Workers’ Rights Under Attack in Mexico

In December and January, more than 1000 supporters signed on to a UE petition opposing attacks on workers’ rights in Mexico. The petition, addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, demands that he prevent an agreement on a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while horrendous labor legislation is pending in Mexico.

In December, two Mexican legislators submitted proposals for reform of Mexico’s labor law which would make it easier to subcontract work and to fire workers without even putting the termination in writing. What makes this proposal even more outrageous is that it was submitted by leaders of so-called unions, Senators Isaias Gonzalez Cuevas of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Farm Workers (CROC) and Tereso Medina Ramirez of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Our allies in Mexico called for support from workers and unions everywhere to help them stop this legislation that will only benefit corporations, not working people. The independent, democratic unions of Mexico fear for their very survival if this legislation is not curtailed.

In 2017, positive reforms to Mexican labor law went into effect. These changes made it much more difficult for companies and corrupt unions to enter into so-called “protection contracts,” in which these parties signed contracts without the involvement of any of the workers covered by the agreement. (These contracts protect the companies, not workers.) In some cases, companies entered into these contracts before they had even hired workers. The new reforms said that workers must have the opportunity to vote on contract agreements by secret ballot, and they must be able to access a copy of their contract.

The new law proposed by these senators would undo this, and more. Changes to the the rights of workers in Mexico have a ripple effect in the North American economy. When it’s easier for corporations to exploit Mexican workers, greedy bosses have incentive to move jobs from the U.S. and Canada into Mexico. All workers suffer under such a rigged system.

UE sent out a message to our supporters and received back more than 1000 signatures on our petition to Lighthizer. We are not alone in mobilizing against this law. Over 180 members of congress sent a letter to Lighthizer decrying this legislation and its potential impacts on workers in both Mexico and the U.S. It read in part, “While many of us have ongoing concerns over additional provisions of NAFTA affecting labor, we felt it was important to highlight with a unified voice the primary source of significant outsourcing: Mexico’s low wages and lack of labor rights.”

In addition, the AFL-CIO and the UNT (the largest organization of independent unions in Mexico, which includes our partners at the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo) filed a formal complaint through the office that enforces the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), NAFTA’s labor side agreement. Their complaint alleges that this legislation violates NAALC.

For further updates on this developing story, follow UE’s “International Worker Solidarity” Facebook page at

UE Helps Set Up Global GE Trade Union Network

On November 29 and 30, UE Director of Organization Gene Elk and Local 506 President Scott Slawson traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to participate in a preparatory meeting to set up a General Electric Trade Union Network, the first international network of unions representing GE workers from around the world.

The participants in the meeting came from eighteen unions from eleven countries, including Unifor, UE’s partner union in Canada, and close UE allies CGT (France) and FIOM (Italy). One of the FIOM representatives at the meeting, Daniela Calosi, addressed the 75th UE Convention in Pittsburgh this past August.

The GE union members updated each other on the company’s behavior in the various countries. Slawson reported on GE’s intention to transfer work away from the Erie plant, and Local 506’s determination to fight it. “One thing that really encouraged me to believe this was both a powerful and genuine pact was each country learning from the others how similar the story is with a global giant like GE,” said Slawson. “No matter where you go the story was virtually the same.”

Participants at the meeting adopted a statement, which reads in part:

General Electric management disrespects the long-term commitments made with employees and communities where it operates but instead engages investors who only look for short-term benefits. Management has even intensified its attacks on … the right to engage in collective bargaining.

The goals of the trade union network include:

  • Developing cross-border union cooperation and solidarity to achieve fair and just working conditions for all workers.
  • Making workers’ voices heard in General Electric at a global and regional level.
  • Protecting and promoting sustainable jobs, social and economic justice, limiting precarious work and promoting the principles of Just Transition.

“We’ve taken the first step towards setting up a world-wide network of GE unions to make sure the company behaves itself internationally,” said Elk, “and we look forward to establishing this network at a follow-up meeting next year.”

“I am very excited about the possibilities the future holds with the formation of the GE Trade Union Network,” Slawson concludes. “I really look forward to working with our brothers and sisters from around the world. We are building some powerful relationships and some valuable allies. Together we will succeed in making a better world for all.”

The follow-up meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held next May in Toronto, hosted by UE partner Unifor.

UE Leaders Meet with Canadian, Mexican Unions to Build Continental Solidarity

On September 13 and 14, 2017, UE and Unifor representatives participated in a series of meetings in Mexico City to facilitate continent-wide labor solidarity. UE was represented by General President Peter Knowlton and Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson, and the Unifor delegation consisted of Secretary General Bob Orr and Director of Human Rights and International Department Mohamad Alsadi.

The UE and Unifor leaders met with the UNT, a federation of independent unions in Mexico, during the UNT’s weekly meeting.

Later that day, the group took part in a meeting discussing strategic trinational solidarity, which included many members of the UNT and the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME). The conversation centered around NAFTA negotiations, but also covered other possible projects to raise working standards in all three countries. Raising wages for workers in Mexico is a top priority for all the parties.

The following day, the US and Canadian unionists spent time with the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT-Authentic Workers Front) at their offices. FAT leaders shared a report about the educational work they are doing for both their members and their surrounding communities on gender equity, ethics pertaining to human rights, and developing technological skills. Participants in FAT workshops learn not only the content but also how to share the information with coworkers and family members after they return home.

President Knowlton remarked, “These exchanges deepen our understanding of the challenges faced by the independent democratic union movement, especially in Mexico, and we should be optimistic about the movement’s future. Strengthening our cross-border work and supporting each other allows us to better defend and improve the conditions of all workers across the continent — and defeat the divisiveness of corporate assaults on our living standards, like NAFTA.”

International Guests Address UE Convention

UE’s 75th national convention this year brought opportunities for strengthening our international partnerships. Eleven representatives from five unions from four countries joined us, five of whom addressed the convention.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias spoke of the shared history between UE and Unifor. UE was the first US-based union to recognize the autonomy of its Canadian locals, and in 1992, UE Canada joined the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW), one of Unifor’s predecessor unions. And he also spoke about the importance of the North American Solidarity Project being launched by UE and Unifor, to change and renew the labor movement in both countries.

He explained how Unifor’s predecessor unions, faced with an extreme right-wing government in 2011, launched the “New Union Project” to create a new national Canadian union with a new identity, structure and operating principles that could change the labor movement and the country.

He outlined several principles for this new kind of solidarity: rank-and-file democracy; a determination to go on the offensive for worker rights and to organize, speak and act on behalf of the whole working class, organized and unorganized; a comprehensive commitment to equity and a relentless struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminations that divide us; bargaining for progress, not concessions or two tier; and last but not least, an all-in commitment to labour politics that breaks the pattern of contracting out our politics to politicians and parties that neglect, minimize or compromise worker rights.


Dias spoke about the legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has devastated manufacturing jobs in the US and Canada, and has been a disaster for workers in all three countries. He is the only trade unionist who is part of the NAFTA renegotiations currently taking place, and he spoke about how “a better NAFTA” has to be about creating jobs in the US and Canada, not destroying them. “My problem isn’t with Mexican workers,” he pointed out. “It is with the corporations that exploit workers in all three countries.”

He talked about how, after a century of production in Peterborough, Ontario, General Electric announced last week that they were closing the plant, at the cost of 360 jobs, members of Unifor Locals 599 and 524. He thanked UE and Local 506 for their immediate offer of solidarity, and said that while GE often cites “global pressure” as a reason to close plants or destroy jobs, that workers united across borders could put real “global pressure” on GE.

Dias concluded by observing that “an attack on one is an attack on all, and we will all stand strong when we stand against racism and with women, immigrants and refugees and our LGBTQ+ community,” and that “the most important way for us to build a just society is through our collective voice in the labor movement.”

Watch video of President Dias’s speech here

Dominique Daigneault, president of the Montreal Central Council of CSN, spoke about how the CSN and UE first met in Mexico at a political education training with the FAT. Daigneault described the militant resistance of the Quebec labor and social movements to their provincial government’s attempts to impose austerity measures, cutting social spending.

“We occupied the banks and financial businesses – this is where the money is, in the pockets of the rich companies.” She concluded with an appreciation of UE delegates: “The world needs more union activists and troublemakers like you.”

Daniele Calosi, FIOM’s National Representative responsible for General Electric, spoke about the global crisis of capitalism which is destroying the industrial base in North America and Europe and rolling back workers’ rights. The political system has not been able to reverse this phenomenon, and even parties based in the workers’ struggle have been unable to propose an alternative to globalization.

The attack on workers’ rights is accompanied by an attack on human rights, in the form of rising racist and fascist movements, in both Europe and North America. Unions need to fight this with a strong international solidarity to fight not only for better working conditions, but for better living conditions and sustainable development. This is the reason why FIOM and UE are working together to convene a meeting to establish an international network of GE workers.

Masamichi Watanabe, Deputy Secretary General of Zenroren, described Zenroren’s two major campaigns for the coming year: preventing militaristic revisions of Japan’s constitution, and winning provisions for “decent work.” Japan’s constitution, adopted after World War II, commits the nation to peace — but the current prime minister has announced his intention to revise it to allow the revival of a “war state.” Zenroren is expanding a new coalition of labor unions, citizens, and opposition parties to oppose the prime minister’s military bravado.

Zenroren is also struggling against attempts by the government to deregulate labor protections and undermine collective bargaining. Agreements between the government, employers and company unions are not only insufficient to prevent “Karoshi,” or death from overwork, but may actually increase it. Zenroren is organizing workers to join their struggle to instead win protections for “decent work” and an increase in the minimum wage.

Benedicto Martínez, one of the FAT’s National Coordinators and a long-time friend of the UE, spoke of the long and deep relationship between the two unions. In October the FAT will be celebrating their 57th anniversary. “Of the 57 years we have been going, 25 have been with the UE,” he said proudly.

Martínez spoke about effect of NAFTA on Mexico, as people from rural areas leave the land, some of them so desperate that they risk crossing the border into the U.S. to look for work. Violence has been increasing in Mexico, fueled by the so-called “war against drugs.”

“We are mobilizing against the renegotiation of NAFTA, because we don’t want another agreement that will leave us even poorer.” He noted that the Mexican government is trying to renegotiate NAFTA quickly, because they don’t want the negotiations to still be going when they face elections, next year.