Workers at the General Motors plant in Silao, Mexico won a major victory in early February when an independent union won collective bargaining rights for them by a large margin. The new independent union, the National Auto Workers Union (SINTTIA) soundly defeated the corrupt national Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which has been allied for decades with government politicians but has produced little benefits for workers.

$9 a Day to Feed and Care for a Family

Under the present contract with CTM, workers like Guillermo Ramirez start out earning $9 a day. After about a decade, Ramirez told The New York Times, he earns $23 a day, the top wage at the plant but still not enough to feed his three children. That top salary is what workers at General Motors in Detroit make in little more than an hour. Ramirez children eat at his mother’s house and he has to borrow a car to take his 7-month-old baby, who suffers from seizures, to the hospital. In order for the family to survive, he had to turn part of his mother’s house into living space for them.

GM Plant Just One of Many U.S. Runaway Shops

In addition to the rotten wages, the workers also tell of a plant environment that pushes speedup  production and often denies workers bathroom breaks for hours on end. The GM plant is one of the many in Mexico and other areas around the globe to which U.S. companies have moved their operations, making huge profits on substandard wages and working conditions in these countries and leaving closed factories and laid-off workers in the U.S.

The workers at the GM plant, CTM members who make Chevy Silverados and G.M.C. Sierra pickup trucks, had no right to elect their union leaders or to be involved in union negotiations. Many Mexican unions, like CTM, are notorious for protecting employers rather than workers and have maintained their power from a cozy relationship with politicians who have written the labor laws to guarantee the relationship. The SINTTIA vote at the GM plant in Silao will be an important example for workers across the country over the next year.

International Labor Groups Monitored Election

During the election process, there were  many reports that the company and CTM were trying to disrupt the election. In one instance, the company fired a union activist while there were other reports that the CTM was attempting to bribe workers to vote for them. To guarantee the election process, independent observers were there to monitor it. They included representatives from the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) in the U.S. and other unions in Canada and Brazil.

Important Win for U.S. Workers, Too

Contract negotiations are set to start soon and under Mexico’s recently enacted labor law, will have to be voted on by secret ballot by May 1, 2003. The significance of SINTTIA’s victory goes beyond Mexico’s borders. U.S. corporations have long taken advantage of poor labor conditions to move their manufacturing facilities to countries like Mexico to cut their costs at the expense of workers at home.

Hailing the SINTTIA victory, UE General President Carl Rosen declared that he was “excited to see this victory for an independent union in Mexico, especially one with an American employer.” Working conditions in the U.S. are adversely affected, he said, “when corporations can run off to Mexico or another country to take advantage of workers who are forcibly denied basic labor rights. We look forward to SINTTIA putting forward a strong contract campaign to fight for the needs of the workers at this shop.”

The New York Times, 2/3; UE News, 2/5