Friday, April 21, 2006

Neoliberal globalisation and intensified class struggle in Mexican society


(Wawing the red-black flag in a hunger strike in 2004. Mexican workers protest against petrified state dominated trade union. La Jornada)

An attempt to remove striking Mexican steel workers from a steel plant belonging to steel maker Sicartsa in the Mexican state of Michoacan led to a confrontation between the workers and federal police and security forces. According to BBCMundo, April 21st, 3 workers lost their lives and 40 were injured, some of them badly wounded when the federal police shot at the striking workers.

The workers have been blocking the entrance to the plant belonging to steel producer Sicartsa since April 2nd 2006 in a protest against the federal minister of labour removing the leader of their trade union Napoleón Gómez from his post. Mr Gomez was accused of corruption, allegations he has denied. More than 600 federal police took part in the operation. Opposing them on the other side were 2800 steel workers.

The Mexican steel workers have become increasingly restive not only after the dismissal of their union leader but also after the accident in February when 65 mine workers lost their lives in a mining accident. The Mexican steel company is an integrated concern producing steel from iron ore produced by the same or affiliated companies.

The workers are protesting against the “official” status of their trade union. The workers had their section 271 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers in the Mexican Republic registered in 1973 in the department of Labour in the federal government. Before that they had in vain tried to get recognition of an independent trade union.

Since the forming of their branch of the official national union the workers have been making repeated protests against “officialdom”. In several actions in the 1970’s they made reiterated spontaneous actions where they were brandishing the red-black flags in support of their demands. The spontaneous and democratic expressions of demands for autonomy were defeated, not least during the economic crisis of 1982 and onwards, when the steel sector and large industrialised sectors of the Mexican economy were restructured, and thousands of workers were dismissed. The democratic centres of protest and demands for workers autonomy were defeated.

In 1990 Sicartsa was privatised and merged with the Villacero group and 2-3000 workers, among them some of the most active, were dismissed. The section 271 was weakened. The leadership and executive committee were increasingly recruited from far away, and the connections between leadership and base weakened. The company and the mining and steel sector was increasingly exposed to the neoliberal restructuring agenda. Wages and piece work rates were reduced and flexible labour contracts instituted.

On the second of April 2006 the workers went on strike because of government and company actions to force Elias Morales into position as leader of the union. Some two weeks later the strike was deemed illegal by Mexican labour authorities.

The events are very incriminating for the Mexican president Vicente Fox and his conservative government. The violent suppression of workers’ demands and the zero tolerance of independent unionisation is perhaps typical of philosophy of neo-liberal adaptation to globalisation. But it is having detrimental effects on the already precarious position of the Mexican working class. The minimum wage is some 4-5 dollars a day, and it has been difficult for the millions of employed in the informal sector to get even that amount of money which for years has had difficulty keeping pace with inflation. Mexico is suffering from low growth. Many sectors of the Mexican economy are having difficulties competing with American and Canadian products and services inside the NAFTA free trade arrangement. The Fox presidency has been characterised by increasing difficulties adapting the Mexican economy to demands for flexibility and competitiveness. The Mexicans have been losing market shares to China in the North American market.

It’s high time workers are protesting, but too bad that they’re met with that kind of response.

Sources: BBCMundo and La Jornada

4 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth said...

This is the missing aspect of the "immigration debate" that is consuming Americans at the moment.

btw, would you mind looking at something my father wrote about Denmark for one of my blogs and give me your reaction? Don't worry if you disagree--I disagree with my father a lot. It's at
http://thoughtsopinionsrants.blogspot.com/2006/02/assessment-of-danish-racism.html

6:05 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Duck said...

Elisabeth.

Especially this part of it is quite to the point:

"Danes are odd in that they are well educated and great travelers, and have a splendid record on foreign aid, but at the same time seem to have very little empathy for people from different cultures. They like their homogeneous tight little island and feel uncomfortable if too many swarthy people are walking the streets with them. Much of the problem stems from their 1973 decision to alleviate a shortage of production workers by opening the gates of immigration to a lot of poor folk from the south and east -- mostly Yugoslavs, Pakistanis, and Turks, as it turned out."

- Even though, it's a bit exaggerated. Actually, only some 60.000 foreign workers came as part of the gueest worker programme, most of them Turks. They are not the big integration problem, however. That is the asylum seekers and refugees entering the country in the 1990's. Particularly the 200.000 muslims, and especially the approximately ten per cent strong islamic believers among them. Many Danes see them as quite alien to the secular Danish culture.

Denmark is not, like America, a "melting pot" of immigrant groups. It's a quite homogeneous country, - or has been a quite homogeneous country. For some reason the Swedes seem to be better at integrating foreign people.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Constant opposition said...

The violent suppression of workers’ demands and the zero tolerance of independent unionisation is perhaps typical of philosophy of neo-liberal adaptation to globalisation.

Hmm, what about the same (= even worse) treatment of union activity and the formation of independent union in the near neighbouring Cuba? That's nothing to do with the Cuban government being neo-liberal but that of it being a ruthless communist dictatorship.

I'm no fan of neoliberalism, yet I think even worse crimes are committed by other ideologies. Or then some traits of neoliberalism and communism surprisngly resemble each other, as was the case with communism and fascism earlier.

CO

12:31 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Duck said...

CO.

You're right. I would also advocate the establishment of independent labour unions in Cuba. It's a fundamental democratic right that workers are free to pursue collective organisation and action.

2:02 AM  

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