In Mexico, thousands of workers at the country’s largest General Motors plant have won a historic vote to form an independent union, breaking from a tradition of corrupt unions tied to elites who cut deals with corporations to keep wages and benefits low. We go to Guanajuato, Mexico, to speak with historian Javier Bravo about the victory and the passage of critical labor reforms in 2019, which ensure workers can create new unions independent of the will of their employers, says Bravo.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
In a historic victory for international labor rights, thousands of Mexican workers at the General Motors plant in Mexico have voted in a landslide to form an independent union. The union election at the GM plant in the city of Silao in Guanajuato was the first since the implementation of new labor reforms in Mexico written into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Many powerful unions in Mexico, with ties to elite politicians and businesspeople, had for years gone behind workers’ backs to make deals with multinational corporations to keep workers’ pay low and deny them other benefits. This is María Alejandra Morales Reynoso, the secretary general of the independent union of workers in the automotive industry. Ahead of the vote, she and the union were targeted with threats.
MARÍA ALEJANDRA MORALES REYNOSO: [translated] Let’s hope those other unions change and work for the actual workers, so they, unions, don’t only look our for their own interests. A union has to represent the workers. And I believe we are going to start by making that much-needed change. We still don’t know who sent threatening messages. They were not only sent to myself, but to all my committee present here.
AMY GOODMAN: GM’s own reports show wages for new workers at GM’s plant in Silao, who build the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, make about $25 for a 12-hour shift. One of the GM workers, Armando Sandoval, recently spoke to Reuters about how the new union could mean higher wages for workers at the GM plant.
ARMANDO SANDOVAL: [translated] With the union we’ve had for years, they raised our wage by 14 pesos. Alongside those 14 pesos, they raised transportation, union fees and cafeteria prices. Practically, we are breaking even, year in and year out. We are hoping for many improvements.
AMY GOODMAN: By choosing the new independent union, GM workers in Silao have broken ties with one of Mexico’s most influential labor organizations, which had held the plant’s contract for 25 years. Major U.S. labor unions supported the election. AFL–CIO President Liz Shuler said, quote, “This vote represents a rejection of the past and a new era for Mexican workers’ right to associate freely.”
General Motors says it’s ready to enter negotiations with the new independent union. Under the country’s reformed labor law, the union has six months to negotiate a contract approved by a majority of the workers.
For more, we go to Guanajuato in Mexico to speak with Javier Bravo, professor of history at the University of Guanajuato.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor. It’s great to have you with us. Talk about the significance of this victory of the independent union in a GM plant in Mexico.
JAVIER BRAVO: Thank you, Amy. Hello, everyone.
Well, this victory of SINTTIA’s is like a — has a very big symbolic meaning for us in Guanajuato and in Mexico, because 76% of the workers have voted for SINTTIA to represent them before the CEO and the owners of the plant. That’s a huge victory that is like a lighthouse for us, for our labor movement, because for many years here in Guanajuato and in Mexico, the CTM has been controlling the labor movement. It has demobilized the labor movement in Mexico. So this victory is very important, especially because SINTTIA, the new union, is like a true workers’ union, representing workers, because CTM was — is led by professional corrupt politicians, not workers. So, for the first time in the existence of the plant here in Guanajuato, workers will be representing workers. That’s beautiful news.
There are some aesthetics in what is happening right now in Guanajuato, especially because the secretary general of the SINTTIA union is a woman. That’s another symbolic message to the people and the working class here in Guanajuato. Me, myself, as a faculty member of the Universidad de — of Guanajuato, and my colleagues from Mexico Solidarity Project are trying to support SINTTIA in all the ways that are possible to us, because they have no means. I mean, the labor quotes, the union quotes were in the hands of CTM. So, SINTTIA was born from — almost from nothing, just from the will of these rebel workers. We thank all these rebel workers for creating such an inspiring union, Amy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Bravo, I’d like to ask you —
JAVIER BRAVO: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In terms of the labor reform, most Americans are not aware that these kinds of elections would not even be happening had it not been for the labor reforms that President López Obrador passed shortly after becoming president, that insisted that more than 700,000 union contracts — workers have to be able to vote on their contracts secretly, to vote for their elected officials. What’s been the impact of that labor reform that was passed in April of 2019?
JAVIER BRAVO: Well, I think the results are just in process. We are not seeing the whole picture. But now the conditions and the possibility — the possibilities of free unions are very important. So, for the first time in our labor history in Mexico, they can create new unions independently of the will of the owners, for the first time. Can you imagine? So, that means that they can now really, in real life, struggle, fight for being treated as human beings, not just as objects as a means for the owners’ profit, but as human beings, not just human resources like natural resources. No, they’re human beings. And they have now the possibility, the legal possibility, to being treated as human beings.
There’s a lot of possibilities, not just only to create new unions free of their owners’ influence, but also they can elect their representatives without asking for permission to the patrón — from the owner. That is a new reality for our labor movement. But also, in universities, it could be applied, because in universities, in public universities in Mexico, most of the unions are protection unions, protections for the — protection for the central administration. So, this possibility of using the new labor legislation in Mexico is very — gave us hope, the hope we did not used to have.
AMY GOODMAN: Javier Bravo, we want to thank you so much for being with us, as we have to wrap the show, professor of history —
JAVIER BRAVO: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: — at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico.
And that does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a human resources manager. You can learn more and apply at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.