Supreme Court Upholds Right of Government Workers to Form Independent Labor Organizations or Decline to Join Union

Article excerpt

In a decision that could further erode the influence of the country's official labor unions, Mexico's highest court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN) ruled that state workers have the right to form independent unions or not to join any labor organization. The labor organization affected by the ruling, the Federacion de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado (FSTSE), has already announced plans to take action against the decision.

In the ruling, the SCJN cited Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution, which states that union membership cannot be a condition of employment. If the ruling holds, government workers will no longer be required automatically to become members of unions affiliated with the FSTSE.

The SCJN ruling also addresses some complaints lodged by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which had accused the Mexican government and the government-sanctioned Congreso del Trabajo (CT) and Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM) of violating the rights of workers by imposing restrictions on their union affiliation.

Court decision could set precedent for other workers While the SCJN decision applies only to government workers, the ruling has set a precedent for labor organizations in other sectors to present a similar challenge. If this occurs, the FSTSE and its parent organizations the CT and CTM could further lose their grip on the Mexican labor movement.

The CTM, CT, and member organizations have been close allies of the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which has dominated Mexican politics for 70 years. On the same day that the SCJN handed down its decision, FSTSE leader Joel Ayala offered the blanket support of 1.5 million members of the organization to Interior Secretary Francisco Labastida, who is seeking the nomination to represent the PRI in the 2000 presidential election.

The CT and CTM started to lose some influence when disgruntled members announced their intention to form the rival labor organization Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT)in late 1997 (see SourceMex, 1997-11-26).

As expected, labor leaders Leonardo Rodriguez Alcaine of the CTM-CT and Ayala of the FSTSE immediately condemned the SCJN ruling as a dangerous move that could "gut the structure of the labor union." Ayala, who is also a PRI federal deputy, said the FSTSE plans to seek legislative means to overturn the decision.

"This decision could provoke confrontations among workers who are employed in the same government agency," said Ayala. He said the SCJN was swayed by "ultraconservative" business leaders, who are seeking to weaken the labor movement. "We will take other kinds of action to overturn [the ruling], such as protest marches or the right to strike."

For his part, CT vice president Enrique Aguilar Borrego accused the SCJN of "taking too active a role" in crafting Mexico's labor agenda in recent months, including a ruling that allows 20 foreign companies to suspend profit-sharing distributions to workers. "Unfortunately, the SCJN's last three rulings tend to favor the employers," said Aguilar. …