In Mexico, It is the unions against the workers

Plain English Version – February 3, 2022

The General Motors facility in Silao, Mexico. Photo Credit: Luis Antonio Rojas for The New York Times.

Unions make life better for workers. That is the idea. But what if the unions are corrupt? What if union leadership works for the benefit of employers? That is the reality for labor in Mexico.

Mexico has big factories. It is a rich country in Latin America. Yet its workers still earn low wages compared to other countries in the region.

The unions in Mexico are the reason. Big unions are closely allied with politicians and employers. They have kept wages low. They have made it hard to organize new unions. Their leaders have wealth and power. There is suspicion of corruption.

A group of workers in a large General Motors plant is changing things. They have formed an independent union. They want to represent the workers in the plant. An election will take place next week.

The vote is a test of labor reforms. They are part of the new North American Free Trade Agreement. The old system kept workers from getting paid or more benefits than the minimum law.

A win for an independent union at GM could mark the beginning of something big. An observer said, “It would have a domino effect. It is proof that you can get a union that is trying to represent the workers’ interests.”

Conditions at the plant are harsh. Managers try to speed up production. They deny employees bathroom breaks for hours on end. Workers said managers have told them that regular trips to the bathroom were not guaranteed in their labor contract.

General Motors says the charges are not true. The Confederation of Mexican Workers is the current union. It did not respond to questions.

GM workers start at nine dollars a day. That is 60 cents above the minimum wage. After five years of employment, workers hit the salary ceiling. That ceiling is around $23 per day. It is less than workers in Detroit make in an hour.

Mexico is a rich country compared to El Salvador. The wages in the two countries are about the same.

The new Mexican trade pact changed things. It made it easier for new unions to form. The Mexican government has to step in. Getting the election done right will not be easy. U.S. labor leaders support efforts to raise the wages of Mexican workers. They have a reason. Higher wages in Mexico might keep some jobs in the United States.

Trade unions have been the path to a better way of life for millions. The rights of workers in the private sector have always been hard-won. It is time for Mexico to help its labor force.

Source: The New York Times February 2, 2022

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