We are witnessing a conflict that divides waters within the Mexican left and the independent trade union movement and that announces a possible “Mexico for the future” that the working class must fight against. Demos S.A. is an editorial company with a profile inherited from the left and progressive discourse. But for years it practices peaceful coexistence with the PRI regime.
By Pavel Polska
Based on SITRAJOR publications
Since 2015, the company argued that the newspaper is experiencing financial problems and made changes in some management positions to apply “spending cuts” with a capitalist approach. Yet, it kept a layer of privileged with very high salaries, in contrast to the precariousness and reduction of income of more than 200 unionized workers. The majority of unionized workers decided to start the strike. Well-known intellectuals who promote the candidacy of Andrés Manuel López Obrador went out to accuse the strikers of “threatening the existence of the newspaper” and playing for “a black hand” that wants to prevent his triumph in 2018, leaving him without an important allied sector of the press. They even called an action to “scare” the striking workers. López Obrador himself expressed his solidarity with Carmen Lira Saade, an important industry leader.
This is the center of the debate with these “progressives.” What kind of “left” calls a mobilization to threaten workers’ struggles? Is a pro-industry and anti-worker “left” running to rule Mexico?
How the current conflict began
In 2015, drastic changes began in the company, threatening that if benefits were not reduced to workers, “the newspaper would disappear.”
After months of talks, the workers agreed to reduce, once, by 27 percent, 16 clauses of the collective bargaining agreement (CCT) for 14 months. Thus, the company would stop paying 21 million pesos to unionized workers and 5 million to trustworthy personnel (hierarchical). The cut was from May 13, 2015 to July 12, 2016.
The company agreed to inform the Commission on a monthly basis the fate of the workers’ contributions and that the 26 million from the cuts would be used to recapitalize the company, pay taxes, and to seek the necessary modernization for the newspaper to be placed at the cutting edge in electronic media, including developing other forms of income, such as classified ads. It never fulfilled that commitment: at least 12 million pesos were spent on dismissing bosses and collaborators who had worked with the previous manager, Jorge Martínez, who was dismissed in March 2015.
They put a shareholder in his place, Luis Linares Zapata, who insisted that the cuts to unionized workers were a priority and he would take savings measures for the company later. He only completed the first part – to reduce benefits to the workers – and when he proposed measures to correct the administration, he was not allowed, so he resigned in May 2015. They named the Public Accountant Tania Paulina Olmos in his place, who had elaborated the audit and ignores the newspaper market and the principles of La Jornada. She only promotes a “savings plan” geared towards affecting the unionized staff and, in return, hire trusted staff – family or unconditional.
The attack against the trade union
After this period, and facing the impossibility to obtain another agreement with the Independent Trade Union of Workers of La Jornada SITRAJOR, to liquidate all the benefits, the company applied its capitalist logic to get out of the economic crisis: it demanded the annulment of the Collective Labor Contract and with it, the union organization that has 32 years of life.
The company began a drastic onslaught and, from January of this year they unilaterally stopped paying all the benefits to CCT and only pay base salary and vouchers to workers.
At the same time, the company filed a “Collective Conflict of Economic Nature” with the labor authorities, requesting to legitimize what it has already done illegally. SITRAJOR called for a strike for violations of the CCT; labor authorities – not coincidentally – did not comply with the obligation to notify the company. So the strike summon was postponed five times! Finally, the strike was voted by a large majority on Friday, June 30, 2017. 133 union members voted in favor, 64 against and 6 abstentions. The list showed 203 unionized.
Since January, the company unilaterally stopped paying workers from 29 to 45 percent. The legitimate response of the workers was to strike.
The four-day strike
In compliance with this democratic and majority decision, the unionized workers of SITRAJOR began the strike and carried out guards from July 1 to 4 in front of the newspaper. They had the support of numerous unions such as Telefonistas (switchboard operators), STUNAM, the Mexican Union of Electricians, Miners, and groups of young people who came to the camp.
With the help of scabs, they published the newspaper. During the strike, the manager and about twenty trusted people, several bosses, and some 30 union members stayed in the facilities to continue publishing the newspaper. These copies were painted by the strikers with two legends “Made by scabs” and “Illegal newspaper”.
On Sunday, July 2, at night, the strike camp received the notice that the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JLCA) declared the strike non-existent. This means that the movement was ignored, arguing that it had not been decided by the majority. And it wanted to back up such fallacy based on a list of affiliates from 3 years ago.
SITRAJOR filed a writ of protection and managed to suspend this measure from the JLCA so as not to be forced to return to work in 24 hours. The resumption of work was done after signing an agreement during the early morning of Tuesday, July 4, at the JLCA. The agreement between the company and the union was made with the commitment that there would be no corporate reprisal, as well as no unjustified dismissal, and to foster an atmosphere of understanding to continue the conciliatory talks and thus be able to reach a solution on the economic situation. They returned to work at 12 noon on Tuesday, July 4, with this commitment that there would be no dismissals.
Brutal harassment towards union workers
The company once again violated its commitment, and the day after the resumption of work it began to harass the strikers, changing schedules, breaks, and sectors without justification.
The workers in assembly voted different proposals – they even offered up to 35 percent in all the clauses of the CCT for a year, which would allow the company to stop paying between 28 and 30 million pesos. This was rejected by the company, which required cutting 100 percent of the contract. Under advice from specialists in the field, SITRAJOR proved that the CCT is not the cause of the economic problems but the excessive operating expenses, the neoliberal administration, and the indirect expenses. In addition, the employer’s closure prevents reaching agreements with workers. They contradicted what they have defended for years in the newspaper pages. They reproduced the worst employer practices against workers, which have only demanded respect and unrestricted compliance with the Collective Labor Agreement.
Lawsuits: In open complicity of the judicial power with the company, criminal accusations arrived at the end of July, the General Secretary Judith Calderón Gómez; the Secretary of organization, Leonardo Mondragón Román; the son of the leader, Alejandro Caballero Calderón, and days later those accusations also involve a striker, Maricela Delgado Dueñas. They are accused of “illegal deprivation of liberty” during the strike of June 30, 2017.
Unjustified dismissals: In August, as they approached the internal elections of SITRAJOR and the ballots were being organized to renew the Executive Committee, without reason the leaders Judith Calderón, journalist, with 33 years of seniority, and Leonardo Mondragón, teacher in economics and systems technician, with 22 years, were unjustly dismissed.
As we can see, “the black hand” and those that “conspire against the existence of the newspaper” are among the shareholders and the management of the company.
The attacks continue… Resistance and solidarity too! Si Si! SITRAJOR!
In this framework of internal harassment and repression, union elections were held at the end of August. But the will to fight was not broken. The sector that supported the company and benefit cuts was widely defeated. A new Committee was elected by 116 votes to 29, and Kenny Molina was elected Secretary-General. In retaliation for this triumph of the bases, on Monday, September 4, the company dismissed another 6 workers; all participants in the strike, and union members who demanded respect and compliance with the CCT, the Federal Labor Law, and the Mexican Constitution.
The most recent outrage was the dismissal, in mid-October, of the Secretary of Finance of the new Trade Union Committee, Mario Contreras. So far, 9 are dismissed: five women and four men, seniority ranges from 20 to 33 years. In light of all this offensive of the employers and the regime’s judicial power, solidarity has been felt from the beginning, and it continues. Numerous unions attended the massive event at the door of La Jornada on August 24, and then reiterated their support at various events in the Zócalo and in front of the CDMX prosecutor’office.
In October, international solidarity has taken a leap, with the support received from the 3rd Congress of the CSP Conlutas of Brazil, where more than 2,500 trade union delegates from all the immense country participated.
The solidarity received by union representatives from 21 countries present at the Meeting of Workers of the Americas, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is also stimulating. In addition, we must highlight the important support received from unions in the US, Canada, and Mexico, gathered in Chicago to reject NAFTA on October 18 and 19, and the activities held in front of the Consulate of Mexico.
In summary: The international campaign to support SITRAJOR is underway! To defend SITRAJOR is to defend independent trade unionism in Mexico.
We call to continue making statements of solidarity to the workers of the newspaper La Jornada and its SITRAJOR union: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Translation: Corriente Obrera.
Paco Ignacio Taibo II y Rafael Barajas Conference “El Fisgón”: https://youtu.be/XwVh1nc49eo