By DON McINTOSH
An independent union won a landslide victory at a General Motors plant in central Mexico Feb. 2. The win is a breakthrough for efforts to free Mexican workers from corrupt employer-dominated unions.
Workers in Mexico commonly have “union” contracts that they never see, vote on, or have any say in negotiating. Instead, the terms are agreed to between employers and unions that are tied to PRI, Mexico’s long-dominant political party.
At the GM plant in Silao, a city in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, workers make Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, and earn less than $25 for a 12-hour shift under the terms of their “union” contract.
But under the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, which replaced NAFTA in 2020, Mexico committed to labor reforms. Under the new labor laws, all existing union contracts must be voted on by May 1, 2023.
The union election at the GM Silao plant came after workers succeeded in throwing out a previous contract that was negotiated without their input. Workers overcame intimidation and election meddling. Unionists from Brazil, Canada, and the United States joined an international delegation to observe the vote. In the end, the Independent National Union of Auto Workers (SINTTIA is its Spanish-language acronym) picked up 78% of the vote. Turnout among the plant’s 6,300 eligible voters was 88%.
Once the results are certified by Mexican labor authorities, SINTTIA will enter negotiations with GM. Under Mexico’s reformed labor law, the union has six months to negotiate a contract and get it approved by a majority of the plant’s workers.
SINTTIA has committed to democratic union practices and accountability to its members in the collective bargaining process, and it plans to fight for wage increases, bathroom breaks, food and transportation paid for by the company, and better ability to take vacation time.
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler called the SINTTIA win a significant victory not only for workers in Mexico but around the world: “In a democratic union, workers will advocate for higher wages and improved health and safety standards at the Silao facility, helping to set new standards in the automobile industry,” Shuler said in a statement.