Mexico: nationwide actions protest layoffs

Tens of thousands of unionists, campesinos, students, and members of grassroots organizations and left and center-left parties demonstrated in Mexico’s Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and more than 20 of the country’s 31 states on Nov. 11 to express solidarity with some 44,000 electrical workers laid off when President Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa abruptly liquidated the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) the night of Oct. 10.

Mexico City was paralyzed as members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which represents the LFC workers, led marches from five different points in the city starting early in the morning of Nov. 11. Miners, telephone and transportation workers, and employees and students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which suspended classes for the day, joined the protesters as they moved around the city, rallying at various government buildings. Adding to the disruption of traffic, protesters blocked major arteries in the states surrounding the capital.

The actions outside the city were sometimes violent. There were 10 arrests and a number of injuries as protesters and agents of the Federal Police (PF) confronted each other near Tlalnepantla, M茅xico state, north of Mexico City on the M茅xico-Quer茅taro highway. Shots were fired; the government blamed the protesters, who said that they were unarmed and that the police had shot in the air. Protesters also blocked roads in Ecatepec de Morelos and Nezahualc贸yotl. Some 400 SME members massed on the Pe帽贸n-Texcoco turnpike, joined by students and teachers from the Chapingo Autonomous University and by activists from the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a campesino organization based in San Salvador Atenco, M茅xico state. The protesters took over the tollbooth and let cars drive on the turnpike without paying. Other activists opened up the M茅xico-Pachuca turnpike to traffic at Pir谩mides. PF agents used tear gas and anti-riot equipment to disperse protesters blocking the entrances to the city from Puebla state and Cuernavaca, Morelos, in the east and south. Residents of Mexico City’s Xochimilco and Tlalpan boroughs who had been blocking the Cuernavaca highway regrouped and hurled rocks at the police.

At the end of 12 hours of actions, many of the protesters went into the capital to join a march and rally in the central Z贸calo plaza. More than 200,000 people participated in the closing demonstration, according to the SME; the DF police put the number at 60,000. Two well-known activist bishops, Samuel Ruiz Garc铆a, former bishop of San Crist贸bal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Ra煤l Vera L贸pez, bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, sent solidarity messages.

In the southeastern state of Chiapas solidarity actions also targeted recent tax hikes and the arrests of farmer leaders accused of having links with armed groups. In the southern state of Oaxaca, an estimated 70,000 school teachers carried out a one-day strike, and the leftist Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) took over the offices of the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the country’s larger publicly owned electrical company, into which the LFC is being merged. In the north, hundreds of telephone workers, leftists and social activists held public marches in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Ju谩rez, in Chihuahua state. (Frontera NorteSur, Nov. 12; Latin American Herald Tribune, Nov. 11/09 from EFE; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 12)

An editorial in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada called Nov. 11 “a day without precedent in the history of the country’s popular causes,” an action which brought together “the different sectors of the opposition鈥攖he parties, the unions, the social organizations.” The paper called this “the possible birth of a broad bloc antagonistic to the political-business-alliance that holds the country’s power (public and private).” SME general secretary Mart铆n Esparza Flores raised the possibility of planning a national general strike. He noted that in 2010 Mexico will celebrate the bicentennial of its war of independence from Spain and the centennial of the revolution against the Porfirio D铆az dictatorship: “And as before, we will defeat the transnationals, the dictatorship, tyranny and violations of the Constitution. It’s time for the people to organize.” (LJ, FNS, Nov. 12)

On Nov. 12 Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarc贸n discounted the ability of the SME and its supporters to mount a general strike. He said that 24,149 laid-off LFC workers, 54.2% of the total workforce, had already signed up for the governemt’s severance package; in the government’s view, workers lose the ability to challenge their termination if they accept the severance agreement. On Nov. 14, the deadline for signing with the government, reporters found a low turnout at the centers where the former employees could file their papers. One young worker arrived with his wife, who needed treatment for a kidney ailment, and their two children. “I’m coming here against my will, from necessity,” he told a reporter. “I support the compa帽eros all the way, I’m a unionist and I’ll put up with blows, insults and what have you…but not my children.” (LJ, Nov. 13, 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 17

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