Thursday, October 18, 2012

The War on Workers moves south of the border

Thousands of workers and students in Mexico have been protesting in the streets over the past few weeks against a sweeping labor law reform that one Mexican unionist calls “the biggest blow against workers in the past hundred years.”

Last week union members and activists in Mexico City packed plazas and blockaded the doors of the Mexican Senate, which began its consideration of the proposed “reforma laboral.” The reform is being pushed by Mexico’s notoriously corrupt ruling party, the PRI, and big business. They say it’s designed to increase labor “flexibility” in Mexico – flexibility, of course, being their code word for attacking union rights and lowering wages for workers.

It’s as if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker put on a sombrero and took his anti-worker talents south of the border.

Mexico’s elite are set to roll back labor rights that hundreds fought and died for in the Mexican Revolution a hundred years ago. What that will mean for American workers is more of our jobs moving to Mexico.

As David Bacon at In These Times explains, Mexico’s strong labor laws are routinely violated by bosses throughout the country:
As the maquiladora factories on the U.S./Mexico border grew to employ 2 million workers (before the current recession), the actual conditions of employment changed, despite what the law said. Workdays extended well past eight hours…

Humberto Montes de Oca, international secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), notes bitterly that Cananea [just south of the Arizona boarder] was the birthplace in Mexico of the fight for the eight-hour day… “Now if you go to Cananea,” he says, “you find subcontracted workers in the mine putting in 12-hour days with no overtime pay.”
Now, with the reforma laboral, Mexican bosses want to ramp up and codify their abuse of workers.

The reform would replace daily wage rates with hourly pay, which would be 7.5 pesos (less than 60 cents an hour). It would also let employers hire workers through subcontractors and reduce companies’ liability for back pay to workers who are illegally fired. All this will make it easier for employers to fire permanent workers. It will make union organizing more difficult.

And this is bad for the middle class in the America, too. As Bacon points out, labor reform in Mexico will lead to even more outsourcing of American jobs as U.S. companies exploit Mexico’s flexible employer-controlled labor market:
The cost of the reforma laboral will be felt, however, not just in Mexico, but also in the United States. The purpose of increased flexibility is to encourage investment, including from U.S. corporations like Ford, Walmart, Kimberly Clark and others, who already play a central role in the Mexican economy. More U.S. investment also means, though, that more jobs move south. The movement of production facilitated by the North American Free Trade Agreement has already cost at least 800,000 U.S. jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

…[T]he cost of low wages and increasingly precarious work is displacement in Mexico too. Workers who can't live on 7.5 pesos an hour, or find permanent work in a new world of labor contractors, will have little alternative to migration across that border.
We hope our brothers and sisters in Mexico are able to beat back this anti-worker assault – for the sake of workers on both sides of the border.

-- Union Thug