The Mexican Electrical Workers: A Justified Casualty?
The electrical workers are refusing to back down. A month after President Felipe Calderon sent federal police to storm a major energy utility and declare it liquidated, its dismantled union took to the streets again on Wednesday and choked Mexico City with blockades and marches.
Violent confrontations were reported between police and demonstrators on the major roads to Cuernavaca and Puebla. In the city center, tens of thousands of fired employees and supporters of Luz y Fuerza del Centro, or Central Light & Power, demonstrated on the one-month anniversary of the company’s unprecedented liquidation, but there wasn’t much of a pressing reason otherwise to go out and test the patience of weary Mexican commuters. Workers say they want their jobs back, and that they’re mad as hell. Calderon and his labor secretary say that the liquidation will not be reversed.
Who is right? The government maintains the utility was inefficient, wasteful, and provided a poor service. They also argue its union — the oldest in the country — enjoyed too many benefits. The Wall Street Journal stands behind that position.
Labor groups and the institutional left say the federal government is once again stoking the flames of popular revolt by putting 44,000 people out of work at a time when the Mexican economy is in trouble. And, they say, Calderon is setting the utility up for privatization. The Bay Guardian is in that corner.
And here, the L.A. Times takes the middle:
Many suspect that breaking this union was a precursor to privatizing electricity in the hands of foreigners or friends of Calderon, as was the case previously with banks and television. It would be a terrible mistake for the government to perpetuate a system of crony capitalism that has cost the state legitimacy and created monopolies impeding economic growth. Instead, many Mexicans are asking whether Calderon will go after corruption in other unions, notably ones that have backed him. Doing so would go a long way toward convincing his countrymen that the dissolution of the electricity company was more about pesos than politics.
Yesterday, as the massive march arrived downtown, I approached a woman who stood on the sidewalk and asked for her thoughts on the ongoing protests. Maria Rodriguez, 46, said she was not a member of the union nor had relatives or friends there. Dressed in a modest coat and scarf, she was an office worker passing through:
Q: They say the union had too many privileges.
A: It was the leaders, but not the workers … like in any other business.
Q: Will the service get better you think, now that it’s in federal hands?
A: No. What I think is that they want to privatize it. Like they did with Telephones of Mexico [Telmex]. Eliminate the union and then, little by little, give it to private companies. And then the same thing will happen as it happened with our phones: our rates went up, whatever benefits those who have the capital. That’s what I think, but I could be wrong.
Rodriguez added, looking towards the marchers passing us, that no one in the crowds appeared rich or over-privileged to her. “That’s what I say,” Rodriguez affirmed. “If their union managed to get them all those benefits, well good for them. We should all have better privileges. And they’re not even privileges, really! Privileges are what the rich have.”
Saturday is the last day for the fired workers to collect their federal severance pay, worth about 33 months of their salaries. So far, more than half of the workers have done so.
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