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Empowering Mexican auto workers

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16 July, 2015Harnessing global solidarity and ensuring better coordination to change the rules of the game in Mexico’s booming auto industry, was the main goal of a workshop organized in early July by IndustriALL Global Union with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).

The event on 7-8 July, brought together union representatives from Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan and Mexico, who have negotiated collective agreements in the sector, as well as leading academics and labour specialists, and officials of IndustriALL and the FES. This was the third global encounter of its kind.

Mexico is currently the world’s fourth largest auto exporter, employing 580,000 workers, a number set to grow considerably over the coming years.

The rapid growth is explained by the fact that minimum wages in Mexico lag 20 per cent behind wages in China and are among the lowest in Latin America. There is almost a total absence of free and independent unions in Mexico, where 90 per cent of the contracts are ‘protection contracts’ (sham contracts signed by ‘representatives’, often lawyers, without the knowledge or consent of workers). These unfair advantages, combined with the benefits of a skilled workforce, proximity to North American markets and a well-established export industry provide an irresistible lure for multinational auto companies from around the world.

Helmut Lense, IndustriALL auto director, said:

IndustriALL and its leading affiliates in the sector are committed to help improve the wages and working conditions of Mexican auto workers. Dealing with multinationals from around the world means dealing with different corporate and trade union cultures; the key here is to ensure that the objective remains the same even if the approaches are different.

Our work must be grounded in concrete actions in specific workplaces to bring about real change for Mexican workers. And we must make sure that both from inside and outside Mexico, we work together and move from individual to collective efforts.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Fernando Lopes added that IndustriALL would continue to use global networks, works councils and global framework agreement to build genuine unions, both in car assembly plants and in the auto parts supply chain:

If unions genuinely want to represent and defend workers, we are ready to assist them.

IndustriALL and IGMetall representatives committed to resolve the situation at BMW, where local management last year bought a ‘protection contract’ over the internet three years before the planned opening of the factory in 2017. They also committed to reaffirm full support to IndustriALL affiliate STUHM, the union fighting for recognition at a Honda plant.

Participants adopted a declaration in which they agreed to hold the Mexican government to its commitments arising from the recommendations from this year’s International Labour Conference, to support calls for Mexico’s ratification of ILO Convention 98 and to improve coordination and improved collective bargaining.