Mexico: marchers back electrical workers union

At least 150,000 Mexicans joined a march from the Angel of Independence in downtown Mexico City to the central Z贸calo Plaza in the late afternoon of Oct. 15 to protest the Oct. 10 seizure by Mexican soldiers and federal police of facilities of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC). Mexican president Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa’s center-right administration decreed the liquidation of the company and terminated its employees as the security forces were occupying the plants. The number of workers laid off is now said to be more than 43,000.

The Oct. 15 demonstration was so large that protesters were already waiting in the mammoth Z贸calo while marchers were still setting off from the starting point more than two miles away. The Angel of Independence circle was packed at the beginning of the march, and many demonstrators, including former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador, started from other locations鈥攖he nearby statue of Diana the Hunter and points along the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), a 95-year-old independent union which represents the LFC’s active workers and about 23,000 retirees, estimated that more than 350,000 people took part in the protest; police put the number at about 150,000.

The speakers included leaders of various unions and legislative deputy Porfirio Mu帽oz Ledo, who in his long career has led the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and is now in the small leftist Workers Party (PT). They called for rescinding the LFC’s liquidation and expressed solidarity with the SME. The federal government says the company had to be closed because it was inefficient and lost too much money, but SME general secretary Mart铆n Esparza Flores charges that President Calder贸n’s goal was to break the union and to pave the way for privatization of the LFC. According to the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, the average pay for LFC workers was 6,000 pesos a month (about $455). (LJ, AFP, Oct. 16)

During talks after the protest, the government offered to negotiate over finding employment for the workers if they would accept the liquidation, but at departmental assemblies on Oct. 17 the union leaders announced that they would continue their strategy of legal challenges and demonstrations. (LJ, Oct. 18)

On Oct. 14 the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial union in North America, expressed solidarity with the SME, which has called for support from unions in Mexico and other countries. “The actions of the Mexican government in using federal forces to take over the public utility, dismissing the workers and thereby effectively disbanding their union is an outrageous act of union busting,” USW international president Leo Gerard said. (USW press release, Oct. 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 20

See our last post on the labor struggle in Mexico.