Pearl River It’s hard to imagine Mexico as a workers’ paradise. Wages and working conditions are substandard. So-called charro unions which are too often in the pockets of the employers and the government have kept the lid on workers’ wages. Wages, even in some major industrial plants, like General Motors, start at as little as $9 per day. That’s right, per day, not per hour. There are signs of change and, ironically, NAFTA, whose first version is part and parcel of the problem, in version two, may be part of what’s triggering the hopes for new independent unions advancing workers’ interests.
The big news recently has been the election victory of an independent union in Silao, Mexico, called the National Autoworkers Union (SINTTIA), polling more than 78% in a contest with the twenty-five-year legacy union, the Mexican Confederation of Workers, to represent 6000 workers at the General Motors production plant for GMC Sierra pickups and Chevy Silverados. New NAFTA provisions that include workers’ rights to organize protections in Mexico, insisted on by USA unions to gain their support for its passage, allowed the Biden administration to demand the government investigate the results of a vote in 2021 to ratify the contract after forged ballots were found in the local offices of the Confederation. A rerun of the contract approval rejected the contract, and one thing leading to another, a new representation election saw three independent unions and the existing union on the ballot leading to the victory of the National Autoworkers Union.
What does this mean in the scale of things in Mexico? It’s hard to say, but it has to be good. Hundreds of thousands of union contracts are being evaluated by the government. A Mexican researcher looked at 1400 contracts and found that 75% were “sham agreements.” Stronger unions winning better wages and conditions would be great for Mexican workers, but will also benefit autoworkers in American as well, making their wages a bit more competitive and perhaps providing more job security.
There’s another thing that interests me and that’s the rise of independent unions in general. We’ve seen this in the surprising success of Amazonians United and the Amazon Workers’ Union contesting for better conditions at Amazon warehouses. The spirited organizing of semi-autonomous, almost independent unions, the RWDSU and Workers’ United, in Amazon and Starbucks, seem part of the same trend of workers and emerging unions being formed to take on organizing targets that are deemed almost impossible to organize by existing institutional labor.
Something is happening here, and it’s important. Workers clearly support unions, and some formations are coming together to meet that demand, no matter the odds. There seems to be a moment now, perhaps both here and in Mexico, where workers are rising, they have leverage, and they have issues. If established unions don’t respond, workers may just organize on their own to get the job done. Tell me that’s not exciting!