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Today we have to correct those things that don’t work in the country

12 October 2009

(One update at end)

or so said Don Felipe, justifying the dissolution of Luz y Fuero de Centro, the Mexico City metropolitan electric company (the rest of the country is served by CFE, Comisión Federal de Electricidad.

While I’m waiting for the snarky responses from those that are going to list other government entities that “don’t work in the country”, I was struck by Calderón’s calling attention to the amount of money lost by LyFC compared to other government programs… which would indicate a management, not a labor problem.


If I heard right, the workers — whom, if we take Calderón at his word, are losing their jobs because of poor management — are going to receive assistance finding jobs with “small enterprises”.  How that jives with his statement that there were no plans to privatize the national power company makes me wonder if he doesn’t, as the union claim, simply want to break contracts, and destroy the union movement… something his party has always stood for (and, until recently, the other parties wouldn’t).

Electrical workers' protest (photo: El Universal)

Electrical workers' protest (photo: David Jamarillo, El Universal)

While privatization may be technically off the table, I wouldn’t be surprised to see introduction of a PEMEX type “reform” that allows for outside contractors to bid on subsidiary services, and which will pit the laid off 15,000 union workers who took to the streets in protest Sunday.

At the same time, there are legal questions.  For starters, a union contract with one employer is still valid when another owner takes over the business… in this case, when CFE takes over LyFC.  Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME) is not going down without a fight, with other unions and several political leaders (notably AMLO) arguing the Calderón Administration’s end game is the destruction of the independent union movement… something well in line with both PAN’s more recent “neo-liberal” policies that assume a public utility should turn a profit (something alien to political traditions that hold the utilities to be a public service, not a business) and its historic roots in anti-labor movements (including fascism).


Photo: Alberto Lopez, El Universal

Ironically, CFE is raising its electrical rates, which have led to protests by business groups, manufacturers, consumers and tourist operations throughout the country. Protests, like this one by Tehuana women, are becoming more common.

Laura Carlsen, as usual, provides excellent background and overview:

The decree follows a union conflict that the government fueled and then took advantage of to eliminate the company and its union. The union elections last June were contested by the losing group amid rumors that the federal government was actively fomenting division. In a warning sign, on Oct. 5 the Secretary of Labor, Javier Lozano, rejected registration of the new union leadership without waiting for a decision from the Labor Tribunal…

…The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME, by its Spanish initials) is among the most active and independent unions in a country that has been dominated by government-affiliated unions. Its membership has led the many battles for defense of labor rights and standard of living in the country. SME leader, Martin Esparza, declared the Calderon takeover “unconstitutional” and has vowed to fight against the liquidation of the company and of the union contract. In a joint interview on MSVRadio, he spoke alongside the defeated union candidate, Alejandro Munoz, in which both declared common cause to fight against the administration’s union-busting move.

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