The vote for a new independent union in Silao could bring a new era of labor collaboration across borders


SILAO, GUANAJUATO (February 17, 2022).- Workers at the General Motors plant in the Mexican city of Silao voted last week to join a new independent union of autoworkers, known by its initials in Spanish as SINTTIA. The vote didn’t just promise improved workers’ rights in Mexico; it may presage a new era of labor collaboration across borders—and a new model for trade deals moving forward.

Workers at Silao knew they were setting a precedent for global labor policy. As Alejandra Morales Reynoso, leader of Sinttia, said after the vote: “I think we are going to start showing all our colleagues that a real change can be achieved, not just here in Silao, but in the state, the country and in the whole world.”

The vote happened only because of new labor provisions in the revised NAFTA agreement approved in 2019. SINTTIA activists sought in April 2021 to oust the moribund Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which has negotiated low-wage deals with employers for decades and accused the CTM of irregularities in the voting. Invoking for the first time provisions in the new trade deal, known as the USMCA, the SINTTIA activists encouraged the US trade representative to investigate. The result was a new vote in September, overseen by Mexico’s Labor Ministry and the International Labor Organization, which did oust the CTM, leading to the vote last week in which SINTTIA was chosen as the replacement union by the 6,000 Silao GM workers. The Biden administration has followed its actions in Silao with additional interventions supporting labor rights in other plants across Mexico.

As part of gaining agreement for the USMCA deal, the Mexican government had agreed to legislation in 2019 requiring the secret ballot elections that allowed SINTTIA to have a chance to win an election. With that and other concessions that the AFL-CIO demanded, House Democratic leaders endorsed the USMCA agreement. US business lobbies opposed the provisions, and Mexico’s biggest business chamber, the CCE, said the proposals on labor matters were “extreme in nature and completely unacceptable,” but Trump accepted them as the price of the passage of the trade deal.

Notably, this was a deal forged in close collaboration between labor leaders in both the United States and Mexico. In a 2019 tweet after the deal was negotiated, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the head of Mexico’s mine and steelworkers union—and a senator in the Mexican Congress elected in 2018 as an ally of the left-leaning President Andrés Manuel López Obrador—would describe the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka as a “fighting partner” in pushing through the labor provisions.

Following his election, Biden made key moves to prioritize workers’ rights in trade policy, highlighted by hiring Thea Lee to oversee the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the Department of Labor, which includes responsibilities for enforcing labor rights under trade deals. Lee had been president of the labor-allied Economic Policy Institute and chief economist on international issues for the AFL-CIO before that, so having her oversee the Labor Department’s work at Silao helped ensure a free vote for workers there.

The goal here is to raise wages for General Motors workers in Mexico, which in turn will help General Motors workers in the United States demand higher wages. Using trade deals to strengthen cross-border labor solidarity is an alternative both to failed neoliberal trade approaches of recent decades and to nationalist Trump trade war politics.

Source: El Economista

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