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Napoleon’s return

22 February 2018

I don’t think anyone seriously denies that there is “corruption” on some level in all the unions here. That said, back during the heyday of the PRI, it seems the corrupt union “bosses” were not only tolerated, but openly supported … provided their loyalty was to the party first, the rank-and-file second. One notes that when Felipe Calderón forceably merged Mexico City’s union-owned and run power company (Luz y Fuerza) with the semi-privatized CFE, his rationale was to allege “corruption” in the union’s election. SME, the electrical workers’ union, while independent, was opposed to Calderón’s plans to open the country’s energy sector to private investments. It aslo, incidentally, had the underground cable rights to central Mexico City, at a time when both Telmex and Televisa were slathering for the data-line rights.

Was it really “corruption” that brought down Elba Esther Gordillo in February 2013…. or something else? While she was famously corrupt, so were other union leaders like PEMEX workers’ union boss, Carlos Romero Deschamps.  He is the only one of Dolia Estivez’ Forbes list of “The 10 Most Corrupt Mexicans Of 2013” still holding office.  However, as he has always given the party in power whatever they want, even to the detriment of his own rank and file, he has never seriously faced any charges.  Gordillo’s error was, as a PRI hack, backing Vicente Fox (and collaborating with Fox’s wife, Marta Sahagún on “educational reforms” favored by PAN.  Pushed out of PRI, she led her own party, (Aliance Nacional) which, in the 2006 election, was crucial to Felipe Calderón’s narrow victory.  However, with the return of PRI in 2012, pushing for “educational reforms” that, while sold as eliminating union “make work jobs” were also impossible to sell to the rank-and-file teachers (changing the history curriculum to highlight Spanish achievements, teacher and student testing… a la “no child left behind” … and a radical change toward more career preparation at the expense of a liberal education), she was the low-hanging fruit for selling an “anti-corruption” drive.  By, what some claim, the most corrupt administration in modern times.

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, of the Mineworkers’ Union, according to most media, is just another “corrupto”… but then again, having pitted his independent union against company unions, and his union having gone up against the powerful mining mogul, German Larrea Mota Velasco… a reclusive “Citizen Kane” type figure, who stays out of the public eye, but is one of the most important political and financial figures in the country… over the Pasta de Concha disaster, it’s hard to say his indictment for corruption which soon followed was completely coincidental.  Gómez denies the charges, and fled to Canada, where he was granted political asylum, and remains as head of his union.

By video, LIVE FROM CANADA, Gómez is on the campaign trail… not to keep his union presidency, but as a potential Senator of the Republic.  The Mexican Senate is a strange beast.  Like the U.S. Senate, there are two Senators per state, elected in first-past-the-post elections.  AND, a third senate seat, awared to the party which receives the second highest state vote.  AND… 32 Senators nationally chosen by proportion to the votes received in the Presidential election.  Goméz is on the list for those senators that will be seated for Morena… which even in the event it’s presidential candidate loses, should stil be entitled to enough “Plurinominal” Senators to seat the exiled union leader.

While, naturally, the parties not part of the Morena coalition, are raising questions like whether a candidate has to actually live in Mexico, the bigger question is whether Morena, and their party standard-bearer, Andres Manuel López Obrador, can sell Goméz as a victim of political intrigue, or overcome the perception that a presidential candidate who has made his name condemning “corruption” hasn’t sold out in return for wider support.  And whether the miners’ union will supply more votes, or whether Goméz’ inclusion on the Plurinomal list will end up costing AMLO votes.

Internationally, the United Steelworkers Union (U.S. and Canada) and Britain’s UNITE have both come out in favor of Goméz.  While U.S. unions are not nearly as powerful as they once were, it does remind me of John L. Lewis of the CIO praising Plutarco Elias Calles for making the flamboyantly corrupt Luis Morones (who wore diamond rings on every finger, including his thumbs… because he could) his Secretary of Labor.     The importance then was that it stayed the hand of US management interests when it came to intervening in Mexico.  Although AMLO and MORENA have bent over backwards to not upset US business interests, or unduly alarm them, a little labor support couldn’t hurt.

And, yes, I realize there was a bad pun in there somewhere writing about people named Napoleon and Elba Esther.. but I just couldn’t pull it off.

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