The Mexican Preventive Police (PFP) are preparing to occupy the facilities of the Central Light and Power Company in Mexico City in an attempt to break the militant Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), according to a union press release. The union warns that the quasi-military occupation of the plants could come within a week.
The PFP have been used in the last three years to attempt to break strikes of miners and steelworkers as well as to try to crush popular social movements. Mexican police have previously been used to occupy the facilities of telephone workers and others to break strikes. The Mexican government used the police or army to crush militant movements of workers in 1959, of students in 1968, and of electrical workers in 1975.
Government Attack on Electrical Workers
This current threat is the latest in a series of attacks on the union by the government of Felipe Calderón. The Felipe Calderón administration, having spent three years trying to destroy the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM), has now opened a new front in its war on the working class. In September the government launched a multifaceted attack intended to destroy the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which has been at the center of resistance to its neoliberal programs.
The government’s attack has several elements. First, the government is supporting a small dissident faction within the union, using that as an opportunity to meddle in the union’s internal life with the goal of breaking its militant leadership. Second, the government, which is also the employer, has reduced the budget for the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC). Third, the government is also calling for a change in company management and for the complete restructuring of the company.
The “Union Transparency” Dissidents
The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) has a long history as a rarity in the Mexican labor movement: a union which is both independent and democratic. Historically, union elections have often been contested, rival factions argue out their differences within the union, and then later they come together to fight the company and the government which stands behind it.
All of this changed earlier this year when, after a contested union election won by incumbent Martín Esparza Flores, the dissident group which calls itself Union Transparency led by Alejandro Muñoz Reséndiz took its complaints to the Secretary of Labor (STPS), opening the door to government involvement in the union. The Secretary of Labor, Javier Lozano Alarcón who has led the attack on the Miners union, has now, through a procedure known as “toma de nota” (taking note), refused to recognize Esparza Flores as head of the union.
The Secretary of Labor through the toma de nota procedure may not only refuse to recognize the union’s officers, but may also declare the election invalid. In practice, these administrative procedures (which are nowhere found in Mexican labor law) are used against independent or democratic unions or against unions opposing government policies, and almost never against government-backed, employer-controlled, or gangster-run unions. Without government-approved and -recognized officers, the union officials cannot engage in collective bargaining or other union activities, leaving the union officially leaderless.
Violent Attack on the Union by Dissidents
On September 23, according to the elected SME leadership, Muñoz Reséndiz and between 20 and 30 other Union Transparency members, together with about 150 other persons who were not members of the union, some of them armed, attacked the union headquarters in Mexico City. The attackers robbed the union, taking money, checkbooks, and records.
A union press release on that date declared Union Transparency to be a pro-government group backed by Secretary of Labor Javier Lozano Alarcón. The union leadership pledged to defend the union hall and called upon other union groups, social movements, and political parties to take note of these developments. In a press conference held a couple of days later, Esparza showed security camera videos of the attack. The union also filed legal charges against Muñoz Reséndiz and others involved. Afterwards at a union meeting that lasted several hours, members voted to remove Muñoz Reséndiz from the office of union treasurer and to expel him from the union.
Cutting the Budget, Restructuring LFC
The Calderón government proposes to gradually reduce the Central Light and Power Company (LFC) budget, with 641.7 million pesos for 2010; 486.2 million in 2011; 464.3 million in 2012; 162.9 million in 2013; and 164.7 million in 2014. The SME leadership argues that this will gradually starve the LFC, leading to blackouts in the region it serves: the Federal District (Mexico City), and the states of Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, and Hidalgo.
During the later years of the Institutional Revolutionary Party governments, from 1980 to 2000, there were constant battles over the budget and over the reorganization of the country’s nationalized electric power industry. The PRI presidents would have liked at times to have combined the LFC with the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the company which serves the rest of Mexico. That would have forced the independent SME to merge with the government-controlled Sole Union of Mexican Electrical Workers (SUTERM).
Now, the issue is somewhat different, though the process could also lead to the dissolution of Light and Power and its merger with the Mexican Electrical Commission. Calderón’s administration has two motives in its attack on the SME. First, it wants to break the SME because it has been the center of so many movements resisting the Calderón government, its neoliberal policies, and particularly its plans to privatize the petroleum and electric power industries. Second, Calderón wants specifically to privatize the electrical industry, including the Central Light and Power Company, and to do so it must break the power of the SME.
An Attack on SME Is an Attack on the Labor Movement
The government’s attack on the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) represents an attack on the entire labor movement, because it is an attack on one of the labor movement’s strongest pillars. The SME created the National Front Against Privatization. The SME joined with the National Union of Workers (UNT) and other worker, peasant, and social organizations to form a broader front, including the so-called Frentote that brought together virtually all progressive organizations. The SME, at times working with the UNT, took positions on legislative issues before the Congress.
One could argue that SME has represented an important part of the vanguard of Mexican labor, a catalyst for broader coalitions, a union that fought not only over its trade union issue, but also over social and political issues of concern to many other unions and to the working class and the Mexican people as a whole. Only a few other union organizations — such as the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the National Coordinating Committee of the Teachers Union (CNTE) — have played such a role. The breaking of the back of the SME would be a tragedy for the entire workers’ movement, for the social movements, and for the left.
Clearly, this represents one more step in the rightward and authoritarian direction in which the Mexican state is moving. When seen in the context of the militarization that has accompanied the war on drugs, the attempt to destroy the Miners Union, the current budget and tax proposal, and the appointment of Arturo Chávez Chávez to the office of Attorney General, one has to recognize that the Mexican state has moved far toward becoming a kind of neoliberal authoritarian state.
Below find an English translation and the Spanish original of the Electrical Workers Union’s Press Release (September 29, 2009):
To all union, social, and political organizations,
To public opinion,
To the media,
To the people of Mexico:
We have information from reliable sources that detachments of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) have been dispatched with the objective of occupying Central Light and Power (LyFC) this week.
The pretext for federal forces occupying our facilities, according to the heads of the PFP, is that we electrical workers would seize these same facilities in order to provoke a giant blackout in the Central Area of Control (ACC), which is the affected zone represented by our union organization. It is alleged that all of this would take place should the government fail to recognize our union leadership, the recognition of which is our legal right.
We DISASSOCIATE OURSELVES CLEARLY AND DECISIVELY from an action of this sort.
We do so with the GREAT RESPONSIBILITY handed down to us from the now almost 95 years of existence of our Mexican Electrical Workers Union [SME] and with an absolute commitment to the electricity users, who are, in the last analysis, the real beneficiaries of the Nationalization of the Electrical Industry, which just yesterday, September 27, we commemorated with a march from the Monument of the Revolution to the Zócalo [central plaza] and a rally here in this city [Mexico City].
We are informing public opinion that the Mexican Electrical Workers Union has not filed the legal papers for a strike, so there is no legal motive for the PFP to seize our facilities. We categorically deny that the SME has any intention to affect the electric energy supply in the zone where we work.
For our part, as electrical workers, we are perfectly clear about the rights that protect and shield the workers which are clearly stated in the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico in Articles 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 39, and 123, as well as in the Federal Labor Law. The struggle that we continue for our Autonomy and Union Independence is Constitutional and Legal, and nothing will make us give up that framework. Unlike those in the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Public Security, who are responsible for respecting our rights, the Rule of Law, WE WILL NOT FALL INTO THEIR PROVOCATION.
We denounce — to the unions, social movements, and political organizations, to public opinion, to the people of Mexico, and to the media — the attempt of the federal Authorities to attack and to assault our company and our union, with the intention of forcing us to negotiate what is not negotiable, and what we will not accept under any conditions. We will be in every possible place to denounce these nefarious intentions.
The government provocations will not work!!!
Respect the Autonomy and independence of the unions!!!
Long live the Mexican Electrical Workers Union!!!
“For the Rights and Justice of the Worker”
A las organizaciones sindicales, sociales y políticas,
A la opinión pública,
A los medios de comunicación,
Al pueblo de México:
De fuentes confiables, tenemos información que algunos destacamentos de la Policía Federal Preventiva (PFP) han sido acuartelados con la finalidad de ocupar las instalaciones de Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC) en la presente semana.
El supuesto bajo el cual, nuestras instalaciones serian ocupadas por las fuerzas federales, según se dice en la jefatura de la PFP, es que los trabajadores electricistas tomaríamos esas mismas instalaciones para provocar un gigantesco apagón en el Área Central de Control (ACC), que es la zona de influencia que atiende nuestra organización sindical. Todo ello, en el supuesto caso de que no se le otorgara la Constancia de la Toma de Nota a nuestro Comité Central. Constancia, a la que desde luego, tenemos legítimo y legal derecho.
Nos DESLINDAMOS CLARA Y CONTUNDENTEMENTE de una acción de esa naturaleza. Lo hacemos desde la más ALTA RESPONSABILIDAD que nos otorgan los ya casi 95 años de existencia de nuestro Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas y por nuestro absoluto compromiso para con nuestros usuarios, quienes son, a fin de cuentas los auténticos beneficiarios de la Nacionalización de la Industria Eléctrica, que apenas justo ayer 27 de septiembre conmemoramos con una marcha-mitin del Monumento de la Revolución al Zócalo de esta ciudad.
Informamos a la opinión pública que el Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas no ha interpuesto a la fecha, ningún emplazamiento a huelga, y por tanto, no existe motivo legal para que la PFP tome nuestras instalaciones. Categóricamente desmentimos al gobierno federal, el SME no pretende afectar en ningún sentido el suministro de Energía Eléctrica en nuestra zona de atención.
Por su parte, los electricistas, tenemos perfectamente claro, cuales son los derechos que nos protegen y amparan a los trabajadores, que están consagrados en su parte dogmatica: la Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, en sus Artículos; 1°, 5°, 6°, 7°, 8°, 9°, 16°, 39° y 123°, así como en la Ley Federal del Trabajo. La lucha que mantenemos por nuestra Autonomía e Independencia Sindicales, es Constitucional y Legal, nada nos hará salir de ese marco. A diferencia de quienes se ostentan como responsables de respetar y hacer respetar, el Estado de Derecho, desde la Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social y la Secretaría de Seguridad Publica Federal, NO CAEREMOS EN SU PROVOCACION.
Denunciamos ante las organizaciones sindicales, sociales y políticas; a la opinión pública; al pueblo de México y a los medios de comunicación, sobre la pretensión de las Autoridades federales de agredir y atentar contra nuestra empresa y nuestro Sindicato, con el objeto de obligarnos a negociar lo innegociable, no lo aceptaremos bajo ninguna circunstancia. Asistiremos a todas las instancias a las que haya lugar, a denunciar estas intenciones nefastas.
¡¡¡Las provocaciones del gobierno federal, NO PASARAN!!!
¡¡¡Respeto a la Autonomía e independencia Sindicales!!!
¡¡¡Viva el Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas!!!
“Por el Derecho y la Justicia del Trabajador”
México, D. F., a 28 de Septiembre de 2009
COMISIÓN DE TRABAJO
Dan La Botz is a Cincinnati-based teacher, writer and activist. Contact him through his home page: <DanLaBotz.wikidot.com>.