Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Military, Federal Police Bust Mexican Electrical Workers Union

Calderon Uses 6,000 Federal Agents to Fire Over 44,000 Luz y Fuerza Workers
source: Narco News

SME workers protest
Mexican Electrical Workers Union members protest the summary firing of 44,000 members. Photo: La Jornada

In the middle of the night last Saturday, President Felipe Calderon sent six thousand soldiers and militarized Federal Police to take over state power company Luz y Fuerza installations in Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Puebla, Morelos, and Hidalgo. Immediately following the takeover, Calderon issued an executive order closing Luz y Fuerza. Because no law or decree can go into effect until it is published in the federal government's Official Diary of the Federation, the government published the executive order in a special edition of the Official Diary of the Federation to coincide with the military and police raids that closed Luz y Fuerza.

Mexican legal experts have criticized Calderon's action as illegal, unconstitutional, and "an excessive and abusive use of power" because he by-passed Congress when he decided to close Luz y Fuerza and deploy the military and police against workers.

The government's official justification for closing Luz y Fuerza is that the company's operating expenses exceed those of other state-owned companies. It claims its use of the military and militarized federal police was a pre-emptive strike: it wanted to prevent workers from striking, taking control of the facilities, and cutting off power in protest of the closing of Luz y Fuerza. However, a week prior to the police and military takeover, the union specifically stated in a press release that it had no intentions of striking nor cutting off power to electricity customers.

However, Mexican Labor News & Analysis' Dan La Botz has a different perspective on the government's intentions:

This current threat is the latest in a series of attacks on the union by the government of Felipe Calderón.The Felipe Calderón administration, having spent three years trying to destroy the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM), has now opened a new front in its war on the working class. In September the government launched a multifaceted attack intended to destroy the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) which has been at the center of resistance to its neoliberal programs.

The government's attack has several elements. First, the government is supporting a small dissident faction within the union, using that as an opportunity to meddle in the union's internal life with the goal of breaking its militant leadership. Second, the government, which is also the employer, has reduced the budget for the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC). Third, the government is also calling for a change in company management and for the complete restructuring of the company.

La Botz also notes that the Mexican government officially refused to recognize the union's president, Martin Esparza Flores, following his recent re-election. According to La Botz,

In practice, these administrative procedures (which are nowhere found in Mexican labor law) are used against independent or democratic unions or against unions opposing government policies, and almost never against government backed, employer controlled or gangster-run unions. Without government approved and recognized officers, the union officials cannot engage in collective bargaining or other union activities, leaving the union officially leaderless.

With Luz y Fuerza officially non-existant, the governmental Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has announced that it is sending thousands of its employees to run Luz y Fuerza until CFE can absorb Luz y Fuerza's operations entirely. Prior to the takeover, Luz y Fuerza ran electricity operations in central Mexico: in Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Puebla, Morelos, and Hidalgo. The CFE provided electricity to the rest of the country.

La Botz argues that the CFE takeover means that the independent and democratic 44,000-worker SME will be replaced by the government-controlled Sole Union of Mexican Electrical Workers (SUTERM), which represents CFE workers. In Mexico, government-controlled unions are the norm, and independent democratic unions are a rarity.

In an article written just before the military and police takeover of Luz y Fuerza, La Botz wrote:

Calderón's administration has two motives in its attack on the SME. First, it wants to break the SME because it has been the center of so many movements resisting the Calderón government, its neoliberal policies, and particularly its plans to privatize the petroleum and electric power industries. Second, Calderón wants specifically to privatize the electrical industry, including the Central Light and Power Company, and to do so it must break the power of the SME.

NAFTA Armed

While government officials have promised that they won't take advantage of the Luz y Fuerza takeover to privatize the electricity sector, the Calderon administration's political trajectory states otherwise.

The Calderon administration participated whole-heartedly in the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a private sector strategy to expand and "arm" the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without having to obtain domestic legislatures' approval. As of this past summer, the SPP is no longer an active initiative; however, several of the SPP's working groups, comprised of private sector industry leaders, will continue to meet. The North American Energy Working Group (NAEWG), for example, pre-dated the SPP by four years. It met within the SPP framework to develop and advance SPP energy policy and procedures. The NAEWG is likely to continue to operate in some form despite the SPP's official and indefinite "inactivity."

Indeed, despite the tabling of the SPP initiative, North American energy interests met over the summer to develop regional energy corridors that would increase the flow of energy from neighboring countries into the United States.

The SPP's view of energy management is clear. According to the SPP's "Prosperity Agenda," in order to "facilitate business," Canada, Mexico, and the United States must "strengthen North America's energy markets by working together, according to our respective legal frameworks, to increase reliable energy supplies for the region's needs and development." Energy, according to the SPP, rather can being used for human development (providing every citizen with electricity in their homes, for example), must increase the business sector's prosperity. Energy is a market, not a national resource.

The North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), which coordinated the SPP's working groups, stated one of its principle energy concerns in its initial recommendations. The NACC, which was comprised of equal numbers of private sector representatives from Mexico, Canada, and the US, wrote, "The prosperity of the United States relies heavily on a secure supply of imported energy."

What does the North American energy agenda mean for Mexico? In Mexico, a significant sector of the population does not have electricity and other basic utilities in their homes. Entire communities lack electric service. Some of Mexico's poorest indigenous communities pay some of the highest electricity rates on the North American continent.

Even though Mexico's electricity sector has not reached a basic level of functionality at the domestic level (electricity for every citizen), Mexican leaders have decided to enter into regional agreements such as Plan Puebla Panama (now the Mesoamerican Project) and the SPP, which aim to increase energy flows into the United States, not vice-versa.

Mexico's energy sector, as it is currently structured, runs entirely counter to the SPP's Prosperity Agenda. Mexico's energy companies are state-owned. Some energy sector unions, such as the Pemex oil workers union and the SME, have actively opposed the further privatization of the nation's energy resources, which is commonly considered to be an SPP goal in Mexico. La Botz notes that the SME formed the National Front Against Privatization. Pemex, on the other hand, recently (more or less) survived a Calderon initiative to privatize the Mexican oil sector.

Militarizing Mexican Life

Calderon's Saturday night invasion of Luz y Fuerza's facilities in the capital and four states is reminiscent of other recent joint police-military operations against drug cartels. Since Calderon deployed 40,000 soldiers and thousands of militarized Federal Police, one of the campaign's hallmark operations has been the sudden takeover of police stations in towns and cities where drug trafficking organizations are believed to have corrupted entire police forces. In these operations, soldiers and federal police surround a police station, relieve the local police officers of their duties, and occupy the building. When 6,000 soldiers and federal police suddenly invaded Luz y Fuerza's buildings and then occupied them to prevent the workers from retaking the facilities, one would have thought that Luz y Fuerza was a drug cartel's base of operations. But it wasn't.

Mexico is becoming increasingly militarized under the pretext provided by the war on drugs. Mexican citizens are becoming correspondingly desensitized to such blatant displays of state military power in the civilian realm. Mexico's Constitution expressly prohibits the military's use in times of peace; however, this was not Mexicans' principle criticism of the operation against Luz y Fuerza. Mexicans consulted by this reporter complained that the operation was a blow to the country's democratic unions, as well as a step towards privatization of the energy sector. When this reporter commented on the barbarity of deploying the military and riot police against a civilian union--one that wasn't even on strike, as if that were to justify such represion--the response was, "Tienes razon. You're right. I hadn't even considered that."

The use of the military and the Federal Police--who receive military training--against unions is fairly common in Mexico. The military and the Federal Police (formerly known as the Federal Preventive Police or PFP) have been deployed against striking miners and teachers. Likewise, in 2006 federal police violently put down social conflicts in Oaxaca and Atenco, both of which had their roots in labor disputes.

Both the Mexican Military and the Federal Police receive training, equipment, and armament from the United States government under the Merida Initative. The Merida Initiative is designed in part to carry out the Security and Prosperity Partnership's "Security Agenda."

Federal Police occupy a Luz y Fuerza building. Photo: La Jornada

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