Mexican Workers Show—United We Win!

For the past month, tens of thousands of Mexican workers have been striking, and winning. A mass strike, outside the union structures, broke out Jan. 12 in the city of Matamoras, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Following a decree by the new Mexican President ALMO doubling the minimum wage in the maquiladoras factories, workers began demanding that employers double the wages of all workers, as is guaranteed by their (rarely enforced) contracts. Mass meetings with representation from over 40 factories, mostly auto parts suppliers, called workers out on strike. Within a few days 70,000 workers, nearly half those in the Matamoras maquiladoras were on strike.

The official union had no choice but to endorse the ongoing strike. Despite initial resistance, the employers capitulated by the end of January, granting a 20% wage increase across the board and $1,700 bonuses (about 8 month’s wages). By this time, parts shortages were spreading across the US and Canadian auto industry, which is dependent on the maquiladoras and their $1-an-hour labor.

Seeing this enormous victory, workers in other industries and cities have joined the movement for “20/30”—20% increase and 30,000 peso bonus. In Matamoras, supermarket workers, and those at dairy distributors, Coke-bottlers and water purification plants went out on strike Feb. 6, including many at non-union plants. On Feb. 7 the movement spread to another city, Ciudad Victoria, with 5000 auto parts workers winning a 16% raise in a one-day strike. Yesterday, workers in the city of Reynosa demanded 20% raises at 45 factories employing 8,000.

The workers have refused to allow the official unions to lead the strikes, even when they have endorsed them. Instead they have set up committees with delegates elected from each factory.

The rapid spread of the strike outside a single industry, the setting up of democratically elected workers committees, and the unity of workers at unionized and non-unionized factories are all the classic characteristics of mass strikes, first described over a century ago by Rosa Luxemburg.

With the large concentration of Mexican immigrants in the US along the borders, we can expect that many US workers will soon be learning the lessons of the Mexican mass strikes, as they spread outwards.

Eric Lerner

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