Mexico: labor rights tribunal “scandalized”

The International Tribunal on Freedom of Association, a new body investigating violations of the right to unionize, held its opening sessions on Oct. 26 and 26 in Mexico City. Created by more than 30 Mexican and foreign civil society organizations, the tribunal includes 16 authors, academics and labor and human rights activists from eight different countries. They heard testimony and received documents from 16 cases brought by trade unions alleging that the Mexican government had violated International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87, on freedom of association and the right to organize, and Convention 98, on the right to collective bargaining.

The complainants included the Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a rank-and-file caucus in Mexico’s largest union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). Mexican teacher Gerardo Cruz described how CNTE offices “were occupied, damaged and ransacked” by goons from the SNTE executive committee on the day of a local union election. Another focus was on the government’s Oct. 10 liquidation of the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) and the dismissal of some LFC 43,000 workers in what many consider an effort to break the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), one of the country’s oldest and strongest independent unions. The Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) was invited to the public hearings but failed send a representative.

The tribunal is to issue verdicts in April 2010 after hearing other cases, but it made a preliminary declaration at the conclusion of the first two sessions. “We are concerned, surprised and even scandalized by the gravity of labor rights violations and the violence against workers that is occurring in Mexico,” the members wrote. (Inter Press Service, Oct. 29)

At an impromptu rally outside the Mexico City offices of the Federal Reconciliation and Arbitration Council (JFCA) on Oct. 31, SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores told thousands of union members about plans to fight the LFC liquidation with legal challenges and a possible national solidarity strike by other unions. On Nov. 2 the SME leadership was to announce a financial plan for the laid-off workers, who have now gone for four weeks without a paycheck. The government is pushing for the workers to sign up for a severance package, which would mean giving up the right to challenge their termination. As of Oct. 31, 18,500 laid-off workers, about 42% of the total, had signed up, according to the STPS. SME spokesperson Fernando Amezcua questioned the number, saying 30,000 workers, about 70% of the work force, had filed the challenges called for by the union. (La Jornada, Nov. 1)

As an extra incentive, on Oct. 18 the government announced that it would provide jobless electrical workers with scholarships of 5,387 pesos (about $405.11) a month for retraining if they sign up for the severance package by Nov. 14. The scholarships are to cover up to three months of classes in fields such as computer work, automobile repair and refrigeration. There will also be classes in English. (CNN Expansion, Oct. 18; LJ, Oct. 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 3

See our last posts on Mexico and the labor struggle.