Recently the Mexican northern border has witnessed the violence of US imperialism against the Caravans of Central American Migrants. This region is also known to endure the curse of organized crime, yet today a new player has entered the stage: the workers’ movement with its method of struggle, the strike. Workers are shaking the whole region with their massive and rank and file strikes, against the boycott of the corrupt union leaders (charros) and despite the silence of the bourgeois press and the local and federal governments. With these actions they are sending a clear message to other social justice activists in Mexico and all over the world.
Written by Workers’ Voice (USA), Corriente Socialista de los Trabajadores (Mexico) and Corriente Obrera (USA)
Since early January, a total of 30,000 maquila workers at the Texas-Mexico border in Matamoros (Tamaulipas) have led strikes, demonstrations and protest actions. The current mobilization began on January 12th, when more than 50,000 workers of 48 maquiladoras (factories) – out of the total 80,000 maquila workers across 122 companies- went on strike. Their main demands are a 20% wage increase, payment of an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos, and the return of the 40-hour work week. The main business of these maquila factories is the production of electronic, textile, chemical goods, and car parts for exporta to the US. The workers are also facing the plant closures that companies have now threatened in response to their mobilization. In the last few days, some companies have fired hundreds of workers in retaliation for participating in the strikes. Others “promised” to pay lost wages if workers come back to work and sit down to “negotiate the contract improvements with the companies.” Yet, when workers have stopped the strike and agreed to negotiate, the bosses have immediately fired all the strike activists.
A Real Rank and File Movement
This is truly a rank-and-file led movement. Workers organized to walk out of their jobs, frustrated with the inaction (at best) or open class collaboration with the factory owners (at worse) of their local union leadership, the SJOIIM (Union of Industrial and Day Workers of the Maquiladora), and its leader, Juan Villafuerte, who belongs to the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). The CTM is known for its intimidation methods, using armed gangs (porros) linked to the corrupt leadership (charros) to impose by force the will of the bosses on workers. This time workers had enough and organized a successful action independently, shutting down 48 plants and hanging red and black flags over all the factories to declare de facto the strike.
We say de facto because the anti-labor legislation in Mexico demands that for a strike to be legal, the union needs to give a minimum warning of 15 days – a deadline that would only be met this Friday, January 25th. The union leadership is waiting for the Friday deadline before officially declaring the strike, in order to allow for the bosses to repress the main strike activists. Workers in Matamoros have started gathering in massive public assemblies in the Matamoros Park, and there they voted in favor of all the actions, including the strike, by raising their hands. It is important to highlight the role of women workers, many of them continue organizing the movement and actively support it despite having been fired, threatened, or persecuted.
The Minimum Wage in the Northern Border
The AMLO administration announced in a pompous ceremony in front of business chambers of commerce and and CTM union leaders an “historic” increase of the minimum wage nationwide of 16% starting January 1st 2019. The minimum wage will now be 103 pesos per day (88 previously), that is to say a little more than $5 a day. In the Northern border, the minimum wage will be increased 100%, reaching 176 pesos per day. This increase was presented as a generous concession to workers and a path to social justice. Now, let’s be honest, even with the increase l, the monthly minimum wage in Mexico is $153. At the border the cost of living is higher, and the actual wages of the maquila workers fluctuate between $190 and $337 per month. Many workers lack enough money to feed their families are forced to cross the border to work on the other side on the weekends in a second job.
On the other hand, many clauses of the maquila workers contracts stipulate that wages should go up in the same proportion of the minimum wage increases. This is what our brothers and sisters are fighting for, a real living wage. Yet the companies are using the government’s increase of the minimum wage to cut bonuses and other allowances. This strike at the industrial heart of the US-Mexico border shows how much US companies need the over-exploited labor of Mexican workers to sustain their “growth”. We know that this “growth,” however, does not benefit US workers, but only the rich shareholders of those companies.
GM announced in november that it is cutting 15% of its salaried workers and closing 5 plants, and now Tesla is also cutting its workforce by 7%. Thus, this strike is also a great opportunity to show cross-border class unity and solidarity.
Massive Demonstrations Towards the Border Bridge
On Monday January 21st, yesterday, Matamoros workers led a march of thousands to Brownsville (Matamoros’ twin border city), crossing the border to build international solidarity and spread their struggle. They were chanting “We are workers, we want a solution!” and “Inside and outside [the border], we are working class people!” The massive march was actively supported by the electrical workers’ and miners’ union.
They went to demand answers, first to the Labor Conciliation and Arbitration Board, an institution inherited from the PRI government. They got no answer. Then they went to the City Council of Matamoros, led by Mayor Mario Lopez, from the Morena party to which the president AMLO belongs. After refusing to meet with them since the beginning of the strike 10 days prior, and facing huge pressure from the demonstrators, Lopez agreed to meet with a “delegation”. The thousands of workers gathered in an assembly to elected the 150 workers, men and women, who will represent the striking factories. Inside the city council, the nervous mayor explained to the workers that this was a conflict between the companies and the workers and their union, and that he could only play a mediator role, and that “his sole interest is the peace and progress of the town.” Some of the workers present began to doubt AMLO’s slogan “for the good of all, first the poor.” They demanded that he, the Mayor, call the federal government and the Labor Secretary. López then very nervously called the Secretary, but she did not pick up the phone. An assistant of the Secretary promised to inform her of the events (in Matamoros).
A Struggle That is Making History
Throughout the election campaign, AMLO had a very popular slogan: “together, we will make history.” And when he was sworn into office, he announced the “Fourth Transformation of Mexico.” Yet the ones really making history are the workers of Matamoros. They are the ones initiating a deep transformation of Mexico, because they are deciding to keep fighting until they win. We know that, to do this,, they will have to defeat their own treacherous union leadership, as well as the attacks of the COPARMEX, the main business chamber in Mexico, that is repressing workers with layoffs and threats to move the maquila plants elsewhere, to force them to work,.
The new labor activists, however, are not done fighting. They know that “they have nothing to lose but their chains.” They already declared that they will continue the strike, and the mobilization is spreading to other sectors. The Matamoros maquila workers, like the teachers in Los Angeles, the Yellow Vests in France, and the rest of the working class, are teaching us,, an important lesson: that only collective and organized action gets the goods!
The workers are still meeting in assemblies to make sure the strike is officially and legally declared on Friday January 25th. This is why we call on all labor and community organizations in Mexico, in the US, and in other countries to show their solidarity with this historic strike, which reminds us that the Mexican working class exists and fights.
Full Support for the Maquila workers of Matamoros!
International Solidarity with their Demands!
Stop the Layoffs!