SILAO, GUANAJUATO.- It has been nearly two years since the United States began pressing Mexico over labor rights violations by using rapid dispute resolution methods contained in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.
The administration of President Joe Biden has brought six such complaints and brags that, for the first time, someone is challenging Mexico’s anti-democratic, old-guard unions that have kept wages painfully low for decades.
But workers and union organizers are mixed on the results, saying it’s hard to build a real union movement overnight, and that employers and old union bosses continue to resist change.
The first complaint was filed in May 2021 about attempts by the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) union to interfere with a vote at the GM plant in Silao, in the north-central state of Guanajuato.
Under the pressure of the U.S. complaint — which could eventually have led to trade sanctions — Mexican officials and observers oversaw a squeaky-clean union vote in which the old-guard CTM union was thrown out, and a new, independent union won the right to negotiate.
The new union quickly won an 8.5% wage increase and more bonuses.
“On the economic side, the truth is the change came very quickly, though they were a little slow in giving us the increase,” said Manuel Carpio, a GM worker. Carpio credits the reformed Mexican labor laws and the pressure brought to bear under the USMCA complaint.
“I think that had a lot to do with it,” Carpio said.
Before, pro-company unions signed contracts behind workers’ backs and employed thugs to keep workers from questioning the contracts or relying on the company to fire dissidents. Carpio, an early union supporter, said that before, it was impossible to organize.
“There was a lot of retaliation, but now we were protected by the law, that protected us a little, they couldn’t do as much against us,” he said. Before, “if we had tried to do it, heads would have rolled.”
This is not to say the problems are all solved; Carpio said the new union, known by its initials as SINTTIA, has a learning curve and has been slow to hand out benefits derived from union dues. And autoworkers in Mexico still earn as little as $300 per month or $12 per day.
Source: El Financiero