Building Continental Worker Solidarity

Mexican workers call for a continental workers’ campaign for living wages and social justice
by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco
May 20, 2007

Capital and the state of all three countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement have worked together to push down wages and working conditions, undermine the social safety net, and privatize anything that could be turned into a source of profit. The aim of both NAFTA and the Security and Prosperity Partnership – the project of “Deep Integration”) is to constitutionalize the rights of capital and undermine the rights of workers and the public. By incorporating Mexico into the geography of continentally integrated production, capital has been able to lower its wage bill and increase its power over labour. Relocation and the threat of relocation has been a powerful tool in forcing concessions on flexibility, wages, and working conditions.

Workers and unions have not effectively developed strategies of continental-wide solidarity and or fight-back. There have been some efforts in that direction in terms of solidarity with specific struggles, worker to worker exchanges, increased union contacts. A coalition of Mexican unions has now proposed a strategy of struggle that could open up the door to a more class-wide and continental approach to union and workers’ struggles. While the initial proposal focused on the minimum wage, it could be broadened to include the needs of the unwaged poor as well as other rights of workers – the right to a job, the right to safe conditions of work, the right to housing. A continental fight-back around class-wide demands could reinvigorate the labour movements in all three countries. The article below focuses on the Mexican proposal and labour movement. In addition to describing the proposal, we put forth a description and analysis of Mexican unions and their role in Mexico’s deep and ongoing crisis. Mexican workers are faced not only with a neoliberal assault on their rights and standards of living but also with an increasingly brutal and repressive state veiled in a corrupt and thin electoral process.

The Mexican Coalition

A coalition of progressive Mexican unions, democratic currents in other unions and popular movements, such as the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO),have made a bold proposal for a continental workers’ struggle to raise the minimum wage in all three countries, limit the work day to eight hours, and enforce a ban on child labour. In Mexico, it is a response to the dramatic fall of real wages and the beginning of a fightback against the deepening neoliberal assault promised by the new, fraudulently elected President Calderon. The coalition campaign as the Jornada Nacional y Internacional Por la Restitución del Salario y Empleo (National and International Campaign for the Restoration of Wages and Jobs). It believes that the battle can only be won and consolidated on a continental scale. If the minimum salary and wages are raised in one country, those companies that can simply relocate to those areas where wages remain lower will do so. The floor has to be raised in all three countries

The coalition is aware that a minimum wage increase in the U.S., without an increase in Mexico, will simply increase the incentive for companies to move to Mexico. They want jobs in Mexico but not at the expense of job loss in other countries and starvation wages in Mexico. They feel that these three minimum demands create the basis for a common struggle in all three countries. And while they feel the struggle should start in the three NAFTA countries, they want to spread it later to include all of Latin America and become a global campaign.

Beyond Borders: A Call for Solidarity

This proposal is a call from workers in the South to workers in the North to engage in a joint struggle against the corporations and governments that seek to play them off against each other in order to continue the downward slide of wages and living and working standards everywhere. NAFTA is part of the neoliberal assault on workers in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This assault on workers is the major part of the reason that over ten million Mexicans have been forced to leave their homes and families to work in the U.S. as the only means to survive. The proposal seeks to unite workers – Mexican, US, Canadian, Quebecois; white, Latino, and Black; those with stable and those with precarious employment, those with unions and those without, those with legal rights and those without – in a common struggle that will unite workers in all three countries. Success will bring real and desperately needed gains in the short run while building the bases for an international workers movement in the longer run. The campaign entailed by such a proposal seeks to move beyond solidarity as support for other peoples’ struggles and toward solidarity as a common struggle.

The minimum wage in Mexico has fallen in real purchasing power by 75% in the last thirty years. During the presidency of Vicente Fox alone from 2000-2006, it fell by 22%. Ten million workers, 24% of the economically active population, make the minimum wage or less. Fifty million Mexicans live below the poverty line. Of these, 30 million live on 30 pesos per day ($3 US), 10 million live on 22 pesos daily, another 10 million on less than 10 pesos daily. In order to buy what is officially defined as a basic household basket, a worker would have to work 48 hours daily! As well, the minimum wage affects vast layers of workers receiving more than the minimum wage as many collective agreements and labour contracts are formally or informally tied to changes in the official minimum wage.

But not all is bleak. In the same period, Mexico rose to the 4th top position in the world in the number of millionaires. And it boasts the third richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, who did very well indeed through privatizations. The top 20% in Mexico control 52.7% of Mexico’s wealth while 30% of Mexicans subsist on less than one minimum salary per family per day. At the same time that the countryside has lost great numbers of people to the urban labour markets, Mexico’s 40 million workers have become increasingly exploited receiving a declining portion of national income.

Read it here.

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