USW Joins Mexican Labor Representatives to Detail Repression, Assault on Rights and Wages at U.S. Congressional Briefing

Sep 13, 2011, 18:40 ET from United Steelworkers (USW)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Mexico's independent unions, which are facing ongoing repression from authorities and corporations while the working people they represent are being driven deeper into poverty through the erosion of their wages and human rights, today took their plight to the U.S. Congress.

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The briefing was sponsored by Representative Mike Michaud on behalf of the Congressional Labor Caucus and International Worker Rights Caucus.

"More than 15 years ago, we were told that NAFTA would create a thriving middle class in Mexico," said Michaud. "Economists and government officials said that the agreement would lead to growing trade surpluses and that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be gained. As our friends from Mexico can attest, NAFTA did not bring these benefits. Instead, workers' rights are being violated on a regular basis, and both the U.S. and Mexico are worse off for it."

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW), agreed. "It is clear that the agenda of the Mexican government is to keep workers' wages low and use that as an economic tool, and we are here today so that representatives and their staff have the opportunity to hear the facts. The Fox and Calderon administrations in Mexico have done everything they could to repress the independent unions that were actually raising the standard of living for Mexican workers.

"The U.S. government must condemn this repression and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to bust unions in Mexico," Gerard told the congressional caucus.  "It is to our advantage to help Mexican workers expose the kind of oppression and persecution they face every day. And it is very important to workers in America that Mexican workers get an opportunity to raise their standard of living."

The three Mexican union leaders who spoke at the event were: Francisco Hernandez Juarez, general secretary of the Mexican Union of Telephone Workers (STRM); Marco del Toro,  legal counsel of the National Union of Mine, Metal Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM), also known as Los Mineros; and Sergio Beltran Reyes, internal and external affairs and recording secretary for Los Mineros.

The panel of union leaders provided a detailed accounting of the widening threat to the well-being and livelihoods of Mexican workers, increasing violent acts against unions and the growing and detrimental inequality between U.S. workers and their Mexican counterparts.

They explained the decline in real wages in Mexico hurts not only Mexican but also U.S. workers by encouraging plant relocation and depressing Mexican consumption of U.S. exports. Each testified the North America Free Trade Agreement has lowered the standards and working conditions for workers in the United States and Mexico.

Mexico's independent unions—like Los Mineros, the Mexican Union of Telephone Workers and Mexican Electrical Workers Union—are aggressively working to improve wages, standard of living, and health and safety standards, particularly in Mexico's dangerous mines and steel mills, Gerard said.

Francisco Hernandez Juarez said: "We are going through very difficult times and are on the receiving end of a high level of aggression and anti-unionism by the Mexican government and business leaders. The attacks on Los Mineros and its elected leader, the dismissal of more than 44,000 electrical workers and the threat of a new labor law are all designed to reverse 100 years of rights for Mexican workers. The Mexican government, through its spokespeople, has been trying to sell the idea that they defend labor and human rights. We'd like to show how they do not."

Sergio Beltran Reyes said in addition to speaking for Mexican working people at the briefing, the group would also meet with congressional representatives to discuss the worker rights and safety standards. He highlighted the repeated efforts by the Calderon administration to strip Los Mineros of its right to exist as the union continues a four-year strike by 1,100 copper miners over safety issues against Grupo Mexico.

"We are taking this opportunity to paint a picture of the status of worker rights in Mexico and to outline the persecution faced by unions and leaders there. The diminishing of workers rights and very low wages produce an unequal standard between wage levels in Mexico and the United States. This is affecting the United States, which is looking to create jobs for workers here," said Marco del Toro.

The four labor leaders, after the briefing, had additional private meetings with representatives and their staff.

Contact:   Ben Davis, 202-550-3729; bdavis@usw.org.
Gary Hubbard,  202-256-8125; ghubbard@usw.org

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)



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