Mexican Electrical Workers Occupy Zócalo as Leaders Are Charged

The Mexican Electrical Workers Union(SME) has vowed to continue its permanent encampment—a plantón—in the Zócalo, Mexico’s national plaza as a protest against new attacks on the union. The SME is being supported by over 40 Mexican and international labor organizations in its fight against government repression. The National Union of Workers (UNT), Mexico’s independent labor federation, and the AFL-CIO, the U.S. labor federation, are both backing the SME.

The new attack takes the form of spurious legal charges against the union’s leaders for fraud based on actions occurring two years earlier (the charges relate to an attempt by the SME to withdraw money from its own bank account as authorized by a judge after it had been frozen by government authorities). The Mexican Attorney General’s office has drawn up charges against SME’s General Secretary Martín Esparza, Secretary of Labor Eduardo Bobadilla, and Amalia Vargas Ríos their legal counsel. At the same time the Secretary of Labor has yet to approve the union’s newly elected officers through the process known as “taking note” (toma de nota). In violation of international labor standards, Mexican labor law gives the government the power to accept or reject democratically elected union officials.

Some 13 other SME members are being held as “political prisoners,” according to the union.

Legislators and officials of the National Action Party (PAN), the party of President Felipe Calderón have demanded that Marcelo Ebrard, mayor of Mexico City, remove the SME union from the square. Ebrard has refused, saying that the Calderón government has to deal with the union’s issues. On October 10 and 11 of 2009, Calderón ordered police and military units to seize the facilities of the Mexican Light & Power Company, then liquidated the company and terminated its 44,000 employees, most of them members of the SME. While many workers took their severance pay and gave up their union membership, some 16,000 refused severance and continue fighting for their jobs with the union.

SME officials call the new fraud charges an act of “aggression” against the union. They argue that the government has “fabricated charges” and “criminalized” union activity. The SME has vowed to undertake new, dramatic action against this attack on the union and its members.

The Mexican government took a similar action against Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, leader of the Mine and Metal Workers Union (SNMMRM), to force him to flee the country and to lead the union from exile in Canada.

SME to Create New Political Group

Meanwhile SME leaders are moving ahead with plans for the founding congress of a new political organization which will take place on August 27 and 28. Humberto Montes de Oca, SME Secretary of the Exterior, said that the organizations involved were agreed that to solve the problems caused by neo-liberalism and the crisis of capitalism that it will be necessary to construct “a new majority, a new social bloc that takes in its hand the political leadership of the State to re-found and reconstruct the republic on the basis of the people.”

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Increasing Solidarity with the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union!

Press release
Mexico City, August 11, 2011

Faced with the delay on the part of the Labour Secretary to grant the official recognition of our elected union leadership and the infamous arrest warrants drawn on our Secretary General, brother Martin Esparza Flores, brother Eduardo Bobadilla Zarza, Secretary of Labor, and our legal representative Amalia Vargas Ríos, a solidarity rally was held on Monday, August 7 at the headquarters of the Union of Mexican Electrical Workers. In attendance were 42 political and social movement organizations, including the National Workers Union (UNT), the Movement for Food and Energy Sovereignty, Workers’ Rights and Democratic Freedoms, the Mineworkers’ Union, Sections 9 and 18 the CNTE-SNTE, the Mexican Union Front, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, National Dialogue, students from Ciudad Juárez, the Association of Retirees, Pensioners and Senior Citizens, members of the Social Congress for a New Constitutional Assembly and a broad representation of political and social organizations. We also note the presence of representatives of international trade unions like the World Federation of Trade Unions and the AFL-CIO, the latter being the largest workers’ central in the United States.

At the meeting, the legal department of the SME presented a comprehensive report demonstrating the innocence of our colleagues of the absurd charges of "attempted fraud" arbitrarily laid against them as part of the campaign being waged by the federal government, the PAN (National Action Party), and some media outlets, to criminalize our legitimate resistance struggle. In their interventions, participants agreed that these attacks by the federal government are not only intended to "decapitate" the movement of the SME, but represent a potential threat against all social movements because the underlying objective is to wipe out democratic freedoms in our country. The government of Felipe Calderón seeks to get an organization that is very representative of the social struggle against the imposition of "regressive" neo-liberal reforms, such as labour law and security, out of the way. For this reason, the organizations present are prepared to defend the SME, to condemn the totalitarian and fascist policy of the federal government and to undertake a joint action plan to stop the onslaught of government against national sovereignty, social rights, democratic freedoms and the struggles of resistance.

The main resolutions adopted by the meeting are as follows:

1) Publish a paid statement aimed at national and international public opinion to condemn this escalation of repression by the federal government against SME and demand the immediate withdrawal of arrest warrants issued against our brothers and sister, as well as the release of 13 SME political prisoners. Any organization that wishes to join is invited to sign onto the statement.

2) Reinforce the sit-in of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers in the Zócalo of Mexico City, with the addition of new contingents from all participating organizations.

3) Participate in the demonstration called by the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity for Sunday August 14 at 11:00 am, which will leave the Museum of Anthropology at Los Pinos, ending at the Senate building.

4) Conduct an international campaign to denounce the Mexican government for its repressive policy in violation of the right to freedom of association. Encourage a letter- writing campaign, statements from well-known individuals, protests at embassies and consulates of Mexico throughout the world, and the promotion of an international mission in solidarity with the SME to come to the Zócalo.

5) Promote the National Day of Outraged Mexicans to be held on Thursday September 1 at the Zócalo in Mexico City. On that day, present a counter-report on government action showing a negative assessment of the neo-liberal policies imposed by the federal government at the expense of welfare, social rights, liberties and the lives of Mexicans. We are all outraged.

6) Given the urgent need to unite the efforts of all victims of neo-liberal policies, we must work toward the establishment of a coordinating body for all social movements to agree on a political agenda and a joint action plan. Among points of unity, we propose the themes of NO MORE BLOOD, the army's return to their barracks and the solution to the conflict of the miners, the teachers, the pilots’ union and the electrical workers, as well as the solution of demands of social movements, students, farmers, environmentalists and others.

7) Continue to hold demonstrations during the months of September and October.

Finally, it was agreed to hold another plenary session on Thursday, August 18 at 4 pm at the SME headquarters.

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P.S. In the face of renewed calls to evacuate our encampment in the Zocalo by deputies of the PAN and supported by some journalists, we reiterate that our presence there is not frivolous. We are sitting in because we are victims of the illegal and illegitimate dispossession of our work, and the arbitrary closure of a public company whose business is now delivering company improperly through contractors, which is also causing an unjustified increase in electricity rates. If the courts had resolved the matter of successor employer in a timely manner, as required by law, we would be back at work, there would be no camp at the Zócalo, there would be better electrical service and the rates would not have skyrocketed.

Fraternally yours,

José Humberto Montes de Oca
Foreign Secretary

"FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS AND JUSTICE "