SINTTIA, the National Independent Union of Automotive Industry Workers (Sindicato Independiente Nacional de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Industria Automotriz in Spanish), achieved an overwhelming victory with 76.5% of the votes at the Silao plant. Thus, the union gained the representativeness to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with General Motors. It was demonstrated that an independent labor union can defeat the union bureaucracy of the old, hated, and feared CTM [1]. However, as an ironic paradox, this historic triumph of workers’ independence was achieved just two days after it was made public that Ricardo Aldana Prieto, accused of corruption and heir of Carlos Romero Deschamps, was proclaimed “winner” in the elections agreed between the government of López Obrador and the old charros of the PRI, in the STPRM oil union, which continues to hold a spurious representation of more than 95 thousand Pemex workers.

By Corriente Socialista de los Trabajadores, Mexico

Originally published in Spanish here

Translated to English by Dolores Underwood

February 1 and 2 were days of intense and massive mobilization of the rank-and-file workers at the General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato. Everyone to vote, to send the CTM to hell! That was the slogan, and so it was done! After 41 hours of voting, 5,478 votes were cast, of which 5,389 were valid and 89 were invalid. The participation of workers entitled to vote was 87.9 percent, out of a final roll of 6,232. For SINTTIA there were 4,192 votes, representing 76.5 percent of the total votes. All these data were officially acknowledged in a communiqué issued by the Federal Center for Labor Conciliation and Registration. At the same time the company communicated: “General Motors will act in compliance with the law to work with the representation elected by the workers, SINTTIA, with the objective of initiating the negotiation of the Collective Labor Agreement of the manufacturing complex in Silao.

 

A historic triumph born of a group of workers in resistance

A common Spanish saying goes “defeat is an orphan and triumphs always have fathers and stepfathers.” This is certainly applicable to the case of GM Silao. For that reason, it will be indispensable to go over just some of the struggles (because there are many and they will be the subject of other notes) of this heroic resistance that led to this historic triumph. And this review is very necessary, because for more than a year a series of false “explanations” about the changes and causes of the events at GM Silao have surfaced. Almost all of them point to external causes and other people’s merits. There are even bourgeois journalists and analysts who are suggesting that someone is behind the curtain pulling the strings. We should not be surprised. These analysts think of workers only as puppets.

The first false interpretation is that the key to the whole process of political union reorganization is “the advantages of section or labor clause No. 23 of the T-MEC,” signed by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. This trade agreement is a reinforced version of NAFTA, which after almost 30 years has meant more colonial plunder and super-exploitation of the labor force. This labor clause and its monitoring mechanism reinforces the enormous wage gap between the countries. Automotive workers’ wages in the U.S. are between eight and ten times higher than in Mexico. And that brings enormous profits to the gringo companies installed in Mexico. That is why we still see GM management in collusion with the traitorous union leadership. There were even some delirious articles that gave credit to Joe Biden “for having presented a formal complaint in the framework of the T-MEC,” expressing his “concern for the respect of union freedoms in Mexico.”

A second interpretation, linked to the first one -which is the favorite one of the union leadership- is that “all this has been planned by foreign leaders and unions”… “to close the plants in Mexico and take the factories to their metropolis in order to recover the jobs in their countries”. It is really ridiculous that the Mexican union bureaucrats denounce SINTTIA for having the support of foreign labor unions, when they have had very close relations with foreign bosses, as in this case General Motors, for decades!

A third interpretation – repeated by those who support the current government and of which many honest comrades are convinced – is that now “the rules of the game have changed.” The new LFT, Federal Labor Law (Ley Federal de Trabajo in Spanish), promoted by López Obrador in line with the T-MEC, establishes a “Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, which opens the way to union freedom.” However, what happened in the Pemex Union seriously questions this interpretation. For the old and corrupt union bureaucrats had ALL the “rules of the game” in their favor and agreed with AMLO’s government. In addition, about 3 thousand contracts have been reviewed since the new LFT came into effect and of these, only 9 were rejected by a NO vote, and only in one large company, GM in Silao.

Generating Movement – The seed that generated SINTTIA

These three interpretations have something in common and it is not accidental: they leave the fundamental cause, the main protagonist of the workers’ triumph at GM Silao, hidden or underhanded: the tenacious resistance of a group of workers, the Generando Movimiento – GM group. This group, when it began its struggle in 2019, was harshly repressed. And its members and promoters, arbitrarily dismissed, have still not been reinstated. In these years of the government of the “Fourth Transformation” (how AMLO likes to think of his government – a part of a long legacy of political transformations in Mexico), many other activists were fired. These fired and “blacklisted” comrades are protagonists and witnesses that when it comes to “the rules of the game” little or nothing has changed!

Comrades like Israel Cervantes is an example of a fighter who has not given up or sold out. From Generando Movimiento, they had the courage to confront this transnational monster, overcoming slander and knocking on doors to seek support. They knew how to distinguish between those who support them and those who wanted to use them. They knew how to work cautiously so as not to expose the active comrades of the plant. They knew how to build from the base of the plants an initiating group of the new SINTTIA union, with comrades who were willing to stand their ground and push. They knew how to interpret that the most oppressed sector of the class should lead the SINTTIA and that is why they elected a woman as General Secretary. They were able to find efficient legal and union support at the Center for Labor Research and Union Counseling, so as to process and obtain the permit before the Secretary of Labor. However, this long and hard march had a milestone with the triumph of the “NO” to the CTM contract.

The resounding NO to the Labor Contract with the CTM marked the way to the triumph of the YES to SINTTIA

The corrupt union bureaucracy of the CTM, accustomed to decades -almost a century- of impunity and juicy deals with the companies, on April 21, 2021, committed fraud at GM Silao. They destroyed ballots and intimidated workers during the process of legitimizing the old Collective Labor Agreement, of “employer protection.” When the fraud was uncovered, the scandal spread and quickly reached an international audience, and this is what forced GM and the governments that signed the T-MEC to publicly declare “their immense concern” for such violations… Nobody believed those hypocritical words. This falsehood was apparent when 4 months had to pass before the STPS set a new date for August 17 and 18 to reinstate the legitimization process. And furthermore, the direct executors and instigators of the criminal fraud did not receive any sanction and continued to act in the factory with impunity.

And the government was further exposed when it did not allow independent outside or worker observers survey the new vote in August. The fired workers of Generando Movimiento were the driving force behind the massive agitation campaign “Vote NO to the CTM,” with flyering brigades, posters, and outreach campaigns, touring neighborhoods in Silao and neighboring cities such as Irapuato, Guanajuato, León. The comrades carried out intense and exhausting work under the hot summer sun. The initial fear of the rank-and-file workers gave way to an increasingly firm decision to break with CTM’s yoke. Serious doubts remained as to whether that was possible. But other activists responded: If it is necessary, it is possible!

When the time came to vote, the people went en masse to vote NO. But the recount was left only in the hands of the officials of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare – STPS, with observers from the National Electoral Institute and the ILO. During the whole process, the union bureucrats acted as masters of the house. Despite these unreliable conditions of the vote recount, the official numbers recognized the Triumph of the NO vote. The official data “drawn” by the STPS were 3,214 votes for NO, 2,623 votes for YES and 39 null votes. In other words, the NO had 54% of the 5,876 total votes. The number of workers eligible to vote was 6,494.

The joy resounded amongst the worker militants: “The workers of GM Silao rejected the CTM!” However, some media outlets such as “El Financiero,” which express the interests of big capital, on August 19 headlined: “Will the vote in Silao be the end of the CTM?”… And in the article, it encouraged that “This organization could have many lives”… “The end of the CTM in the GM plant in Silao is still far away”… Why did this organ of the owners of big money make these statements? Because they are well aware of the enormous limitations and ambiguities of the “new rules of the game” and the true character of the government of the “Fourth Transformation.”

The doubt inferred in the headlines was born out by reality. The STPS and the Federal Center for Labor Conciliation and Registration gave the old union bureaucrats a chance, with new deadlines so that they could rebuild their ranks. And, despite their internal disputes, they continued to collect union dues until November. And after that, they continued to tour the plants with total freedom on the part of the company, changing the most odious faces for others no less corrupt and putting together their new CTM “Coalitions”. That is why, despite the total repudiation suffered by his Union, Tereso Medina, the mafioso PRI deputy and GM Silao personnel transport businessman, still dared to declare “the war has just begun.”

From NO to CTM to Yes to SINTTIA

The struggle for the NO vote combined with the arduous task of Generando Movimiento to organize a new independent union and meet the legal requirements to apply for registration. Finally, after many delays, on August 6th the STPS granted SINTTIA permission. From that day on, the massive membership campaign began at the base of the plant and in the neighborhoods as with the NO campaign. And from the first day the company and all its supervisory staff began the pressure and harassment of the members of the Committee, now “uncovered.” The General Secretary, Alejandra Morales Reynoso, was particularly targeted. The harassment of her, as a woman worker, is doubly serious because of its sexist content in a factory where more than 40% of the workers are women.

However, the bosses’ intimidation failed in suffocating SINTTIA. A numerous and courageous group of activists defended the new union and its new Committee and faced the union bureaucrats and their thugs inside the plant. In the beginning, it was hard to tell who was gaining ground. The old union leadership was throwing all they could at them. But as time went by, the will of the rank and file began to express itself with new warriors emerging.

The law states that in order to dispute the representation of the CCT, the union must have at least 30% representation. Sufficient affiliations were achieved in a very short period of time. So the government imposed “new rules of the game,” this time against the workers and SINTTIA and in favor of the old union leadership. Now, the state demanded that all aspiring unions collect thousands of signatures of endorsements on the forms!… Despite this, the SINTTIA was the first to present on December 9, 2021, the number of signatures required to request representation.

Throughout December and into the new year, there was no information about the signatures collected by the other CTM candidates. As January went by, a complicit silence was maintained by the Federal Center and the STPS. Finally, on January 14, the official call for the vote appeared. And… Oh, surprise, surprise, three more contending unions appeared! Two from the CTM and a ghost union from Mexico City. How and when did these three get the signatures? The only ones who could explain this turn of events are the company and the government. Now it is understood why they “changed the rules of the game:” so that they can forge signatures and endorsements, which is easier than affiliating! Besides, now with the results in sight, the other three unions together barely gathered twelve hundred votes. Another fraud was exposed!… How did each of them get almost 2000 of the required signatures, which is 30% of the total number of workers in the plant?

No more CTM rats and ghost unions! Yes, Yes… SINTTIA!

The time had arrived to make every effort to recover workers’ representation. And more and more of comrades of GM Silao came to the same conclusion: There are not four options! There is only one: SINTTIA. At the culmination of the SINTTIA campaign, the CTM thugs came to the home of the General Secretary to leave a mafia-style message to her family, to threaten her and the entire SINTTIA Committee. In addition, there were several cases of intimidation of other activists in their homes and those of their relatives.

And on the other hand, they started a desperate activity, trying to buy votes within the plant. With the endorsement of the company, they handed out pizzas, hamburgers, special meals from the canteen, as well as tamales and soft drinks…

A comrade from the SINTTIA committee confided to me that when he saw this he was worried: “I assumed that the people in the last few days would let themselves be bought. But the big surprise was in the way the workers made a mockery of the union leaders, who for a long time had betrayed the workers. They did not refuse the food. But in the end, they gave them a resounding beating.” And his conclusion was: “you have to trust the rank and file, even if they sometimes seem passive.”  Because “although the old union thugs appealed to double and triple votes and buy others, it was not enough for them”… “And when I saw the victory, I thought that it was worth the struggle of going worker by worker, reaffirming the repeated poor treatment of the company. All that effort was worthwhile and paid off.”

With the union bureaucrats’ defeat in sight, the desolation of its henchmen -many of them mercenaries-, are slowly beginning to resign from the company. But beware, they will surely move on like a plague to other companies at the orders of their bosses.

The workers’ base is very happy, and the change is sinking in. Now they are all saying, “We won!” and they are anxious to see that change reflected in their pay and working conditions. That is why SINTTIA is now facing new challenges. One of the biggest in the immediate future will be the discussion of the New Collective Bargaining Agreement. It will require intense teamwork and listening to the needs of the people.

We are facing a historic triumph that marks a new path forward and will encourage workers in many other companies in Mexico to dislodge the old guard, that malignant tumor within the union movement. And most importantly, our victory will promote the construction of true workers’ unions, independent of the bosses and the state, based on the broadest grassroots democracy, deciding in assemblies. And from the CST and the International Trade Union Network of Solidarity and Struggles – RSISL we commit – as already did CSP Conlutas of Brazil – all our unconditional support. Long live the international workers’ struggle!

[1] The CTM is a central labor union, historically integrated to the PRI – Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party). It was born in 1936, under the presidency of General Lázaro Cárdenas. And with the Stalinist Vicente Lombardo Toledano as its first General Secretary, it served as an apparatus of iron control over the workers in the service of the employers’ interests.