Mexico: unions hold "last May Day of the PAN era"

Left-leaning independent unions dominated celebrations of International Workers Day in Mexico on May 1, while some centrist labor federations decided not to hold marches, reportedly because of concern over security. Tens of thousands of unionists, campesinos and other activists participated in the independent unions' annual march to Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo; the left-leaning daily La Jornada reported that more unions and more unionists took part than in previous years.

The demonstration was largely a repudiation of what participants called the "PRI-AN": the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the national government and most state governments from 1929 to 2000, and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which has held the presidency since 2000. Speakers called for a "punishment vote" against both parties in the presidential and national elections on July 1 and referred to this year's demonstration as "the last Labor Day march of the PANista era." Martín Esparza, secretary general of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), called for unionists to back center-left presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, "the only one who has made commitments to the working class." Esparza denounced the National Electoral Institute, which controls the electoral process, and called for workers to prevent electoral fraud by forming a "parallel IFE." López Obrador lost to current president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa in 2006 by very narrow margin in the official tally. (La Jornada, May 2; EFE, May 1, via Diario Libre, Dominican Republic)

The end of the PAN's control of the presidency this year seems inevitable. According to a poll by the GEA-ISA group published in the daily Milenio, PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto leads with 47.3% of the preferences of voters who have made up their minds. PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota trailed with 27.3%, followed closely by López Obrador, running for a coalition that includes the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), with 24%. About 25.6% of voters remain undecided, according to the survey, based on face-to-face polling of 1,152 Mexicans from May 3 to May 5. (Milenio, May 5)

The "PANista era" may already be over on the labor front. During the past six years two successive PAN administrations have tried to remove Napoleón Gómez Urrutia from his post as the general secretary of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM). In 2006 the government of then-president Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) charged Gómez Urrutia in a $55 million corruption case involving union funds, and in 2008 Calderón's administration overturned his reelection as SNTMMSRM general secretary. Gómez Urrutia has been living in exile in Vancouver since 2006.

But the fight against the union leader collapsed this spring. On April 24 Mexicans learned that Judge Manuel Bárcena Villanueva in Mexico City had quashed the warrant for Gómez Urrutia's arrest, and on May 2 a panel of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) upheld a lower court ruling that the government exceeded its authority in nullifying the union's elections. Gómez Urrutia will return to Mexico shortly, according to his lawyer. (Milenio, April 24; LJ, May 3, May 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 6.

See our last posts on Mexico, the labor struggle and this year's May Day mobilization.