As the United States, Mexico and Canada renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, there is a lot of room for improvement. No improvement is more needed, however, than a new labor system in Mexico that secures for all workers the freedom to form and join free and independent unions, so that working people can act democratically and responsibly together to improve their wages and working conditions.
If Mexico’s corrupt labor system does not change, the rest of the NAFTA renegotiation won’t be worth much. Mexico will continue to be a haven for worker exploitation and abuse, and a popular outsourcing destination for greedy CEOs who seek to increase their bottom lines while their employees live in dire conditions. In this, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, president of Mexico’s Mineworkers Union, compellingly argues that North America’s working families have a shared interest in Mexico’s labor rights regime (translated from Spanish):
There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of using the NAFTA renegotiation as an impulse to increase wages in Mexico, since the increase in Mexican workers’ income would eliminate the pretext mentioned by Donald Trump to complicate the treaty, arguing that low wages favor Mexican companies to the detriment of those of the United States and Canada....
But the increases are not so valuable when they are granted without accompanying democratic rights with which workers can defend their gains. In recent years, the Mineworkers Union has achieved an average increase in salaries and benefits above 12%, that is, two or three times higher than those obtained by employer-dominated unions. This success is mainly due to the willingness and ability of our members to mobilize together with their communities, to democratically and responsibly exercise the right to strike to make the union grow with new investment projects, and to organize new members.
It would be a mistake to think that the increases by themselves could solve the deficit of democratic rights that persists in the Mexican labor world. As many experts have observed, Mexican wages in large industries are lower compared with those in other countries, not because of lack of productivity, but because of a diabolical pact between politicians, businessmen and employer-dominated unions to use the legal structure to systematically rob the workers, dividing the booty among themselves.
The most recent example of this alliance is the legislation to implement constitutional reforms in labor matters, which is to be debated in the Senate this week. As many lawyers, academics and trade union leaders have warned, the bill aims to consolidate control of the institutions of labor justice by corrupt unions, complicit officials and companies associated with them, closing off all spaces for workers to attempt to organize in democratic unions and thus negotiate collective agreements that guarantee good salaries, workplace health and safety, the profit sharing to which they are legally and fairly entitled, and the possibility of a dignified retirement....
The only effective strategy to revert the control of large companies and their corrupt union lackeys is to defeat this false bill and approve one that faithfully implements constitutional norms and international agreements signed by Mexico that protect the rights of workers.
This has been the main demand of the international trade unions of Canada, Europe and the United States in their letters addressed to the senators of Mexico. It is another cruel irony that they worry more about the rights of Mexican workers than our own government and, of course, the corrupt trade unionists.
Read the full text of the op-ed (in Spanish).