Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Freedom of press in Venezuela

Free Speech and RCTV in Venezuela

May 30, 2007 9:30 | by James Suggett

There is a heated and complicated debate going on right
now over the decision by the Chavez-led government of
Venezuela not to renew the television concession which
for years has pertained to Radio Caracas Television
(RCTV). The issue has captured international attention,
but has not been dignified by accurate reporting in the
dominant international media.

The accusations of "restrictions on the freedom of
speech", which appear frequently in the international
media, are not only inaccurate, but also simply
frightening. Frankly, the discrepancy between what is
reported internationally and what is happening on the
ground raises concern that even respected groups like
Human Rights Watch, the BBC World News, and CNN are out
of touch with the real struggles of social movements in
the Global South.

In Venezuela, as in most democracies, the right to
broadcast TV and radio are public commons, which belong
in the hands of the public in some way. Since
representative democracy is such a predominant
political model at this point in history,
democratically elected governments like the one in
Venezuela are supposed to control the public
communications commons. The government gives
concessions to private parties to use these commons
responsibly, and the government has the right to take
them away in the public interest at any time.

The decision not to renew the concession to RCTV was
made after a thorough investigation of their
journalistic ethics including accuracy, objectivity,
and their compliance with the Law on Responsibility in
Television and Radio (which was denounced by Human
Rights Watch for being a restriction of free speech).

Since 1999 RCTV has spread blatant lies and outlandish
manipulations of information directly attacking Chavez.
It has broadcasted sexually explicit and other
inappropriate material in such violation of the law
(652 cases) that any honest assessment leads to the
conclusion that their journalism is an attack on public
health and decency. Fox News is a kitten compared to

Beyond this, RCTV were leaders in the 2-day coup in
April 2002. This coup was not only one that used the
military, but also the media. During the coup, RCTV
cancelled their usual programs and broadcast a two-day
string of black and white fuzziness, Hollywood movies,
cartoons, and infomercials. This is widely confirmed by
Venezuelans. When RCTV finally covered the coup, they
reported that Chavez had signed his resignation and
peacefully left his post as president after his
supporters had opened fire on an innocent opposition
march. The images RCTV broadcasted of the violence
among the marchers were later proved to have been
secretively arranged so to block from view the reality;
pro-Chavez marchers were firing in self-defense after
having been attacked by hidden gunmen. Meanwhile, their
president had been violently kidnapped. RCTV's action
were part of a blatant and well-coordinated attempt by
the major media to assist the coup leaders by blinding
the public to what was actually happening.

Luckily, there is an extensive system of alternative
media in Latin America which spread the message of the
truth, and the Venezuelan people stormed Caracas and
put their president back in power, along with the
majority of the National Guard which did not support
the senior officers who had planned the coup. The
reporting was in fact much worse than Fox News
reporting that Florida went to Bush in the 2000
Presidential election and covering up all the
manipulations of the voter roles.

RCTV is well-known not only for constant dishonest
anti-Chavez propaganda and a complete lack of dignified
analysis, but for massive amounts of advertising for
sex hotlines, pornographic programs back to back
between 1 and 5am, and other behavior that was
considered to be irresponsible and in violation of laws
protecting children.

There remain approximately three other major stations
which are entirely opposition-run and very similar to
RCTV in their programming. Over the years since the
coup, the Chavez administration has negotiated with
these stations behind the scenes. The stations have
agreed to curb a lot of their ridiculous anti-Chavez
propaganda and sexually explicit programming, so as not
to have their concession closed. RCTV was absolutely
uncompromising, and subsequently, it lost its

Arguments suggesting that Chavez is arbitrarily
censoring those who criticize him are weakened by the
fact that the opposition's message (that there is no
freedom of speech in Venezuela) is pounded through the
most prominent radio waves, the biggest TV stations,
and through all major press every day of the week, even
after Chavez's management of media concessions.

Many Venezuelans who support Chavez criticize Chavez
for negotiating with the TV stations which participated
in the coup (and have awful programming). Many believe
those stations should have been shut down - without

Many of my Venezuelan friends reveal that they are not
immune to the media's campaigns; they were raised to
instinctively believe much of what the news reports. So
when they read news reports about the lack of freedom
of speech in Venezuela, they express a mix of feelings
- mainly confusion and anger. They almost feel silly
trying to engage in a discussion about it. Because the
obvious reality in front of them is that in Venezuela
there is freedom of speech, especially since RCTV's
closing and the opening of media outlets such as
Telesur, which broadcast other perspectives.

RCTV has now campaigned to get the OAS, the USA and
other international bodies on their side in an effort
to paint the Chavez government as dictatorial and use
political pressure to get their concession renewed. But
the law and justice are not on RCTV's side, especially
since the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, the supreme
court of Venezuela, ruled strongly in favor of the
constitutionality of the non-renewal of the concession
last week.

It is important to note that the channel that received
the concession in RCTV's place is a concrete step
toward public television in Venezuela. "Venezuelan
Social Television" (TVES) is controlled by a foundation
independent of the government, with a government
appointee on its board of directors. Further, it will
broadcast mostly programs produced by independent
parties, and will focus on quality, educational
television. No "reality shows", just reality. The
channel is nascent, which means that in reality it
could become distinct from its original vision.
Nonetheless, in these initial stages it suggests a
brighter journalistic future for Venezuela. You can
read about it in the transcript of an interview with
the director of public policy of the ministry of
communication and information, Luisana Colomine, at

Thorough interrogation of questions of democracy in
Venezuela is extremely important, particularly in the
realm of petroleum politics. Some social movements
argue that PDVSA is teaming up with transnational
corporations from the USA to cover up the devastating
human and environmental effects of oil exploitation. It
is possible that there is simply no democracy in the
oil business anywhere in the world. Why might it be
that this is not denounced by Bush and the
international media?

The non-renewal of RCTV's concession has been one of
the more positively democratic acts of the Chavez
government since Chavez's re-election. Living in
Venezuela, seeing things from this perspective, when I
hear the accusations of violations of freedom of
speech, I am absolutely flabbergasted. I feel a
disturbing sensation of powerlessness and alienation
from the international media. These issues raise
questions as to who really controls international
communication, and whether we think it is OK for a
corporation like Disney to own the History Channel.
These questions are beyond the scope of this article,
but are extremely important and directly related to
this issue.

James Suggett collaborates with both government and
civil society organizations in Merida, Venezuela,
including the Mision Sucre, Mision Vuelvan Caras, the
Autonomous Culture Institute, feminist organizations
such as the Luna Nueva Collective, and an array of
cooperativist development initiatives.

Venezuela: TV Shutdown Harms Free Expression


(Washington, DC, May 22, 2007)-The Venezuelan
government's politically motivated decision not to
renew a television broadcasting license is a serious
setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela, Human
Rights Watch said today. The decision will shut down
Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the country's oldest
private channel, when its license expires on May 27,
2007. President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly threatened
to cancel RCTV's license ever since he accused it of
supporting an April 2002 coup attempt. On December 28,
2006, he announced during a military ceremony that the
order not to renew the channel's 20-year license had
already been drafted.

'President Hugo Chávez is misusing the state's
regulatory authority to punish a media outlet for its
criticism of the government,' said José Miguel Vivanco,
Americas director at Human Rights Watch. 'The move to
shut down RCTV is a serious blow to freedom of
expression in Venezuela.'

Of the three commercial stations accessible in all
parts of Venezuela, only RCTV has remained strongly
critical of the government. The other two-Venevision
and Televen-were themselves accused of supporting the
attempted coup and subsequent anti-government protests.
But both have since removed virtually all content
critical of the government from their programming.

Venevision's license is also due for renewal on May 27,
but the government has remained silent about the
channel's future, in contrast to its repeated public
attacks on RCTV.

Officials defend the decision by pointing out that the
government is merely exercising its right not to renew
RCTV's broadcasting license when it expires. However,
no procedure was established to enable RCTV to present
evidence and arguments in its favor; the criteria on
which the decision was based were not established
clearly beforehand, nor was there any application or
selection process allowing RCTV to submit an
application for continuation of its concession.

In March 2007 the government published details of its
case-a 360-page 'White Book on RCTV'-which includes
pages of allegations against the station, some of them
based on investigations by the government broadcasting
authority CONATEL. The report was issued months after
Chávez made his announcement and does not address the
station's replies to CONATEL's investigation.

The White Book accuses RCTV of 'inciting rebellion,'
showing 'lack of respect for authorities and
institutions,' breaking the laws protecting minors,
engaging in monopolistic practices, and failing to pay
taxes. However, it does not cite a single final
judicial or administrative ruling establishing that the
channel had in fact committed any of these alleged
offenses during its 20-year contract. No one from the
channel has been convicted for their alleged complicity
in the attempted coup.

Government officials have announced that RCTV will be
replaced by a public service channel open to community
groups and independent producers and without editorial
control by the state or government programming.

The government has not made a clear case why RCTV must
be taken off the air to set up the new channel. The
government has frequencies at its disposal on both VHF
and UHF wavebands in many parts of Venezuela. It has
already used UHF frequencies to successfully install a
nationwide education and cultural channel, Vive TV.

'The government's proposal to democratize the airwaves
sounds great in theory, but shutting down broadcasters
for their political views is not the way to do it,'
said Vivanco.

Related Material

More Information on Human Rights in Venezuela Country

Venezuela: Curbs on Free Expression Tightened Press
Release, March 24, 2005

Venezuela: Media Law Undercuts Freedom of Expression
Press Release, November 30, 2004

Venezuela's Supreme Court Upholds Prior Censorship and
"Insult Laws" Press Release, July 18, 2003

Venezuela: Limit State Control of Media Letter, July 1,

Caught In The Crossfire: Freedom of Expression in
Venezuela Report, May 21, 2003


(c) Copyright 2003, Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth
Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Economia de la migracion

Economía de la migración

La migración es un asunto cada vez más relevante para comprender cómo es que funciona esta economía. Tiene efectos crecientes y directos en dos campos cruciales: el mercado laboral y el flujo de dólares. Esos efectos no son los únicos, pero están estrechamente ligados con la definición de las políticas fiscal y monetaria que han sido capaces, en los años recientes, de crear un entorno de estabilidad financiera, aunque no de crecimiento y mayor bienestar.

La gente emigra a Estados Unidos por falta de oportunidades de trabajo en México. Pero no se trata de la falta de cualquier tipo de trabajo, sino de aquellos que ofrezcan buenas condiciones de salario, prestaciones y seguridad en el empleo. Esa seguridad tiene que ver no sólo con el hecho de que su puesto sea duradero, sino que genere, también, con el tiempo, una posibilidad de retiro viable y con dinero que alcance.

Por eso es que no es igual aproximarse a la forma en que opera el mercado de trabajo en términos del empleo, entendido de modo integral, que en los de la ocupación, como lo hace el gobierno desde hace unos años. Esta modalidad de medir la ocupación como una representación de la situación del mercado de trabajo equivale a una aceptación tácita de las condiciones de precariedad que privan en el empleo.

En el centro de la economía está el trabajo y en México no se generan suficientes empleos y, menos aún, de calidad. La migración es un elemento clave para que los desequilibrios que existen en ese mercado no se muestren en toda su dimensión.

Y, además, los migrantes aportan alrededor de 25 mil millones de dólares cada año (es la segunda fuente de divisas luego del petróleo), con los que se previene la degradación mayor de los niveles de vida de una parte relevante de la población. Pero también se contribuye, así, con la acumulación de las reservas internacionales del banco central que sirven para mantener la relativa estabilidad del peso frente al dólar, es decir, ayudan a prevenir una devaluación.

Las condiciones favorables para el trabajo no se están generando hoy, y no se ha conseguido hacerlo desde hace mucho tiempo en México, casi ya durante un cuarto de siglo. La economía no crece de manera suficiente para emplear a todos los que llegan al mercado de trabajo (en torno a un millón 250 mil personas por año) y a los que deben agregarse aquellos que pierden su empleo y buscan uno nuevo. Ese es un factor que provoca que alrededor de 600 mil personas cada año vayan a buscar trabajo en Estados Unidos.

Unicamente con esos pocos datos se aprecia la relevancia del debate legislativo sobre la reforma migratoria en el Congreso de aquel país. Las reglas que se fijen para acoger a los trabajadores migratorios de manera temporal y las que se apliquen para legalizar a los que ya están allá afectarán la existencia de muchos mexicanos y la de sus familias, así como su seguridad y hasta su integridad física.

La ley sobre migración está aún en una etapa de discusión y va a tener muchos ajustes. La comunidad mexicana, allá y acá, debe estar muy atenta a la evolución de los debates, a las propuestas que se presenten y a la versión final de la legislación. Hay muchas posiciones e intereses encontrados dentro de los grupos políticos y diferencias entre la misma comunidad de migrantes mexicanos y sus federaciones en distintas partes de Estados Unidos.

Se trata de ver cuántos trabajadores serán admitidos, en qué condiciones y qué tipo de acciones tomarán las autoridades policiacas de la frontera para contenerlos.

Ante esas cuestiones cuya relevancia no puede exagerarse, llama la atención, aunque no sorprende, la pasividad del gobierno mexicano que, si bien es cierto está fuera del debate político en el Congreso estadunidense, podría hacer una diplomacia más activa, comprometida e inteligente a favor de los migrantes que el país expulsa todo el tiempo y de los cuales depende cada vez más.

Pero la cancillería carece de liderazgo, no se aprecia qué hace o cuando menos que quiere o intenta hacer. La reciente visita de la canciller Espinosa a la secretaria de Estado Rice pasó inadvertida, aunque ocurrió en medio del debate de la ley de migración y mostró la pasividad que priva al respecto en este gobierno. No hay una política estatal con respecto a la migración masiva y ésta es una grave carencia política y pone en evidencia una faceta más de un grave problema social.

La migración de mexicanos a Estados Unidos es un asunto de interés nacional y no hay estrategia alguna para enfrentarla. Pero el hecho es que esto representa cada vez más el fracaso de las medidas de gestión económica que se siguen aplicando en el país y la falta capacidad política para definir acciones que prevengan que la gente tenga que irse e, igualmente, que protejan a los migrantes. La comunidad mexicana en Estados Unidos representa cada vez más una fuerza económica y política que no puede ignorarse.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lulac opposes immigration "compromise"

LULAC Opposes Senate Immigration Compromise

Punitive proposal would exploit temporary workers,
separate families and institute draconian enforcement
measures without offering a meaningful legal pathway
for immigrants.

May 21, 2007

Washington, DC The League of United Latin American
Citizens National Board of Directors has voted
unanimously to oppose the Senate immigration compromise
finding the bill unacceptable in its current form. The
LULAC Board cited the imposition of a temporary worker
program without a meaningful pathway to permanent legal
residence, the elimination of four out of five family-
based green card categories, and the implementation of
an untested "merit-based" point system in place of our
current employment-based immigration system as
unacceptable components of the proposal.

"The Senate compromise is a radical departure from our
current system that is rooted in family and employment-
based immigration," stated Rosa Rosales, LULAC National
President. "If enacted, the temporary worker provision
alone would create a new underclass of easily exploited
workers who would be forbidden from realizing the
American Dream. This bill will dehumanize workers,
short-change employers and lead to wide-spread
undocumented immigration as many workers inevitably
overstay their visas rather than return home."

LULAC has consistently advocated for comprehensive
immigration reform that unites families, allows
hardworking immigrants already here to earn their way
to permanent residence, and allows future workers to
immigrate legally to the United States. While the
Senate compromise does provide a chance for
undocumented workers to earn permanent residence and
includes the DREAM Act and AgJOBS, the bill falls
woefully short at reuniting families and fixing our
broken immigration system with a legal pathway for
future immigrant workers.

"LULAC cannot support a bill that will separate
families and lead to the exploitation of immigrant
workers while resulting in widespread undocumented
immigration in the future," stated Brent Wilkes, LULAC
National Executive Director. "We will continue to urge
Congress to enact fair and just immigration reform that
unites families, protect human rights, creates an
avenue for undocumented immigrants to legalize their
status and allows future workers to come in legally
while providing a pathway to permanent legal residency
if they want to stay."

The League of the United Latin American Citizens, the
oldest and largest Hispanic membership organization in
the country, advances the economic conditions,
educational attainment, political influence, health and
civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-
based programs operating at more than 700 LULAC
councils nationwide.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Complex immigration proposal


Background: On Thursday, May 17, 2007, Democratic and Republican senators announced a compromise immigration proposal, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which will be considered on the Senate floor beginning the week of May 21.

In a statement released May 17, Bishop Gerald Barnes, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, expressed “significant” reservations with the legislation, citing problems with the legalization program of Title VI, the temporary worker program in Title IV, and family reunification in Title V. He stated that the U.S. bishops would work to make changes in these areas.
Title IV – Temporary Worker Program

Legislation: S. 1348 fails to provide a path to citizenship for temporary workers and their families. It also limits to two years the time temporary workers can bring their family members with them to the United States. A worker is eligible for up to 6 years. It also requires that a worker return home for a year after working for two years (two working, one at home, etc.), which could lead to visa overstays and an increase in the undocumented population.

Title V --- Family Reunification
Legislation: Title V of S. 1348 eliminates several categories of family immigration (1,2b, 3, and 4) and reduces the number of green cards available to parents of U.S. citizens to 40,000 a year. It clears up backlogs in the family preference system for anyone who applied prior to May 2005, but penalizes those who filed after that date. It replaces the family preference system with a “point” system skewed to highly educated and highly skilled workers

Title VI --- Legalization Program
Legislation: Title VI of S. 1348 would provide a “Z” visa for undocumented persons and allow them to apply for permanent residency within 8 years. Unfortunately, it would not allow immediate family members to join the eligible worker until a green card application is approved, a minimum of eight years. It also requires the visa holder to return to his/her country of origin to apply for a green card.

Please email, fax or call your Senators today (202) 224-3121 or go to

Thank you,

The Justice for Immigrants Campaign

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mexican workers fight back

Mexican Workers Call for a Continental Workers' Campaign
For Living Wages and Social Justice

Richard Roman and Edur Velasco

Capital and the state of all three countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement have worked together to push down wages and working conditions, undermine the social safety net, and privatize anything that could be turned into a source of profit. The aim of both NAFTA and the Security and Prosperity Partnership - the project of "Deep Integration") is to constitutionalize the rights of capital and undermine the rights of workers and the public. By incorporating Mexico into the geography of continentally integrated production, capital has been able to lower its wage bill and increase its power over labour. Relocation and the threat of relocation has been a powerful tool in forcing concessions on flexibility, wages, and working conditions.

Workers and unions have not effectively developed strategies of continental-wide solidarity and or fight-back. There have been some efforts in that direction in terms of solidarity with specific struggles, worker to worker exchanges, increased union contacts. A coalition of Mexican unions has now proposed a strategy of struggle that could open up the door to a more class-wide and continental approach to union and workers' struggles. While the initial proposal focused on the minimum wage, it could be broadened to include the needs of the unwaged poor as well as other rights of workers - the right to a job, the right to safe conditions of work, the right to housing. A continental fight-back around class-wide demands could reinvigorate the labour movements in all three countries. The article below focuses on the Mexican proposal and labour movement. In addition to describing the proposal, we put forth a description and analysis of Mexican unions and their role in Mexico's de! ep and ongoing crisis. Mexican workers are faced not only with a neoliberal assault on their rights and standards of living but also with an increasingly brutal and repressive state veiled in a corrupt and thin electoral process.

The Mexican Coalition

A coalition of progressive Mexican unions, democratic currents in other unions and popular movements, such as the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO),have made a bold proposal for a continental workers' struggle to raise the minimum wage in all three countries, limit the work day to eight hours, and enforce a ban on child labour. In Mexico, it is a response to the dramatic fall of real wages and the beginning of a fightback against the deepening neoliberal assault promised by the new, fraudulently elected President Calderon. The coalition campaign as the Jornada Nacional y Internacional Por la Restitución del Salario y Empleo (National and International Campaign for the Restoration of Wages and Jobs). It believes that the battle can only be won and consolidated on a continental scale. If the minimum salary and wages are raised in one country, those companies that can simply relocate to those areas where wages remain lower will do so. The floor ha! s to be raised in all three countries

The coalition is aware that a minimum wage increase in the U.S., without an increase in Mexico, will simply increase the incentive for companies to move to Mexico. They want jobs in Mexico but not at the expense of job loss in other countries and starvation wages in Mexico. They feel that these three minimum demands create the basis for a common struggle in all three countries. And while they feel the struggle should start in the three NAFTA countries, they want to spread it later to include all of Latin America and become a global campaign.

Beyond Borders: A Call for Solidarity

This proposal is a call from workers in the South to workers in the North to engage in a joint struggle against the corporations and governments that seek to play them off against each other in order to continue the downward slide of wages and living and working standards everywhere. NAFTA is part of the neoliberal assault on workers in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This assault on workers is the major part of the reason that over ten million Mexicans have been forced to leave their homes and families to work in the U.S. as the only means to survive. The proposal seeks to unite workers - Mexican, US, Canadian, Quebecois; white, Latino, and Black; those with stable and those with precarious employment, those with unions and those without, those with legal rights and those without - in a common struggle that will unite workers in all three countries. Success will bring real and desperately needed gains in the short run while building the bases for an international w! orkers movement in the longer run. The campaign entailed by such a proposal seeks to move beyond solidarity as support for other peoples' struggles and toward solidarity as a common struggle.

The minimum wage in Mexico has fallen in real purchasing power by 75% in the last thirty years. During the presidency of Vicente Fox alone from 2000-2006, it fell by 22%. Ten million workers, 24% of the economically active population, make the minimum wage or less. Fifty million Mexicans live below the poverty line. Of these, 30 million live on 30 pesos per day ($3 US), 10 million live on 22 pesos daily, another 10 million on less than 10 pesos daily. In order to buy what is officially defined as a basic household basket, a worker would have to work 48 hours daily! As well, the minimum wage affects vast layers of workers receiving more than the minimum wage as many collective agreements and labour contracts are formally or informally tied to changes in the official minimum wage.

But not all is bleak. In the same period, Mexico rose to the 4th top position in the world in the number of millionaires. And it boasts the third richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, who did very well indeed through privatizations. The top 20% in Mexico control 52.7% of Mexico's wealth while 30% of Mexicans subsist on less than one minimum salary per family per day. At the same time that the countryside has lost great numbers of people to the urban labour markets, Mexico's 40 million workers have become increasingly exploited receiving a declining portion of national income

The New Presidential Regime

The face of the new Presidency of Felipe Calderón is that of the IMF underwritten by fierce repression. The former Governor of the state of Jalisco, Francisco Ramírez Acuña, has been appointed Secretary of the Interior (Secretario de Gobernación). He took great pride in his tough handling of the anti-corporate globalization protests in Guadalajara on May 28, 2004, a 'handling' it should be noted which was widely condemned by human rights groups for their brutality, arbitrary detentions and the use of torture. His appointment has been praised by business leaders who have said that disorder and protests in Mexico need to be handled with a "firm hand." Certainly, it was Ramírez Acuña and President, Calderón that decided (a few days before the official swearing in) to use extreme force, arbitrary arrests and torture in their attempt to smash the Oaxacan popular movement.

The economic ministries went to extreme neoliberals. Agustín Carstens, (a "Chicago boy") resigned a top position at the IMF to become Secretary of the Treasury. Luis Téllez, former Secretary of Energy (1997-2000) and a directing manager of the Carlyle group since December 2003 (whose job was to "co-lead Carlyle's first ever buyout investment activities in Mexico", Carlyle News, December 15, 2003), has been appointed Secretary of Telecommunications. And Georgina Kessel, the technocrat who has been one of the key people in carrying out privatizations in previous administrations and was one of the key designers of Plan Puebla Panama, a neoliberal plan to integrate southern Mexico and Central America into North American capitalism, has been appointed Secretary of Energy. The members of the cabinet in charge of social issues come from the far Catholic right. This is a regime that has announced by words, cabinet appointments and actions i! ts intention to deepen neoliberal reforms, which would include changing labour law and privatizing oil and power.

The new government, however, faces three major obstacles: (1) its lack of legitimacy to a major part of the population who view its victory as a result of massive fraud; (2) the anger of much of the population at the decades of neoliberal attack on living standards, decent jobs and social rights now intensified with runaway price increases in basic foods in the brief period of the new Presidency; and (3) the lack of solid control of the President over the new Congress, whose party does not control either house.

Mexican Unions in the Crisis

The role of unions in Mexico's political crisis has been as heterogeneous as the character of unions in Mexico is at present. And the character of these unions has become more heterogeneous than in the past. Mexico's transition from a strongly state-dominated form of capitalist development to a neoliberal, "open" economy as well as the change from a one-party to a multi-party regime has undermined some of the mechanisms of control the old statist union oligarchy could rely upon. This union oligarchy, derisively called "charros" in Mexico, has been scrambling to protect its considerable power and wealth in this period of change. These changes in political regime and economic strategy have led the charros to try to adapt in various ways. The vast majority of unions remain thoroughly authoritarian but the already existing plurality of unions and union federations has widened as the charros maneuver to adapt to a more fluid and complex political-economic s! ituation with weakened mechanisms of control.

Both the government and big business have been pushing to revise labour law to weaken unions and legislated workers' rights. And some aspects of Mexican labour law, although not always enforced, are very progressive. Workers' rights and union power are viewed as impediments to "progress".
While unions have been severely weakened by privatization and relocation within Mexico, the attempts at labour law reform have so far been stalemated by popular resistance and legislative stalemate. The new government is determined to break this stalemate.

The existence of any union is viewed as a potential obstacle to the power of capital. Even the authoritarian, corrupt and government-linked unions often made significant gains for their members, sometimes in wages or benefits (health care and housing especially), or jobs in unionized workplaces for family members. While the margins for these gains have been sharply reduced by neoliberal restructuring, they are still important in many cases. It is these real gains for important sectors of unionized workers that have helped sustain the power of the authoritarian and corrupt union officialdom. But when these mechanisms of control fail, union officials have resorted to killings, beatings, or exclusion from union membership and consequent loss not only of jobs but of the various benefits (health, housing, jobs for family members) to maintain their power and privilege.

This weakness of democratic unionism in Mexico has been a key factor in constraining working class resistance to state authoritarianism and neoliberalism. While workers have been the mass base of the Obradorista movement against electoral fraud, working class organizations have not played a leading role in popular struggles, with the important exception of Oaxaca. The absence of a strong independent union movement or a workers' party has led to a situation in which workers have, in the main, been the base of other movements rather than having their own movement.

The weakness of working class resistance is strongly connected to the scarcity of real unions. The old system of labour control had been based on five key, inter-related pillars: (1) labour law that gave the state control over union recognition and the right to strike; (2) integration of the officially recognized unions into the ruling party and state apparatus; (3) authoritarian control over the unions by the union officialdom on the basis of state laws and links as well as the usual control mechanisms of an organizational oligarchy; (4) repression by the state and by thugs commanded by the charro officials; and, for some periods, (5) a social pact that allowed gains for limited sectors of the working class, especially in the realm of the social wage (most notably in the postwar expansion). Official unions have been part of the ruling party and union officials have either held union, party and government positions simultaneously or sequentially. Official unions hav! e been state instruments in the working class and their leaders' power brokers within the existing regime. Mobilization by these unions - or more often than not, the threat of mobilization - has had little to do with union or class struggle. Rather it has been either a card to play in intra-regime struggles or a way of cooling out rank and file pressure for real actions.

Mexican unions combine features of a state institution, a party machine, and an employment service with those of a union. In general, they historically have been run in a thoroughly corrupt and authoritarian manner. They controlled labour market access, disciplined the work force, extorted money from workers and capital, and used their labour-managing role (both workplace and political) as part of their base for negotiating their interests with management, for their influence within the power bloc/PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), which governed Mexico for 70 years until its defeat in 2000. Mexican union officials could and did become capitalists either through setting up companies themselves (or in the name of family members) or by extracting surplus from control of union institutions that could then be used for investments. But the role of the "labour" elite as political actors and capitalist entrepreneurs required their ongoing control of unions and! their related institutions. Union leaders moved back and forth between political party, governmental, and managerial positions in the public sector. They were not simply union bureaucrats but members of a hybrid elite sitting on top of hybrid institutions in which "unions" were encased.

The New Terrain of Mexican Trade Unions

Pluralism among Mexican unions and labour federations is not new. The old one-party PRI government, at times, fostered pluralism and competition among unions and federations within the limits of loyalty to the PRI and its project of capitalist development. The government applied its divide and rule strategy to labour officialdom as well as to the rank and file of the working class. Union strategies have ranged from total submission to the neoliberal project to various degrees of resistance. There are also different perspectives, programs and strategies for what a new industrial relations regime should look like. But, with few exceptions, this has not led to significant change in the authoritarian internal character of most unions. Only a small number of unions have sought to confront the neoliberal project as a whole, though many do so rhetorically.

There are presently four significant union blocs: (1) La Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), (2) El Frente Sindical Mexicano (FSM), (3) Congreso del Trabajo (CT), and (4) the Federación Democrática de Sindicatos de Servidores Públicos, FEDESSP (the nucleus and main contingent of the FEDESSP, is the teachers union SNTE of Elba Esther Gordillo). It is very hard to estimate the real number of union members as there are so many protection contracts and company unions. However, it's clear that the real rate of unionization is the lowest of the three NAFTA countries. The most militant of the union blocs are the least numerous. The FSM has about 5% of the total union membership, the UNT 10% whereas the CT and FEDESSP control about 85% of organized workers.

The national teachers union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (SNTE), has been a key element in the PRI, the PRI-PAN alliance, and recently in executing an important part of the electoral fraud for Calderón. As a reward, they have been given great control over the federal department of education. Section 22 of the SNTE, the section of the state of Oaxaca, which carved out great autonomy in decades of struggle against the national leadership, has played the leading role in the Oaxaca revolt.
The most gangsterist of the old guard charro unions continue to support the PRI and the PAN (Partido Accion Nacional - conservative Catholic party), whichever of them governs that particular jurisdiction. And they are rewarded, as was the national leadership of the teachers union, with state back-up for maintaining their authoritarian control over their members.

The moderate and authoritarian dissident unions (telephone and social security/public health) continue to play an ambiguous role, fighting to "modernize" labour relations, which in the case of the telefonistas means allying with their boss, Carlos Slim, in exchange for protection of their jobs and the social security union has collaborated with massive cut-backs of employment and public services, though, at times, being forced by their rank and file to mobilize protests. These unions, along with STUNAM, dominate the UNT, the new dissident federation, founded in 1997. They supported López Obrador in the election campaign but have now "critically accepted" the election of Felipe Calderón. They have made a pact with the congressional alliance that supports López Obrador but have distanced themselves from any extra-institutional challenges to the government. They do not participate in the Convención Nacional Democrática (! CND) - the movement against the electoral fraud and in support of the "defeated" presidential candidate, López Obrador. Nor have they issued any statement about the popular movement in Oaxaca, APPO. They seek to be a loyal opposition to the illegitimate President and to try to negotiate a new, modernizing social contract with themselves as the intermediaries.

There were many who hoped that the UNT, in spite of its authoritarian and cautious leadership (its leader, Francisco Hernández Juárez, after all, was a favourite unionist of the neoliberal President Salinas, 1988-1994), would set in motion a democratizing dynamic and start to organize workers.
But they have failed to make any serious efforts in that direction. Their strategy has been moderate mobilization to pressure for negotiations with the government. They are completely averse to any challenges to the regime that would threaten them either by state repression or rank and file revolt.

The more militant and left unions and democratic currents of other unions tend to be part of the FSM (Frente Sindical Mexicano). Two of the key unions there are the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME) and the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (SITUAM).

While the working class continues to be the mass base of the major revolts (Obradorista and Oaxaqueno), only a small number of unions play an important role in these revolts. But those that are involved in popular struggles do so alongside other forms of working class organizations, such as neighbourhood associations and democratic currents in non-democratic unions. The working class as a class has not yet found its own voice and organizational forms of struggle in Mexico's national crisis with the exception of the APPO. This is the key missing ingredient in the possibility of a successful national struggle to defeat the authoritarian, neoliberal government.

México 2007: The Labyrinth of Counter-revolution

The new presidency started with two big bangs. The first was the massive repression of the popular movement of Oaxaca. Though its' most brutal and decisive act took place a week before Calderón took office officially, it can be seen as the first major act of the new presidency. The second was the combination of a miserly increase in the official minimum wage with runaway inflation in the costs of basic food commodities (especially tortillas). And most recently there has been an assault on the pensions of public sector workers (raising the age of retirement, reduction in average pensions, individualization of pensions and privatization of their management)

Calderón is determined to overcome the roadblocks to deepening neoliberal restructuring and continental integration that stymied the previous Fox presidency. The roadblocks were based on the pressure of popular resistance on the divided and vacillating members of the old ruling party, the PRI, leading them at times to oppose key structural reforms. As the Right did not have a majority by itself in the old Congress -- and doesn't in the new - the opposition of the PRD combined with the vacillation of the PRI was able to block the passage of key legislation around labour law reform and privatization. The Calderón government is determined to overcome these obstacles by brutal repression of popular protest on the one hand and the squeezing the PRI where it hurts-their lucrative links with the drug lords. They can pass legislation and harass movements through these measures but they can't gain legitimacy. The more they rule by force, the less legitimacy they will! have. The government of the Right is determined, violent and mean-spirited but their rule is fragile.

While the events of the last year show the fragility of the project of the Right, they also show the limitations of the popular resistance, a resistance that is wide and deep but also fragmented and without strategic unity. Calderón has attempted to appear as the hero on horseback in the midst of a society with close to all-out war among the drug lords for control of the main drug routes. The violence of the drug wars reached unprecedented levels in the first months of the new presidency, with weekly tolls of dozens dead in cities such as Monterrey, Acapulco, Veracruz, Guadalajara and Morelia. Calderón's use of the armed forces to regulate and attenuate the drug wars allows him to appear as the guarantor of law and order to the general public while he uses and normalizes the use of the armed forces to control social disorder, and movements of social protest. But, more immediately, it gives him great leverage for negotiating with the PRI in those states and c! ities in which they remain strong and have significant congressional representation. As many local media sources have asserted, if Calderón can determine who will survive and participate in the huge drug market, the PRIistas will play ball in other areas, so as not to be displaced from the lucrative subterranean activities in which their local and regional leaders appear to be involved.

The use of the armed forces in the various states has given Calderón the leverage he needs in Congress to have a majority for his reforms: the elimination of what's left of the welfare state in Mexico, a fiscal reform aimed at a new cycle of redistribution of wealth away from the poor and working people, and the private appropriation of what's left of the public sector, most importantly the oil and power industries. He can now destroy those PRIistas that resist his neoliberal reforms. The arrival of Calderón to the presidency has made the International Monetary Fund much more optimistic about reforms in Mexico, as they stated on April 13. The hour for a Mexican fast-track has arrived: the definitive dismantling of the ruins of the old Estado Nacional Popular and an open road to the complete neoliberalization of Mexico.

The overwhelming majority of the population, however, opposes this reactionary assault. The mass popular resistance is a diffuse conglomerate of forces linked more by nostalgia than by a common national project. The popular forces continue to have a tremendous capacity of mobilization and a powerful public presence. This has begun to split the country into two realities: the one, the institutional; the other, that of the street. For the moment, the conservative "majority" that controls the major institutions seems unstoppable.

The Mexican Resistance and a Continental Campaign for Living Wages

The popular forces of resistance are in an orderly retreat without being demoralized or discouraged. There is still a combative spirit but there is not (yet) a dominant view of the tactics and strategy of the fight-back. The popular resistance is debating, taking stock, exploring different paths and will likely emerge again more strongly in the coming period. They know that Calderón lacks a popular mandate and that his power is ephemeral, resting only on the extortion of the PRI politicians, but that as a whole, his proposals are thoroughly unpopular.

The simmering popular discontent and the relentless offensive of the Right - as well as state elections in Oaxaca and elsewhere - makes it likely that the next months will be ones of intense struggle. The labour and political left, grouped in its diverse variants, is preparing for a counter-offensive. The SME was able to once again bring together the major national currents of popular resistance in the Cuarto Dialogo Nacional (4th National Dialogue) in early February 2007: the communal farmers of Atenco, APPO (the popular movement of Oaxaca), the Frente Sindical Mexicano, the CNTE as well as about 600 other organizations (unions, social movements, indigenous organizations, left currents) who agreed on a common plan of action for the next months whose first actions occurred in the first weeks of May.

The big mobilizations of this past March are a good indicator of the possibilities. The Convención Nacional Democrática (CND) brought tens of thousands into the streets on March 25, filling the Zócalo, in a great act of opposition to the program of Calderón. Only two days later, a new mass mobilization took place, of which only a small portion had been involved in that of the CND, now composed of the labour opposition to the reactionary government, that brought tens of thousands of workers onto the streets of Mexico City in opposition to the counter-reforms of the pension system pushed through by Calderón. And the EZLN (still absent from the great coalitions of resistance of the last few years) has initiated a second national tour of the Other Campaign, preparing sections of the population who have lost hope in the institutional political spaces, for playing an important role in the rapid movement of the country towards increasingly shar! p confrontations. Mexico is in a situation of catastrophic equilibrium in which the counter-revolution has not been able to consolidate power with legitimacy but in which the forces of resistance have not been able to do more than slow down the assault. The new government is seeking to break the equilibrium through a blitzkrieg of deeper neoliberal reforms and heavy-handed repression. The popular forces are groping for ways to move beyond resistance to a majoritarian rebellion for a different Mexico.

Progressive unions and other segments of the working class have played important roles in mobilizing resistance to neoliberalism and fighting for democracy and justice. But for a long time, growing working class anger has been contained by the gangsterist unions as well as union structures that have only mobilized to protect the interests of their own oligarchic leaders or, less frequently, their own members. As most of the working class lacks unions, they have been with limited organized expression in defence of their own interests. For that reason working class discontent has expressed itself more in the form of support for other movements (Obradorism) or as local movements without national articulation. The very limited existence of genuine unions has been a major obstacle to the working class playing a significant mobilizing role in this extremely proletarianized and increasingly pauperized nation. The goal of the la Jornada Nacional e Internacioal Por la Restit! ución del Salario y Empleo is to put working class demands at the center of the struggle in Mexico and to do so in a manner that is national and international at the same time. If Canadian and US workers can join with Mexican workers in a common campaign of struggling for decent wages, workers' rights, and an end to poverty, the contours of a new North America would begin to emerge.

Edur Velasco Arregui is a trade union activist and Economics Professor at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City.

Richard Roman is a member of Canadian Union of Public Employees local 3903, and a professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto from 1974-2003.


Jornada Nacional y Internacional Por la Restitucion del Salario y Empleo National and International Campaign for the Restoration of Wages and Jobs

November 8, 2006

The most important social pact is the Constitution. However, for three decades, successive federal governments have flagrantly violated the terms of Article 123 of the Constitution: they have not promoted job creation, they have discouraged and boycotted community or cooperative efforts to create employment, tolerated and even encouraged exhausting and inhumane workdays, ignored the use of child labour, and above all, have made the constitutional definition of general minimum wages a dead letter: a wage "sufficient to satisfy the normal needs of a head of family; in material, social, and cultural areas; and to provide the obligatory education to their children."

Therefore, by systematically betraying their oath to "observe and uphold the Mexican Constitution", those who have governed during the neoliberal cycle have condemned the majority of the country's workers to a harsh choice: hunger or superexploitation.

Today, in order to pay for the basic "family basket" (canasta básica) - composed of food, personal hygiene and household cleaning products, transportation, electricity and domestic gas - workers earning the minimum wage would have to work 48 hours a day, and many more than that in order to also cover rent, education, health care, clothing, recreation and cultural activities.

Over 10 million workers - 24 percent of the workforce - receive less than the minimum wage, or no wage at all [e.g. when heads of families are contracted to fulfill a specific task with the understanding that other members of the family will also work, though without pay] Some manage to obtain an income higher than the minimum wage by holding two or more jobs. Millions of households have found themselves obliged to send their elderly or their children to work in order to raise the household income to the absolute minimum needed for survival.

Between 1977 and 2006 the Mexican minimum wage lost 75 percent of its purchasing power, one of the most brutal drops in average people's incomes that has taken place on the planet.

This phenomenon has not occurred by coincidence or by accident; it is the consequence of a sustained plan by the various federal governments, on several different pretexts: to control inflation, attract foreign investment or generate jobs.

All of these justifications have been proven false. Inflation has shot up several times, due to stock market and currency speculation as happened in 1987, due to catastrophic governmental errors as in 1994-95, or due to the global policy of price liberalization. This data demonstrates that the only commodity whose price is being controlled is the work force, through a minimum wage that keeps them in abject poverty.

Foreign investment plummeted in the current six-year presidential term, during which the country has also lost 5 percent of the formal jobs registered by the Mexican Social Security Institute. The real motives of those in power for pulverizing minimum wages are different than the pretexts mentioned above: to dismantle workers' organizations, eliminate their historic conquests and create conditions favouring the increase of profits on national and foreign capital.

The strategies for wage containment constitute a deliberate policy of plundering from millions of Mexicans for the benefit of a handful of millionaires. They represent, as well, the most brutal offensive by capital and its allies in the governmental sphere - the President, the Secretaries of Finance, Work and Social Security, Economy, and even the legislature and the judiciary - perpetrated by those occupying the highest offices in the governmental structures, in order to systematically and flagrantly violate the Constitution.

Of course, keeping wages down has not translated into lower inflation, nor into economic reactivation or job creation. On the contrary, its consequences have been the infuriating and alarming intensification of misery and poverty, the concentration of wealth in only a few hands, the weakening of the internal market, and the enormous growth of the informal economy.

These disastrous economic results have alarming parallels at a societal level: the deepening of inequalities, an abysmal drop in the standard of living of the general population, a pronounced deterioration in health, education and housing, massive emigration, the rending of the social fabric and unquantifiable suffering for the majority of the population.

The national economy has been brought to a point in which work has ceased being a right and become instead a privilege. However, if the majority of the "privileged" who have a formal job are being obliged to accept starvation wages, the perspectives for the unemployed are much worse.

With or without jobs, fifty million Mexicans are below the poverty line:
some 30 million live on 30 pesos per day, that is to say, two thirds of the current minimum wage; 10 million live on 22 pesos a day, and a similar number subsist on 12 pesos and 21 centavos a day. Whether they have a job or not, these millions of Mexicans are not being offered any future other than to become beggars or criminals or to try their luck venturing toward a northern border that has become ever more hostile and deadly.

The implications of the offensive against salaries on the political, institutional and legal spheres has been no less pernicious. The country is confronted with a federal authority that openly violates constitutional precepts, a government that has opted to ignore its legal obligations, a political authority that promotes the dispossession of the many for the benefit of the few, provokes the deterioration of institutions, promotes the discrediting of public authorities, and subverts the possibilities of Mexicans being able to live peacefully and harmoniously together.

The government policy of depreciation of the minimum wage and, in general, the lack of observance by governments of what is stipulated in Article 123 of the Constitution, are not merely infractions of the law, but rather have resulted in a country that is morally unsustainable, politically ungovernable, socially uninhabitable and economically unviable.

Society as a whole, and in particular workers' organisations, are facing the duty to rescue the primordial agreement on which the ability to live together peacefully rests in Mexico, which is the Constitution. It is necessary, therefore, to call a national mobilization to defend Article 123, for the following purposes:

***To demand the fulfillment of the constitutional definition of the minimum wage, which "must be sufficient to satisfy the normal needs of a head of family; in material, social, and cultural areas; and to provide the obligatory education to their children."

***To ensure that the right to dignified and socially useful work is respected.

This call is to:

***organise ourselves, nationally and internationally, to ensure that the Constitutional mandates are fulfilled.

***undertake political and juridical actions aimed at restoring the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

***hold regional, national and international forums to ensure that Article 123 is respected.

***hold a "March for Wages and Work", on December 7, in Mexico City.

For the above reasons, we call together workers, women, peasants, national and international unions, the unemployed, informal workers, non-governmental organisations in Mexico and overseas, students, migrant workers, human rights organisations, people excluded by neoliberalism and by the political powers that have turned their backs on our Constitution.

"We want a fair minimum wage, work and opportunities within our Mexico, now! Mexico City, November 8, 2006


Frente Sindical Mexicano (FSM) Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME), Alianza de Tranviarios de México (ATM), Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares (SNTMM), Confederación de Trabajadores y Campesinos (CTC), Sindicato de Trabajadores de la UNAM (STUNAM), Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM), Federación Nacional de Agrupaciones Sindicales (FNAS), Consejo Nacional de los Trabajadores (CNT), Coordinadora Nacional Politécnica (CNP-IPN), Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoría Sindical (CILAS), Cooperativa Pascual, Coalición Nacional de Trabajadores del INEGI, Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Industria Nuclear SUTIN, Sindicato de Trabajadores al Servicio de los Poderes del Estado (STSPE) Querétaro, Assemblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educa! ción (CNTE ), Lic. Arturo Alcalde Justiniano, Diputado Federal Ramón Pacheco Llanes y Diputado Federal José Antonio Almazán González, Centro de Análisis Multidisciplinario de la Facultad de Economía (CAM-UNAM), Sindicato de Trabajadores de Transporte del D.F. (STTPDF), Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra la Privatización de la Industria Eléctrica (FNRCPIE), Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD).

In charge of publication: Fernando Amezcua Castillo Secretary for External Relations of the SME.


Call for a Continental Campaign for a Living Wage and End to Poverty

The processes of continental integration and the relentless offensive of neoliberalism against working people has created the potential of beginning to builda continent-wide struggle for decent wages. There already are a variety of struggles in each of our countries but they are presently isolated one from another. Our hope is to take advantage of the potential to link up and build something broader and deeper while respecting the autonomy of each movement.

The initiative for a continent wide movement for decent wages was first taken by a coalition of progressive Mexican unions, democratic currents in other unions and popular movements who made a bold proposal for a continental workers struggle to raise the minimum wage in all three countries this past November. We are trying to continue the momentum and extend it to include addressing the needs of all those in or near poverty by forming a Toronto committee that could then reach out to make links with the rest of Canada and Quebec as well as Mexico and the US.

This campaign could therefore link working people of all three countries
-- Mexican, US, Canadian, Quebecois; white, Latino, and Black; workers with stable jobs, precarious jobs or no jobs at all, those with unions and those without, those with legal rights and those without -- in common struggle against poverty in all of North America. We hope you will join us to build this movement and develop these links.

We urge you to form a local or regional committee in your areas. Please let us know of your activities and we will begin to develop a network of committees in each country and across the continent.

Please endorse the following call for a continental campaign for higher minimum wages and circulate to interested people or organizations:

We, the undersigned organisations, hereby endorse the call by Mexican organisations for a joint campaign to increase the minimum wage in Mexico, the US and Canada to levels that allow working people to provide a dignified standard of living for themselves and their families in whichever country they live in. We agree to work together with other like-minded organisations in all three countries on concrete activities to promote this goal.

Signed: ________________________________
On behalf of: ___________________________

For more information, contact


Key organizations in the Mexican Minimum Wages Coalition

The following section will provide some background on the main organizations involved in la Jornada Nacional e Internacional Por la Restitución del Salario y Empleo The statement and list of the sponsoring organizations follows, in Spanish. The committee is broader than the Frente Sindical Mexicana (FSM) which includes some of the organizations below but also others not affiliated with the FSM, which is not a federation but an alliance. There is a fluidity and overlap in various coalitions, some being more ad hoc and temporary, some more long-term. Some unions belong to several alliances and also to a federation. Some unions do not belong to any federation.

The SME (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas -- power workers). SME has about 60,000 members, employed by Mexican Light and Power. The union celebrated its 92nd anniversary this past December and is well known for its long history of internal democracy with competitive elections and changes of leadership. It is also a very nationalist union and has often been the key organization in forming broad alliances and struggles over workers' rights and the protection of national patrimony. It has been the main driving force in the FSM and is held in high esteem by democratic unionists in Mexico.

SNTMM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana -- miners and steelworkers union).

SNTMM has around 70,000 members. The previous government of President Vicente Fox deposed its leader who is now in informal exile in Vancouver, supported by the USWA (United Steelworkers of America). The government deposed him and installed a stooge after the union sharply criticized the government and the company involved for a big, deadly mining disaster in Pasta de Canchos, Coahuila on February 19, 2006 in which 65 miners were killed. It is not a very democratic union and has a very top-down and centralized leadership but has shown growing militancy in recent years.
The base is very combative and the vast majority of members and locals support the deposed leadership. There have been big strikes and battles with the police over union autonomy and workers' demands. It is a member of three groupings: CT (the official federation of unions), the UNT and the FSM. The battle of the SNTMM with the government over union autonomy continues.

STUNAM (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). STUNAM is a union of about 30,000 members at the largest university in Latin America (300,000 students), and developed out of the student struggles of the early 1970s. It is a union that works closely and collaboratively with the administration of the university. It is affiliated both to the FSM and UNT.

SITUAM (Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitan). It is the union of UAM, with about 5000 members (blue-collar, white-collar, and academic), and is an extremely democratic and combative union. As with the SME, there are tight restrictions on re-election. A member can only serve in a particular office for one term and can only serve as a union official for a total of two terms in a lifetime for a total of four years, It is a key actor in the FSM. Its political role is much more important than its size would indicate. It recently hosted the founding convention of the APPM (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico, an attempt to make national and transnational the model of struggle and organization of APPO-see below for APPO). It also was the moving force in starting the Coordinadora Intersindical Primero de Mayo (Inter-union Coordinating Committee May First) in 1995 which grouped militant unions, dissident union currents! and popular movements in a common front. Inter-Sindical May 1 had a brief role in linking left unions and popular forces but later died a quiet death.

APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca). This coalition of teachers and a variety of popular organizations carried out a generally peaceful but militant urban insurrection against repression, authoritarianism and neoliberalism. They controlled and ran Oaxaca City for over 5 months until the massive state repression on November 25, 2006. The core of the movement, initially, was the Oaxaca state section of the teachers union, Section 22, which is part of a national dissident organization within the teachers union, the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (CNTE). The APPO was a popular assembly, a coalition of Section 22 and a great variety of popular forces. It exemplifies a model of popular, democratic insurrection and governance. Though brutally suppressed, it survives and there are ongoing attempts to form a national APPO.

CNTE (National Coordinator of Workers in Education -- teachers). The CNTE is an organized national alliance of dissident teachers currents in the SNTE (the national teachers union). The CNTE has existed for over 30 years within the SNTE despite assassinations, disappearances and firings carried out by the SNTE. The SNTE is a gangster-charro union with over a million members. The CNTE is anti dual unionist but does carry out its own campaigns. It consists of a few state sections, some locals and dissidents in other sections. The CNTE is very militant and often has deep community roots and engagement in broad, popular struggles, as in the case of Oaxaca.

FAT (Frente Autentico de Trabajo). The FAT was founded in 1960 as a Catholic reformist organization with the intent of developing independent unionism and cooperatives. It became secular over the years and has played a central role in promoting democratic and autonomous unionism and promoting labour law reform. It is composed of unions, cooperatives, and both producers and neighbourhood associations and, in total, is estimated to have between 30,000 and 40,000 members.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Union organizer killed in Mexico

Union worker's murder alarms U.S. activists

Santiago Cruz moved to this northern Mexico city to help organize Mexican farm workers bound for the United States under a legal guest-worker program. His killers spared him no agony.
They bound his hands and feet with strips of T-shirt, strangled him using a beach towel adorned with a cartoon U.S. dollar bill and smashed his head through a wooden banister.

The slaying last month remains unsolved, alarming human rights activists on both sides of the border. Police won't talk about their investigation, but Cruz's friends say they're certain he was killed because of his efforts to stop corruption in a little-known program that brings seasonal workers legally to U.S. farms.

Cruz worked for the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The committee represents thousands of Mexicans who travel to the United States each year with H2A visas, which the United States grants to workers recruited abroad.

Two weeks before his death, Cruz had begun an education campaign in nearby villages aimed at stopping rogue recruiters from extorting illegal fees from farm workers headed north.

''We were shaking up big forces,'' said Castulo Benavídes, the union's Monterrey director.

Cruz was found murdered April 9 in his office. His possessions were undisturbed and now are packed into a lime-green suitcase with no immediate destination.

Globs of crimson blood still dot the walls and floors.

Union supporters have blasted authorities in the state of Nuevo León for not solving the crime yet.

Last week, the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged the state government to find the killers and protect union members.

The union has renamed its office -- in a nondescript strip mall near the U.S. consulate -- the Santiago Rafael Cruz Justice Center and has started a fund for his family.

The AFL-CIO has condemned the murder, as has the city council in Toledo, Ohio, where the farm labor committee is headquartered.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is trying to organize a congressional delegation to visit Monterrey and investigate Cruz's death and alleged corruption among recruiters of temporary agricultural workers.

The committee represents about 6,000 seasonal farm workers, many of whom travel each year under the temporary H2A agricultural visa to the tobacco, cucumber and sweet potato fields of North Carolina.

The workers are recruited by companies that, under contract from farms in the United States, screen them in Mexico, process their U.S. visas and transport them north. About 50,000 workers are projected to travel to the United States this year under the H2A program.

Under U.S. law, the employers must pay the costs of paperwork and transportation, but farm workers complain that some recruiters charge them for those expenses.

Three years ago, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee opened its office in Monterrey, where most H2A visas are processed through the U.S. consulate each year.

''From the time we got there, we weren't popular with the recruiters,'' said committee President Baldemar Velásquez, a Texas-born Mexican-American reared as a farm worker who's now based in Ohio.

Before Cruz's death, intruders had ransacked the office twice, Velásquez said.

Cruz, who'd arrived in Monterrey about six weeks before his death, grew up in Oaxaca state in southern Mexico. He'd begun working with the committee in Ohio after entering the United States illegally.

About a year and a half ago, Cruz quit the committee and took a job at a tomato-canning plant to earn more money. While he was working there, U.S. immigration agents detained him and sent him back to Mexico. The committee offered him a job in its Monterrey office.

© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Write a letter to your Congressperson : Terrorism

Your Representative:

I am outraged that Judge Kathleen Cardone has now dismissed all charges against the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, because of the refusal of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President Bush to take decisive action and declare him a terrorist, as well as their deliberate mishandling of the immigration case against him.

Posada has never renounced his terrorist history, and his presence in Miami is a clear and present danger to the community. Each time he has been freed from prison, he has continued to direct mercenaries to carry out his terrorist attacks.

I urge you as my representative to demand that Alberto Gonzales: 1.) Classify Posada as a terrorist; 2.) To begin the process for extradition for Posada Carriles to Venezuela, as required by the 1922 U.S.- Veneuela extradition accord, to face 73 charges of murder in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner.

Finally, you must demand of the Bush administration to stop harboring Luis Posada Carriles. It is a shame that our nation is harboring a recognized terrorist while campaigning against terrorism around the world.


Monday, May 07, 2007

NO trade deal with orrupt Columbian regime

'No Trade Deal With a Corrupt Regime'

By James Parks,

May 2, 2007, AFL-CI0 Now

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade
unionists. Nearly 2,300 union leaders and members have been
murdered there since 1991 and the government routinely ignores
or violates internationally recognized workers' rights.

Last year alone, 72 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia.
Yet the Bush administration continues to push for a trade deal
with that country.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe found out today that U.S.
working families will not tolerate their country making deals
with a corrupt regime. Uribe was met with strong opposition to
the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) from protesters,
activists and union leaders as he traveled across Washington,
D.C., trying to sell the deal.

The Bush administration submitted the deal to Congress in time
to be considered under its Fast Track trade- promotion
authority, which expires June 30. But workers in both
countries say the deal with Colombia should be renegotiated
because it will hurt workers and push back efforts to bring an
end to the violence against union leaders and ordinary

Outside the Center for American Progress near the White House,
where Uribe held a press conference today, nearly 100
demonstrators marched, carrying signs saying 'Just Say No to
FTA' and 'Colombia: Frightening Terrorist Agreement.'

Nine demonstrators laid on the sidewalk in body bags to
dramatize the violence against innocent people in Colombia.

Bob Baugh, director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council,
told the crowd, 'This is a rotten deal.'

John Garces, a Colombian exile whose father was murdered by
paramilitaries, said, 'It pains my heart that the Uribe
government has done nothing to stop the killing of innocent
men like my father, whose only crime was to work to help
better the lives of his fellow workers.'

Now, after all these years of weakening the rights of
workers, of harassing them and murdering them, the
Colombian government has negotiated a free trade agreement
with the United States that will make it almost impossible
for workers in Colombia to ever recover. The entire labor
movement in Colombia is protesting this agreement. If the
FTA was actually going to bring jobs and development to
Colombia, then that wouldn't be the case.

Earlier in the day, the AFL-CIO issued a strong statement
condemning the free trade agreement with Colombia. Four
hundred trade unionists have been killed in Colombia since
Uribe took office in 2002. And his government has made
'repeated-but ineffectual-promises to end the situation of
impunity in the country,' the statement said.

In those cases where the killers are known, government-
supported paramilitary groups or the armed forces or
police have been found to be responsible. Many of Uribe's
senior advisors have been revealed to be connected to the

This is a corrupt nation and a corrupt regime.

Therefore, we stand with working people in the United
States and Colombia and say no to the [free trade
agreement] with Colombia.

After meeting with Uribe this afternoon, AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney said he delivered the message that the federation
is strongly opposed to a trade agreement at this time.

Colombia's atrocious human rights record sets it apart
from the rest of the world. There is no labor language
that could be inserted into the U.S.- Colombia FTA that
could adequately address the extraordinary-and unpunished-
violence confronting trade unionists in that country.

No labor chapter, no matter how well crafted, will be
sufficient to reduce, much less end, the incidence of the
most extreme and deadly violations of the right to free
association and collective bargaining. And no trade
agreement with Colombia should be considered until the
country meets an established set of human rights

According to the AFL-CIO statement, those benchmarks for
Colombia should include:

* Severing all ties with paramilitary organizations and
international criminal networks. * Making significant
advances in investigating and prosecuting crimes against
trade unionists. * Providing protection for unions and
trade unionists. * Bringing Colombia's labor laws into
conformity with International Labor Organization (ILO)
standards. * Supporting the ILO office in Colombia to
monitor labor rights compliance and investigate key cases
of assassinations of trade unionists.

At the press conference, Uribe tried to defend his
government's actions, saying he has committed no crime, but
that he has made mistakes. He said he is trying to move
Colombia toward 'institutional democracy' and fight terrorists
at the same time. But at times it seemed Uribe confused
opponents of his government with terrorists.

For example, when asked if he would prosecute multinational
companies that had been shown to have hired paramilitaries to
maintain order among workers, Uribe replied that one of the
first things terrorists do is try to discredit institutions
such as employers, the army and the police.

Responding to another question about reports that human rights
abuses by security forces are on the rise in Colombia, Uribe
said he wants to move toward better protection of human rights
but must be careful not to destroy the army and police in the
process. Never once did he say he would commit to stamping out
human rights abuses or ensure workers' rights.


United Nations Special: Human Rights of Migrants

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights provides this backgrounder on Special Rapporteurs and update on the ongoing U.S. visit of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants, to encourage participation and provide documentation and recommendations to the SR on the human rights of migrants.

United Nations Special Rapporteur (S.R.) on
The Human Rights of Migrants

U.S. Visit 2007

Background & FAQ

What are U.N. Special Rapporteurs?

Special Rapporteurs (SRs) are independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries (country mandates) and on human rights violations worldwide (thematic mandates). The thematic mandates cover a wide range of issues relating to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the human rights of migrants, violence against women, the rights of internally displaced persons, freedom of religion and arbitrary detention, among many others.

What do Special Rapporteurs do?

The functions of SRs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations. Most SRs also receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to governments asking for clarification and concrete measures to end rights violations.

In what sense are Special Rapporteurs 'independent'? What is their relationship to the United Nations?

While the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the United Nations provides the SRs with the personnel and logistical assistance necessary for them to carry out their mandates, SRs nonetheless serve in their personal capacity, and do not receive salaries or any other financial retribution for their work. The SRs are expected to fulfill tasks that are outlined in specific UN resolutions, but their independent status is crucial for them to be able to fulfill their functions in all impartiality. SRs are prominent human rights experts from various walks of life. They include academics, lawyers, economists, and former and current members of NGOs and come from all regions of the world.

What can be achieved through country visits by Special Rapporteurs?

Amongst their activities, SRs carry out country visits at their request and at the invitation of the country concerned. Country visits are considered a particularly important means by which to highlight human rights violations in a particular country and in placing pressure on the government to remedy the situation. They enable the SR to familiarize him or herself with all aspects of the situation on the ground, and are an excellent way of analyzing and understanding a situation in the light of every possible circumstance. A country visit usually lasts about 2-3 weeks, during which SRs interact with both governmental and non-governmental actors, including human rights and civil liberties organizations, victims of human rights violations, affected communities, the concerned government officials and agencies at both the national and local level. These visits usually require freedom of inquiry, including access to relevant facilities, such as prisons and detention centers. The SRs then submit a report of their visit to the Human Rights Council, presenting their findings, conclusions and recommendations.

What is the specific mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants?

The mandate of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants was created in 1999 by the Commission on Human Rights (replaced last year by the Human Rights Council) to "examine ways and means to overcome the obstacles existing to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, including obstacles and difficulties for the return of migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation." The SR's broad mandate includes the human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants, including issues of 'irregular migration,' such as smuggling, trafficking, and asylum seekers.

What are the main functions of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants?

The main functions of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants include requesting and receiving information from all relevant sources, including migrants, regarding violations of the human rights of migrants and their families; formulating recommendations to prevent and remedy such violations; promoting the application of international human rights norms and standards; and recommending actions and measures at the national, regional and international levels. The SR must also take into account a gender perspective when analyzing human rights violations of migrants, including the occurrence of double discrimination and violence against migrant women.

What sort of impact can such a visit have on the situation of migrants in the United States?

The visit of the SR is a good opportunity for communities and community organizations to raise national awareness and to shine international spotlight on the human rights violations of migrants in the U.S. The SR visit to the U.S. is also an opportunity to offer good solutions, share good human rights practices and policies which would significantly improve the condition of migrants. While the SR report and recommendations on his visit to the U.S. are not legally binding, they still carry moral authority and obligation in terms of the U.S. commitment to universal human rights standards, very often asserted by the U.S. in its foreign relations with other nations. In the conclusions and recommendations provided by the SR, pressure may be applied on the U.S. government to rectify the situation and meet universally recognized standards of fairness, due process and minimum respect to the human rights of migrants.

Who is the current SR on the Human Rights of Migrants?

Since 2005, the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants has been Mr. Jorge Bustamante, a Mexican national. Mr. Bustamante is a Professor of sociology teaching international migration and human rights at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana and was the Chairman/Rapporteur for the group of experts on the UN world study on International Migration and Human Rights from 1996 to 1999. Mr. Bustamante replaced Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro of Costa Rica, who had held the mandate since 1999. His biography can be found at:

U.S. Visit Schedule (as of April 27th, 2007)

Monday, 30 April

San Diego

9:00am Tour of migrant encampments
10:30am Meetings with community groups, NGOs etc. (AFSC, ACLU offices)
5:30pm Community Forum

Tuesday, May 1

8:00am US Customs and border protection: San Diego Sector headquarters (8.00 am - 12.00 pm)
PM Travel from San Diego to Los Angeles

Wednesday, May 2

Los Angeles

AM Meetings with community groups, NGOs etc.
PM Observe May Day marches and rallies

Thursday, May 3

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dia del trabajador

Sindicatos independientes se declaran en pie de lucha

01/05/2007 14:24

México, DF. Organizaciones de sindicatos independientes y campesinas se declararon en pie de lucha contra las reformas estructurales, y advirtieron que no permitirán que les arrebaten conquistas y derechos sindicales.

Los nueve oradores ante el mitin de las diversas organizaciones obreras, campesinas y sociales que confluyeron en el Zócalo de la ciudad de México, coincidieron en mantener la lucha contra lo que, dijeron, constituye una embestida a sus agremiados y para la derogación de la nueva Ley del Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado (ISSSTE).

Los integrantes de la Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) y del Frente Sindical Mexicano apoyaron los planteamientos de los dirigentes y quemaron figuras de Elba Esther Gordillo y Joel Ayala.

Agustín Rodríguez, presidente colegiado de la UNT, advirtió que los trabajadores no dudarán en emplazar a una huelga general de continuar acciones contra la clase obrera como la reforma a la Ley del ISSSTE.