Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing TONY BURKE addressed a meeting with Morena leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador this week
Comrades and friends, it is a pleasure to be speaking to you here this evening about the situation in Mexico and I want to speak about Unite’s solidarity work with sister unions in Mexico.
Because I only have a few minutes to speak Workers Uniting has produced a briefing note on the current situation for Trade Unions in Mexico which gives much more detail.
The re-negotiation of NAFTA and the EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement has brought renewed attention to the violation of workers rights and democracy in Mexico.
International work is extremely important for Unite.
Indeed we often describe it as being one of the three pillars or our union’s work – along with organising and political work.
This is because we know that we cannot represent the interests of our members effectively without engaging in international matters.
We live in a globalised world. Our members work for multinational companies, or in the supply chains of multinationals, or in sectors of the economy dominated by multinationals.
To influence these companies and improve the working lives of our members we cannot simply look within our own borders, we have to be international.
This principle is also true for the political influences that affect workers around the world. We cannot ignore labour rights abuses just because they are happening on the other side of the world, there is the fundamental principle of solidarity and the fact that we know that if a company can get away with exploiting its workforce in one part of the world, it will try and do the same everywhere.
That is why we have become increasingly concerned with the situation in Mexico and increasingly involved in solidarity work with sister unions in Mexico, particularly Los Mineros, led by our good friend their President, Napoleon Gomez.
Our increased knowledge, understanding and involvement with the situation in Mexico is also due to our creation of Workers Uniting together with the United Steelworkers from the USA and Canada.
Our brothers and sisters in the USW have had longstanding solidarity links with Mexico and it is through them that we have built the relationship we now have with Los Mineros.
Workers Uniting is another clear example of both the importance of international solidarity and its effectiveness in linking together working people across borders.
What our experiences have shown us is that there is a massive lack of trade union freedom in Mexico and that labour rights are routinely abused by employers with, we would argue, the open support in many cases of the government.
One of the most disturbing aspects are the prevalence of so-called “Protection Contracts”.
These are contracts made without the consent or even knowledge of workers between the employers and undemocratic, ‘yellow’, unions that prevent legitimate trade union organising in those companies.
This system has been a disaster for Mexican workers and has locked them in to unfair contracts paying poverty wages.
The system has also led to intimidation and violence against trade union organisers and our friends in Los Mineros have told us of many instances when their colleagues have been attacked for trying to organise workers.
Another tragic example of the attacks faced by independent democratic unions in Mexico was the “industrial homicide” that took place at the Pasta de Conchos mine which caused the deaths of 65 workers and injured another 29.
The company and government never properly investigated the cause of the tragedy and even sealed the mine to prevent the recovery of all of the bodies. They did nothing to bring the guilty parties to justice, compensate fairly the families of the victims and Grupo Mexico Owner, German Larrea and refused to take any measures to improve safety at the mine.
Therefore on 30 July 2007 union members took action at three mines run by Grupo Mexico. And despite attacks by the government on the union and attempts by the company to terminate collective agreements that action is still ongoing today and Unite stand in solidarity with those Los Mineros members.
As many of you know our comrade Napoleon Gomez faced arrest on “trumped up” charges and had to leave Mexico and flee to Canada.
Even though all the charges have been dismissed and he is no longer liable for arrest if he travelled from Canada, it is still too dangerous for Napoleon to return to his family in Mexico.
These are examples but they illustrate the scale of labour rights abuses in the country and the complicity of the Mexican government in those abuses.
We have seen union organising campaigns thwarted at Honda, PKC and BMW in the car industry and supply chain.
In our briefing paper we use the situation in Honda, PKC and BMW as case studies.
So it is for these reasons that Unite has been working with colleagues to try and ensure that the issue of labour rights is included in the current discussion over extending the EU-Mexico free trade agreement.
Our view is clear, that without significant reform of the labour law in Mexico, an end to the disgraceful system of protection contracts and the prevention of attacks and intimidation against trade unions there should be no question of the EU extending its trading relationship with Mexico.
Unite will continue to build its relationship with Los Mineros and its solidarity work with colleagues in Mexico. What is already clear is that, as always, solidarity does not just flow in one direction and we have been extremely grateful for the support that Unite members engaged in industrial disputes have received from brothers and sisters in Mexico.
There are too many places in the world where labour rights, which are really just basic human rights, are abused and ignored. Unite is an international union and we will continue to work internationally because although it can sometimes be a cliché, in the trade union movement it is a principle that lies at the foundation of all of our work. That an injury to one is an injury to all.