Posted: Wednesday, 16 February 2011
CLC president Ken Georgetti has written to the Mexican ambassador to Canada expressing “grave concern” about the situation of Mexican workers. Georgetti says that there has been a serious escalation in the violation of the rights of Mexican workers. Georgetti’s letter was delivered on February 15 by a delegation of Canadian labour leaders who met with officials at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa. While that meeting was occurring indoors, about 50 demonstrators gathered outside of the building to echo Georgetti’s demand that the Mexican government take steps to comply with fundamental labour rights and end the repression of Mexican workers.
His Excellency Francisco J. Barrio-Terrazas
Mexican Ambassador to Canada
Dear Ambassador Barrio-Terrazas:
I am writing on behalf of the 3.2 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress who are joining with trade unions and activists around the world to express our grave concern for the fundamental human rights of Mexican workers to form and participate in the unions of their choosing, to bargain collectively, to strike, and to represent their authentic interests free of repression, violence, dismissal, and manipulation by employers, government authorities, and employer-controlled unions.
Over the last five years, there has been a serious escalation in the systematic and brazen violation of the rights of Mexican workers. We are concerned about the violations of the rights to trade union autonomy, to collective bargaining, to strike, to health and safety protections, and to stability of employment, all of which are enshrined in national and international law. Our trade union counterparts in Mexico have reported actions ranging from the unpunished presence of hired thugs in the workplace and in the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, to the direct use of federal security forces to occupy workplaces, to grave health and safety violations, as well as illegal and unconstitutional resolutions by all levels of federal and state government in order to annul freedom of association.
We have observed a system of employer-dominated unions, known as “protection” unions, to prevent workers from democratically choosing their representatives. Workers who try to organize under this system normally face intimidation, violence, and retaliation by their employers. Workers’ attempts to hold elections that would establish their right to administer collective bargaining agreements through their democratic organizations are permanently blocked and subjected to onerous bureaucratic requirements, while employers easily sign agreements with company unions, often without the knowledge of the workers covered by the agreement. And when worker representation is suppressed through protection contracts and intimidation, the consequences often result in grave health and safety violations, workplace accidents, and even fatal mine explosions like the one at Pasta de Conchos in 2006.
We have also seen that when unions try to gain legal permission to strike, they face multiple barriers and requirements; once a strike begins, the labour authorities reserve the right to declare the strike nonexistent because it is judged that it does not obey the legal prerequisites, which are interpreted arbitrarily. Examples of these violations are numerous:
Among the most egregious attacks against Mexican trade unions are those committed against the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM) which has been under assault from the national government, together with the mining giant Grupo México, since 2006. The attacks have included refusing to recognize the union’s democratically elected leadership, freezing its bank accounts, bringing unfounded criminal charges against union leaders and imprisoning them, imposing employer-controlled unions, attempting to eliminate the union’s legal right to strike, threats and harassment against activists in civil society groups allied with the Mineworkers Union, and deploying police and military force in violent attacks on workers resulting in the deaths of four union activists and injury to many more.
In 2009, the Mexican government launched its most serious attack on the 95 year old Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (SME), including dissolving the country’s second largest electrical power distributor and firing 44,000 union members.
- Having finally achieved recognition in 2009, the Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros (UNTyPP), representing technical and professional employees of PEMEX, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, came under attack, which resulted in the dismissal of the entire leadership.
- The National Union of General Tire Workers of Mexico (SNTGTM) has faced strong anti-union efforts by Continental Tire, which has worked with the labour authorities to attempt to impose a company-dominated union.
- Workers at call centres run by Atento (owned by Telefónica) faced violent repression by company thugs and police in July 2010, when they attempted to kick out the company-imposed union and affiliate to the Mexican Telephone Workers’ Union (STRM).
- Along with millions of workers and their unions around the world, we join the International Metalworkers’ Federation, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions, the International Transport Workers Federation, and the UNI Global Union in the following demands in support of Mexican workers and their organizations:
a) Hold employer and government officials accountable for the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion that killed 65 miners on February 19, 2006. There must be an independent and professional investigation of the causes of the explosion. The persons responsible should be criminally prosecuted. The government must pay fair compensation to the families of the victims and recover the 63 bodies that remain in the mine for proper funerals. Mexico must take action to improve mine health and safety in compliance with the International Labour Organization’s Conventions.
b) Abolish systemic violations of workers’ freedom of association, including employer-dominated “protection contracts” and interference in union elections. The government must eliminate the “toma de nota”, which requires that the labour authorities approve the results of union elections before they are given effect. The elected leadership of the Mexican Mineworkers’ Union must be immediately recognized. Additionally, the practice of employer-dominated “protection contracts” must be ended so that workers can freely choose to be represented by a union of their choice without fear of intimidation or reprisal. Workers must have the right to receive copies of their collective bargaining agreements.
c) End the use of force, by the state or private parties, to repress workers’ legitimate demands for democratic unions, better wages and working conditions, and good health and safety conditions. The government must immediately withdraw federal police forces from the Cananea mine and from all workplaces. The persons responsible for the assassination of Mineworker Union members Héctor Álvarez Gómez, Mario Alberto Castillo Rodríguez, Reynaldo Hernández González, Juventino Flores Salas and FLOC organizer Santiago Rafael Cruz must be brought to justice. The government must immediately implement precautionary measures to ensure the lives and safety of staff and organizers of the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), whose offices were ransacked and members have received death threats as a direct result of their work to support Section 308 of the Mineworkers’ Union.
d) End the campaign of political persecution against the Mexican Mineworkers’ Union and the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union. The government must release unjustly imprisoned trade union leaders Juan Linares Montufar and Miguel Márquez, drop criminal charges against General Secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and other Mineros leaders, return the funds in the unions’ frozen bank accounts, and cease the political persecution of SNTMMSRM and SME. Additionally, the government must create a new public company to provide electrical power to the Mexico City region, re-hire the fired workers who are demanding reinstatement, and recognize the SME as their bargaining representative.
We join our fellow workers and union members in Mexico in making these demands for action on the part of the Mexican government to enforce the law, comply with fundamental labour rights, and bring an end to the repression of Mexican workers, which only serves to undermine basic human rights and the potential for development and prosperity for working people in the country. We hope the Mexican government will begin to take steps to address these concerns, working jointly with independent union organizations to implement solutions that protect all workers.
Kenneth V. Georgetti