasteful and inefficient. According to the government, expenses per unit of power were at least 176% higher than for the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the other government-owned company; the CFE provides power to the rest of the country and was expected to take over the LFC’s operations. Business leaders were quick to support the government’s actions. “Every company has two roads: either you’re efficient or you die,” Miguel Mar贸n Manzur, president the National Chamber of the Manufacturing Industry (Canacintra), said on Oct. 11.

But former Mexico City mayor Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador鈥攁 center-left leader who officially lost the national presidency to Calder贸n in 2006 in a narrow race鈥攔ejected the government’s claims and announced his support for the SME. L贸pez Obrador is countering Calder贸n’s austerity measures with his own legislative proposals, which he says would save about 200 billion pesos ($15.12 billion) by taxing the rich and cutting government waste and salaries for high officials. Union supporters have charged that the LFC liquidation is the first step in a plan by Calder贸n and the business associations to privatize the entire state-owned power system.

Calder贸n also has a political goal, according to Dan La Botz, editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis. “[T]he government wants to eliminate [a union] which has been the leading force in organizing to oppose the Calder贸n government’s economic policies,” La Botz wrote on Oct. 11. As of Oct. 5 the government had suspended recognition of the union’s current leadership, citing what it said were irregularities in the SME’s July election, in which Esparza barely edged out challenger Alejandro Mu帽oz Res茅ndiz by a 27,010-26,658 vote.

“This is a turning point,” La Botz wrote on Oct. 11. “The Mexican government’s attack on the Mexican Electrical Workers Union鈥攁 union central to resisting government policies and building labor and social movement coalitions, and located in Mexico City, which is the center of political opposition to the government鈥攎ay well turn out to be a watershed event in the country’s recent history.” He noted that solidarity activists can protest the government’s actions by writing to President Calder贸n at felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx with a copy to the SME at sinmexel@sme.org.mx. (La Jornada, El Universal, Mexico; MRZine, Oct. 11; Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 11

See our last posts on Mexico and the labor struggle.

  1. Calderon the new Thief
    鈥43000鈥 desempleados en un fin de semana!!!
    Viva el Gobierno de Mexico!!! por eso el pa铆s sigue sufriendo y los Gobernantes haciendo mas dinero!
    Que van hacer los desempleados y sus familias? Buscar trabajo en Mexico? Hahahahaha!

    Haber Calderon que vas a hacer para aliviar el problema que creaste?

    1. Calderon’s email address
      Calderon’s full email address, as noted in the article, is felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx

      Labor Notes has provided a writeup and a sample letter at http://labornotes.org/node/2497

      Stand with the Mexican Electrical Workers Union

      The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) has asked for international solidarity in resisting the government liquidation of their company, the termination of the workers, and thus the destruction of the union. For more information, please see this story.

      To protest this action, you can write to President Felipe Calder贸n at felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx. You can copy your protest email to sinmexel@sme.org.mx. You may send the following letter, based on the Mexican Electrical Workers Union demands, making modifications as you see fit:

      Dear President Calderon,

      I write to protest the Federal Police occupation of the electrical plants, the liquidation of the Light and Power Company, the firing of 45,000 workers, and the destruction of their union. Your action is a violation of labor rights, of human rights, and a disgrace to your government.

      I urge you to do as the Mexican Electrical Workers Union has asked:

      1) Remove the police from their workplaces.
      2) Revoke the liquidation of the company.
      3) Negotiate the issues with the union.

      Respect the rights of these workers, their union, and international labor and human rights standards.

      Sincerely,
      Name
      Organization
      Address

      1. calderon contact
        thanks for that info.

        he’s a union buster. like reagan, a right wing monster. no wonder there’s millions more poor in mexico since he came to office. and all the violence because he refuses to legalize/decriminalize these drugs and deal with it all in a violent/force for force manner. he’s not even the legitimate president, no more than the moron george bush was a real president. an impostor. another scandal to be remembered by. but this time i don’t think the unions are going to sit quietly by. man the elites in this country are just out of control in every area of life.

  2. IT’S ABOUT TIME ! ! !
    Way to go, President Calder贸n!

    That so-called “union” was a den of thieves. Ask any Mexico City resident how they feel about their extortion rackets.

    I’m all about human rights, but I take exception when it comes to the SFE, and the LFC company they worked for.

    Now there will be true reform and accountability (or at least a start, hopefully).

    The SFE was the last bastion of the old oligarchic system, full of pay-to-play corruption schemes to get a job.

    Any sitting president, whether left, right or moderate would have had to deal with these crooks at some point.

    Even if you don’t like Calder贸n, he made the right move in this case.

    They were costing the country billions in terms of purposeful malfunctions, a refusal to modernize and a bloated

    union that had way more employees than it needed. Plus, not to mention, all the money they were stealing through

    their falsification of documents and extortion rackets.

    These are the FACTS. Any opinions to the contrary are most probably from ignorant outsiders or have a partisan bias.

  3. For readers who don’t know Spanish…
    The first comment questions the wisdom of laying off more than 40,000 workers over one weekend in Mexico, a country especially hard hit by the economic crisis. “What are the unemployed and their families going to do?” the comment asks. “Look for work in Mexico? Hahahahaha! Let’s see, Calderon, what you’re going to do to alleviate the problem you’ve created.”

    This points to one of the great ironies of the current crisis. Neoliberal governments–the Calderon government, Gov. Fortuno’s administration in Puerto Rico, state governments in the US–are reacting to the economic crisis by terminating tens of thousands of workers. This increases the number of the unemployed, further reducing consumption and protracting the crisis. Any sane economic policy would do just the opposite: focus on keeping people at work, even if this creates temporary budget deficits.

    But there’s no money, the neoliberals say. What they mean is: There’s no money for working people. There’s billions and even trillions to prop up the bankers and speculators who played such a big part in creating the crisis. Mexico had FOBAPROA in the 1990s; in the US we had the S&L bailout, and now we have TARP.

    1. Proceso article…
      “Seg煤n el presidente de la Comisi贸n Federal de Competencia, los pobres pagan 40% m谩s de lo que deber铆an en servicios b谩sicos como la luz, por las ineficiencias que venimos arrastrando desde hace a帽os.”

      Translated:

      “According to the president of the Federal Commission for Competence, the poor pay 40% more than they should for basic services such as electricity, due to the inefficiencies we’ve been enduring for years.”

      The article of course mentions Esparza’s corruption, the fact that he’s a multi-millionaire (inexplicably), while some union members make peanuts, and also talks about the electoral fraud that made him union leader in the last election (with 3000 more votes than were actually cast!!!).

      EVEN PROCESO SIDES WITH CALDERON!!! That’s like saying that Chris Mathews and Keith Olberman side with Cheney.

      If such is the case, then Calderon’s course of action was indisputable, and hell has just frozen over.

      Don’t be surprised if electrical worker’s salaries (on average) go UP now. Because once the pay-to-play scams are uprooted, and the enormous corruption corrected, there will be much more money available to: a) Drop prices. b) Reinvest. c) Pay better wages.

      Hopefully, they won’t rehire all 41,000 workers, because that was part of the problem. Nepotism had too many people there. And they all started turning to crime and extortion to keep the thing going.

      Not to mention, some ‘workers’ weren’t even workers. They just got a paycheck, did nothing, and kicked back part of their paycheck to leaders.

      1. Who Is Denise Dresser?
        The two preceding comments are misleading. The Proceso article cited doesn’t represent the editorial position of Proceso–it represents the opinion of Denise Dresser, who is a columnist at Proceso (and also at the conservative daily Reforma). For something more typical of Proceso, people should read the article “Todo mundo saque贸 a Luz y Fuerza” (“Everyone Looted LFC”):

        http://www.proceso.com.mx/noticias_articulo.php?articulo=73231

        Dresser is no stranger to people here in the US; she’s a favorite source for our corporate media, with more than 70 citations in the New York Times alone. And her position on the SME and the closing of LFC shouldn’t surprise anyone.

        Dresser is a regular proponent of neoliberal economic policies like privatization and NAFTA-style “free trade” agreements–which she calls “modernizing the economy.” Now that the economy is in crisis, she explains, just like the neoliberal apologists in the US, that the only problem was lack of sufficient “regulation.” See her talk at the “M茅xico ante la Crisis, 驴Qu茅 hacer para crecer?” forum last January:

        http://alejandromiranda.org/bitacora/m-xico-es-un-pa-s-privilegiado-por-denise-dresser

        Dresser’s interest in privatizing power companies started years ago. Although in the recent Proceso article she claims that the LFC can’t be privatized because of a “constitutional restriction,” back in 2001 she lamented that then-president Vicente Fox had been unable to get “key reforms” like “the privatization of the electricity sector” through Congress:

        http://www.clas.berkeley.edu/Events/fall2001/11-07-01-dresser/paper.html

        And what does she think should be done if workers or campesinos get in the way of her “key reforms”? In 2002 campesinos in San Salvador Atenco protested when the government tried to take land from them to build a new Mexico City airport. Fox eventually backed down from the plan. Dresser complained to the NY Times that Fox was “ineffectual.” “What this demonstrates is that there is no one in this administration who is willing to risk political capital and jump into the fray for something that the country really needs,” she said.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/03/world/mexico-drops-planned-airport-after-protests

        Dresser is not a lefist; she’s a left neoliberal, a proponent of free-market capitalism “with a human face” (and occasional repression). She pushes the same line as NY Times columnists Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman. Her Proceso column isn’t “like saying that Chris Mathews and Keith Olberman side with Cheney.” It’s like saying that Friedman sided with Rumsfeld:

        http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2599