AMLO & Mexican Workers

David Bacon
Saturday, January 25, 2020

At the time the original NAFTA was implemented in 1994, supporters claimed it would raise incomes in Mexico and would slow migration from Mexico to the US. By 2005, however, the World Bank found that extreme rural poverty jumped from 35% to 55% within four years after NAFTA took effect. By 2010, 53 million Mexicans were living in poverty. In the 20 years after NAFTA went into effect, the buying power of Mexican wages dropped-the minimum wage's buying power plummeted by a staggering 24%.

In NAFTA's first year, one million Mexicans lost their jobs. The peso crash of December, 1994, was directly connected to NAFTA. Yellow corn grown by Mexican farmers then had to compete with corn from huge US producers, subsidized by the US farm bill. Corn imports into Mexico rose from 2 million to over 10 million tons, driving 2.5 million Mexican farmers and farm workers off their land.

In 1990, 4.5 million Mexican migrants had come to the US. In 2008 that number peaked at 12.67 million. About 9% of all Mexicans now live in the US. This displacement and forced migration was a direct consequence of the economic damage the treaty dealt to Mexico's economy.

Both the old and the new agreements require the US, Canada and Mexico to enforce their own labor laws. But for over a quarter century NAFTA abjectly failed to do this. There was never even a pretense that the treaty could be used to defend labor rights in the U.S.  Mexico's laws guarantee workers the right to form independent unions, but throughout NAFTA's reign workers' attempts to organize were met with firings, beatings and broken strikes. NAFTA's labor side agreement failed to reinstate a single fired worker or force the signing of a single union contract.

After two decades of pressure from progressive Mexican unions, Mexico has finally passed a law strengthening the rights of Mexican workers. Many unions here in the US supported the long effort to win those reforms. The USMCA supposedly will require Mexico to enforce the new reforms more rigorously. But even if the USMCA requires Mexico to obey its own labor laws, freeing US corporations to invest and operate in Mexico will have the same disastrous consequences the old agreement produced.

In the meantime, Mexican unions, especially those on the left, have to figure out what to do about the challenges presented by the labor law reform.  And the relationship between unions and the new administration of Andres Manuel López Obrador are not easy, even though leftwing unions were an important part of the movement that made his election possible.  One example is what is happening between AMLO and the Mexican Electrical Workers.

In one recent press conference AMLO called the union “possibly the most democratic union in Mexico's history, until they viciously destroyed it in the neoliberal period.” Noting that its 44,000 members had been fired in 2009, he called for a solution to the conflict. He denied charges that the union was corrupt, but then called for consulting the discredited former leaders of the union, who had accepted government's payoffs after the firings. But thousands of the SME’s members refused to give up their union. Instead, they spent the next eight years “en resistencia” (in resistance). 

This response provoked outrage from the union’s leaders. SME General Secretary Martín Esparza replied: “We walked miles and miles in demonstrations, faced with dignity those who fired the workers. We did not sell out, even as our families suffered, and we didn't just sit back with our arms folded and wait for answers. In fact, we proposed viable and novel solutions.”

That solution is a cooperative that has taken over many of the facilities where SME members formerly worked, including the Necaxa power station in the reporter's question. It represents the union's hope of putting back to work the thousands of electrical workers thrown into the street a decade ago.

When López Obrador carefully noted the union's reputation, he was acknowledging the importance of its 100-year history on the Mexican left. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union, the oldest democratic union in Mexico, was founded in 1914 when the armies of Emiliano Zapata took Mexico City.

In 1898, the Compania Luz y Fuerza del Centro (the Power and Light Company of Central Mexico, LyF) was founded in Canada, and granted a concession by President Porfirio Díaz to generate, transmit, distribute, and sell electricity in central Mexico. In the middle of the Mexican Revolution, LyF workers organized the SME primarily because Mexican workers were paid much less than those working for the company from Canada and the United States.

In 1916, the SME organized Mexico’s first general strike. Union leaders were imprisoned and condemned to death, but their lives were ultimately saved by huge demonstrations. In 1936, the SME went on strike against the U.S., British, and Canadian owners of Luz y Fuerza. Mexico City went without electricity for ninety days, except for emergency medical services. The strike led to the negotiation of one of the most important labor contracts in Latin America. This contract preserved SME’s independence from the government, unlike other Mexican unions, and made it an important organization on the Mexican left.

In 1937, Amendment 27 of the Mexican Constitution made the oil and electrical industries the property of the state. Then, in 1949, the Comisión Federal de la Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission, CFE) was established to provide power to all of Mexico—except for the area served by LyF. Nevertheless, private companies like Luz y Fuerza continued to operate under government concessions.

In 1960, the SME began to push for the nationalization of electrical power. The Mexican government subsequently purchased 90% of LyF shares.  President Adolfo López Mateos added a paragraph to Article 27 saying the Mexican government has the exclusive right to provide electricity to the country.

The Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de Electricidad de la República Mexicana (Sole Union of Mexican Electricity Workers, SUTERM), headed by Rafael Galván, was established in 1972 for CFE workers. Galván, however, was expelled from the union for opposing government policy. He then organized the Tendencia Democrática del SUTERM, (Democratic Tendency of SUTERM), whose leaders were all fired. That union consequently became a pillar of support for Mexico’s governing party, the PRI. Since then, the two unions have represented the two poles in Mexican labor: an independent democratic organization with left politics, and a bureaucratized union tied to the PRI and the government.

Lopez Obrador referred to this history last month, making a call on unions to democratize.  He mentioned the historic examples - Rafael Galvan - Tendencia Democratica 1970s, Demetrio Vallejo and Valentin Campa - railroad workers strike in the 50s, Othon Salazar in the first teachers' movement, before the CNTE, MRM  50s. 

AMLO said, "We know how they were destroyed.  Finally, the SME, which was an example of union democracy, and they stopped it.  Now there are very few examples of democracy in unions."  He made this speech because the new labor law requires open election of leaders, and he is urging unions to comply.  Not so much the unions on the left as the ones on the right, that have filed suit in an attempt to block the law.

But even the unions on the left have a challenge:

No estamos en contra o en favor de ningún gobierno, pero reconocemos que en éste hay una forma distinta de gobernar. Definir cómo tenemos que actuar sin perder de vista nuestro papel histórico - Enrique Enríquez Ibarra, secretario general de la sección 9 de la Ciudad de México.

In his speech to Mexican Congress during his inauguration, López Obrador charged that 36 years of neoliberal economic reforms had lowered the purchasing power of Mexico's minimum wage (now worth about $4 U.S. per day) by 60 percent. "Neoliberal economic policy has been a disaster, a calamity for the public life of the country," he charged. "During the neoliberal period we became the country with the second highest rate of migration in the world—24 million Mexicans, living and working in the United States... We will put aside the neoliberal hypocrisy. Those born poor will not be condemned to die poor."

Last April the government took one step toward undoing this neoliberal inheritance, when the Chamber of Deputies and then the Senate passed a labor law reform bill proposed by López Obrador's party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).

Workers and independent and progressive unions in Mexico hope the new government will undo many of the policies that have tilted the economic and political playing field sharply toward corporations. Labor law reform is just one component of such a process, but the debate around it highlights the extent to which conditions for workers and unions have deteriorated in three decades, and their impatience to reverse course.

The new labor reform deals primarily with the rights of unions and the workers that comprise them. For more than half a century, a set of established, conservative ("charro") unions have been tied to the government and the PRI, which ruled for most of that time. In return for political support, "charro" leaders held office sometimes for life, with no accountability to their members. Labor boards made up of representatives of conservative unions, employers, and a pro-employer government made it extremely difficult for workers to form independent organizations.

In thousands of workplaces, "charro" unions and employers negotiated secret "protection" contracts guaranteeing labor peace. Whenever workers would try to organize independently to win better wages and conditions, employers would claim a "protection" union already represented them, which would pose an enormous legal obstacle to the workers in any attempts to establish their own unions.

In the quarter century since the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, independent and progressive unions have grown despite the obstacles. The strength of the old unions, meanwhile, appears increasingly hollow as their membership declines.

The MORENA labor law reform drastically changes practices of collective bargaining and internal union life. Leaders must now be elected by direct, secret ballot, making them more accountable to members. Contracts must be public, and members must have the right to vote on them. Unions that don't comply will lose their legal status. And labor tribunals—as part of the judicial system—will replace the old pro-company labor boards. The law explicitly covers domestic workers, but not agricultural workers.The near-unanimous votes in both chambers in favor of the reform demonstrated just how badly the old unions have lost power. Carlos Aceves del Olmo, the head of the largest, the Confederación de Trabajadores de México, called the law "impossible to implement." He fumed that the new Secretary of Labor Luisa Maria Alcalde,was just a puppet of her father Arturo Alcalde, one of Mexico’s most respected labor lawyers.

Another old-line official, Rodolfo González Guzmán of the Confederación Revolucionaria de Trabajadores threatened that the new law would lead to the "fragmentation" of the labor movement. But a third, Isaias Gonzalez, a member of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana, reluctantly admitted that "times have changed and unions can no long oppose free elections."

Some progressive unions, however, felt the reform didn't go far enough—in part because it did not reverse a fundamental change in Mexican labor law made in 2012 under then-President Felipe Calderón. The 2012 reform allows companies to outsource, or subcontract, jobs, which was previously banned. It allows no-cause termination during workers’ first six months on a job, and allows for part-time and temporary work and hourly pay rather than day-long rates. Workers can be terminated without cause during their first six months on the job.

"All of the independent unions support the changes in the new MORENA law, but many say they're not enough," according to Hector de la Cueva, director of the Independent Center for Labor Investigation and Union Research. The law’s critics include unions for telephone workers, electrical workers, and employees at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The changes deal with the collective rights of workers," de la Cueva explains. "But in terms of their individual rights, workers are still vulnerable."

In just one example of the consequences of the 2012 law, Grupo México, one of the world's largest mining companies, was able to replace strikers at the huge Cananea mine in Sonora by contracting out their jobs. Inexperienced replacements died in mining accidents, and allowed a huge spill of toxic mine tailings into the Sonora River, contaminating communities and sickening residents. Nevertheless, the miners' union supports the MORENA reform, in part because its leader, Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, was elected a MORENA senator.

At the time of its passage, Arturo Alcalde called the 2012 reforms "an open invitation to employers, and a road to a paradise of firings." Subcontracting proliferated. In Mexico City alone, 22% of the labor force, or about 800,000 workers, are now subcontracted.

According to Benedicto Martínez, co-president of the independent union federation, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (Authentic Labor Front, FAT), "The motivation of the government, assisted by corporate unions, was to encourage the layoff of longtime employees, who could be replaced by subcontracted workers. There are companies now where all the workers are subcontracted, who have no employees of their own at all. The conditions are very low, just slightly above the legal minimum, and sometimes below." The FAT also supports the MORENA reform.

"The government and Congress say that there will be another period of discussion of the second stage of reform, beginning in September, but nobody really knows if this will happen," de la Cueva warned. "The companies are very unhappy even with the current reform, so it will really depend on what happens in society at large."

Other unions would like to address additional issues. University workers, for instance, can't organize a national union, so each union is tied to a single institution. At the Autonomous University of Mexico, workers on strike were told by university authorities, apparently unworried about the new pro-labor atmosphere, that they'd put their best offer on the table, and wouldn't negotiate any further.

In addition, the new law sets out a period of four years before the labor tribunals will replace the old labor boards. During that period a growing number of workers will undoubtedly demand elections for their leaders, and will petition for legal recognition of new unions. 

Labor Secretary Luisa Alcalde set up the Coordinating Council of representatives of government bodies, including the courts, to plan the implementation.  She set up as well a new agency called the National Center for Conciliation and Union Registry.  The old charro unions are continuing their protests, and several now have gone to court to get orders to stop the law entirely.

There is no budget yet for the new tribunals, and setting them up and training their personnel will be very costly. That became a political football in the U.S. when AFL-CIO's President Richard Trumka at first refused to support the labor provisions of the new U.S., Mexico, Canada Trade Treaty. “Sham unions,” Trumka charged, have signed 700,000 'protection' contracts. “That means that they’ll have to change 175,000 [leaders] a year over the four years that they’ve been given in the agreement and they’ll have to have 175,000 elections.”  In the end, though, despite the opposition of several large U.S. unions, Trumka caved in to pressure from the Democratic leadership in Congress, which wanted to show that they could make compromises with Republicans, even while they were impeaching Trump.

It's unlikely that all workers under those contracts will ask for those elections all at once. But the pressure on the "charro" unions is growing. "The most basic section was ending the system of company unions," de la Cueva believes. " One effect will be the democratization of ‘charro’ unions, and independent unions are preparing to take advantage of the new situation. There will be a new wave of workers' struggles—in fact it's already happening."

López Obrador himself was responsible for the first wave of such demands, when in his inauguration speech he promised to double the minimum wage on the U.S.-Mexico border. Keeping his word, on January 1 he raised that wage from 88.36 pesos ($4.63) per day to 176.72 pesos ($9.25) per day. Then in January and February, taking the promise seriously, over 40,000 of the 70,000 maquiladora workers in Matamoros plants walked off their jobs demanding its fulfillment.

The maquiladoras are the product of an economic development policy begun by the Mexican government in 1964. The attraction for foreign companies has been a wage level far below that of workers just a few miles north in the U.S., and the lax enforcement of environmental and worker protection laws. Along the border today, more than two million workers labor in these factories.

In January a year ago, Matamoros factory owners declared that they would not increase their workers’ wages because they were already making what López Obrador had ordered. According to Juan Villafuerte Morales, General Secretary of the Union for Workers in the Maquiladora Industry, workers were earning between 156 and 177 pesos per day. Villafuerte’s union is part of the CTM. On the border, CTM unions have acted as labor enforcers for the government policy of using low wages to attract foreign investment.

However, Julia Quiñones, director of the Border Committee of Women Workers in Ciudad Acuña, says employers were playing tricks in the way they calculate wages. “The base wage in most maquiladoras is 90–100 pesos. But workers also earn a number of bonuses—for productivity, attendance, transportation, and other reasons. They depend completely on these bonuses. When the workers said their base wage should be doubled, as the government promised, the companies said they’d eliminate the bonuses and the result would be the same as not raising the wages at all.”

In Matamoros older workers remember the pre-NAFTA era when their wages were higher, and when the CTM union was run by a more militant leader, Agapito González Cavazos. From the late 1950s to the late 1980s, the period in which the maquiladora industry mushroomed, the Matamoros maquiladora union had 50,000 to 60,000 members. In the 1970s, when the national minimum wage was 140 pesos (then worth $11.20), in Matamoros it was 198 pesos ($15.84). In 1983, González negotiated a famous agreement with a 43 percent salary increase, and an arrangement in which workers were paid for 56 hours of labor, but only worked a 40-hour week.

González Cavazos opposed the neoliberal reforms of then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, which included privatizing national enterprises, ending land reform, and preparing the ground for NAFTA. In February 1992, as NAFTA’s terms were being finalized, Salinas had him jailed. At the time, González Cavazos was negotiating union contracts with 42 companies, including General Motors. Both the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO in the United States protested his arrest.

In the NAFTA era that followed, labor opposition weakened and wages fell drastically. In 1992, just before the agreement was ratified, González Cavazos was demanding the equivalent of $19.50 per day. Today's minimum wage, even after being doubled by López Obrador, is $9.27. The workweek has gone back up from 40 hours to 48 hours in most factories. Making matters worse, while Matamoros’s maquiladora wages aren’t the lowest in Mexico, the cost of living on the border is much higher than in the rest of the country.

The price of basic necessities is actually higher in supermarkets in Mexican border cities like Matamoros and Tijuana than it is just across the line in Brownsville and San Diego. In Matamoros a pound of serrano chiles now costs 55 pesos, more than half a day’s wage at 88 pesos.

Delfina Martínez, a worker at Trico Componentes, discovered in her paycheck that the company had raised her wages by just five pesos a day. Then she found out it wasn’t going to pay the 3,000-peso annual bonus either. "We went to the union, and on Saturday we put up the red and black strike flags.”

Matamoros workers organized wildcat walkouts to pressure factories into raising wages and the aguinaldo. Soon, work stopped in many plants, especially those producing auto parts for U.S. assembly plants. According to the Matamoros Maquiladora Association, companies lost $100 million in the first ten days.

Thousands of workers marched through the streets in January and February, and accused Villafuerte of caving in to company demands. Many organized an independent network, called the Workers Movement of Matamoros. The groundswell forced Villafuerte to announce an official strike for a 20 percent increase in pay, and an increase in the productivity bonus from 3,500 pesos (about $175) yearly to 32,000 pesos (about $1600). On January 24, the union's members walked out of the 45 factories covered by its contract with the maquiladora owners.

Rolando González Barron, a leader of the employers’ association, called the workers “ignorant” and threatened to fire them if they participated in strikes. Nevertheless, within days almost all gave in, to get their workers to return to the assembly lines. It wasn't total victory. There were violent attacks on workers in at least three factories in March. Coca-Cola fired many workers, and then reopened its bottling plant after being struck for 50 days.

The new labor law reform may face some of its first tests in elections for office in the CTM unions. Maquiladora elections have a violent history. Twenty-five years ago, when Martha Ojeda ran for president of the CTM local in the huge Sony plant in Nuevo Laredo, CTM officials rigged the process. Workers walked out of the plant in protest, and were beaten and driven from the gates with fire hoses. Workers smuggled Ojeda herself across the border to Texas to escape arrest. She later became the director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, which has since assisted workers in many subsequent organizing efforts.

In 2015, thousands of farm workers went on strike against U.S. companies in Baja California. In response, police fired on crowds and terrorized neighborhoods where workers lived. Instead of recognizing workers' new independent union, growers signed "protection" contracts with the CTM, certified by the local labor board. Strikers were blacklisted. Later that year workers tried to register an independent union in four factories in Ciudad Juarez. Some 120 workers making ink cartridges for Lexmark were fired, as were another 170 at ADC Commscope, and many more at Foxconn and Eaton.

Just before AMLO was sworn in, workers were preparing to vote on the miners' union as their representative at the giant PKC wire harness plant in Ciudad Acuña. CTM rioters marched into the facility, shouting "¡Mineros Afuera!" They overturned ballot boxes, had the election canceled, and had minero representatives beaten.

"There is a lot of resistance to the new reform," says de la Cueva. "There are still the bands of golpeadores that show up during labor conflicts. It's unclear that the government will be able to stop these mafiosos."

Quiñones feels the López Obrador administration was slow to support workers in the streets of Matamoros. “I expected more,” she said. “Workers are tired of abuse and exploitation, and if they can see some hope for change, they will act."

Alongside the new labor law and reforms to the minimum wage, López Obrador has also moved to shift another reform enacted by his predecessors—the education reform that mandated standardized testing for students, and testing and firing of teachers as well. That reform was fought by teachers for many years in massive teacher strikes. Government repression eventually culminated in a massacre in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, in June 2016, in which nine people were gunned down by federal and state police.

The disappearance and murder of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training school in September 2014 was also related to the corporate education reform program. Their school had a reputation for turning out radical teachers, as do many rural training schools like it, which were established in the wake of the Mexican Revolution.

Claudio X. González Guajardo, cofounder of the Televisa Foundation and the Mexicanos Primeros corporate education reform lobby called the training schools “a swarm of politics and shouting" and demanded the government replace them with private institutions.

In his inaugural address, López Obrador had promised, "The so-called education reform will be canceled, the right to free education in Article 3 of the Constitution will be guaranteed at all levels of schooling, and the government will never again offend teachers. The disappearance of Ayotzinapa's youth will be thoroughly investigated; the truth will be known and those responsible will be punished."

In meetings with the national democratic teachers ‘caucus, the CNTE, he also promised free elections in their union, the largest in Latin America. Eliminating the authoritarian group that has held power in the union for decades could shift the balance between the left and right in Mexico’s institutional politics.

But while the MORENA labor reform swept through the Mexican Congress, the repeal of the neoliberal education reform was derailed in the Senate. López Obrador then issued a memorandum saying that the education reform would no longer be in effect, a move immediately challenged by the conservative parties who passed it under the administration of former president Peña Nieto.

Teachers unions from Oaxaca and other states organized large May Day marches demanding that López Obrador live up to his commitment to nullify the education reform. Pedro Gómez Bamaca of the Chiapas teachers' union charged that some MORENA senators had actually voted to pass it, back when they'd been members of Peña Nieto's party. "Now they paint themselves like MORENA, but they're the same people," Gómez said bitterly.

López Obrador condemned in his inauguration speech the way the living standards of workers plummeted over three decades, as the government used low wages to attract investment, and deliberately set increases in the minimum wage below the inflation rate. "In this [neoliberal] period, the purchasing power of the minimum wage deteriorated by 60 percent, and the salary of Mexicans is now among the lowest on the planet," he charged.

While rising expectations create enormous pressure for change, reversing the deterioration of workers’ rights in Mexico trend will not be easy, as events in Matamoros demonstrated. "It is very doubtful if workers will be able to make up for the salary losses they've experienced, or the changes in their conditions of work," de la Cueva predicts. And despite the official pronouncements of its supporters, "there's no guarantee that T-Mex [the new NAFTA] will have any impact on this at all."

In addition to delivering on promises to workers, López Obrador believes that reversing the neoliberal direction also requires rescuing national enterprises. The Federal Electricity Commission, for instance, now provides power to all of Mexico after ex-President Calderon dissolved the Power and Light Company. But the CFE is close to bankruptcy, under the weight of unfavorable and corrupt contracts signed with foreign companies.

PEMEX, the national oil monopoly that contributes to a large part of Mexico's budget, is also in deep financial trouble. Production is declining. López Obrador promised to build another refinery to make Mexico once again self-sufficient in gasoline—it now imports gas from the United States—and to boost oil production.

Both enterprises were victims of decades of private deals and rake offs. "The hallmark of neoliberalism is corruption," López Obrador charged. " In the last three decades the highest authorities have dedicated themselves to giving concessions to the territory and transferring companies and public goods, even functions of the state, to national and foreign individuals ... The government will no longer facilitate looting, and will no longer be a committee in the service of a rapacious minority."

The leaders of the oil union, one of the pillars of Mexico's old ruling PRI, themselves ran businesses that siphoned money from the parent company. In the political space opened by the last election and the labor reform, opposition groups are appearing in the union. "But it still has a very real control over the workers," de la Cueva warns. "The democratic currents are not strong, and some think that linking their groups to MORENA will defeat the 'charros', but it's not that easy."

As López Obrador looks for funding to accomplish his goals, his administration is vulnerable to pressure from the investors he needs. De la Cueva calls the administration's policy an "equilibrium" between big capital and the unions. And since production for export is now the base of the economy, Mexico depends on a continual flow of goods moving north. When U.S. President Trump threatened to close the border, the threat to the Mexican economy was real.

Some of the biggest labor battles the administration inherited from its predecessors, therefore, may not be settled quickly. In Cananea, for instance, where a worker uprising heralded the coming Mexican Revolution in 1906, the miner's union has been locked in a strike against Grupo Mexico for a decade. Workers clearly hoped that with López Obrador in the presidency, and Gómez Urrutia a senator from their home state, the company would be forced into a resolution. The communities on the Sonora River, who were poisoned by the toxic spill seven years ago—one of the worst environmental disasters in Mexico's history—also hoped the government would finally weigh in against Grupo Mexico.

"But the government doesn't want a big conflict with powerful corporations right now," de la Cueva says. "It's doing a balancing act. Napoleon [Gómez Urrutia] is in the Senate, but that doesn't mean that the government will support the mineros. Events there will happen very slowly."

Miners aren't willing to simply wait for these changes. In recent months, the union organized a new labor federation, the International Confederation of Workers (CIT), with 150 member unions.

It joins two other federations of independent unions. The National Union of Workers (UNT) was organized in the 1990s by the telephone workers, the FAT, and other unions breaking away from the old labor structure. It began proposing labor law reforms like that recently passed by the Congress over two decades ago. The Mexican Electrical Workers (SME) organized the New Workers' Center in 2014, along with the progressive caucus of the teachers' union and the union now on strike at the National Autonomous University (SITUAM). It also includes the National Confederation of Retirees and one of Mexico's oldest and largest cooperatives at the Pascual soda bottling plant.

The UNT National Union of Workers recently proposed a convention of all three federations to find ways of working together. All three supported López Obrador's election, although often through the work of their members rather than the kind of formal endorsement familiar in the United States. Yet to one degree or another, they all feel that the administration has a cool attitude toward them.  In part, this reflects a history in which the "charro" unions were organizationally tied to the government and the PRI, and workers had to belong to the PRI in order to work. Progressive unions don't want to return to those days any more than does López Obrador.

"The government isn't putting much attention on social organizations like unions," de la Cueva explains. "López Obrador's intention is to be the 'president of the people' directly, rather than through intermediary organizations."

Despite the challenges, however, Deputy Labor Secretary Alfredo Domínguez Marrufo says that the administration and independent unions share the same goals. "Today many workers live in poverty, on one or two dollars a day," he says. "This is the fundamental problem. But we're not just fighting for an economic goal, not just for decent wages, but for the revitalization of the democratic life of workers, of our unions and the organizations we belong to."