Changes in Relations between the State and Independent Unions? Mexico under the Fox Presidency

By Mayer, Jean-Francois | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Changes in Relations between the State and Independent Unions? Mexico under the Fox Presidency


Mayer, Jean-Francois, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Abstract. This article seeks to clarify whether Mexico's democratic transition of 2000 and the subsequent four years of the Fox government have yielded significant modifications in patterns of exchanges and linkages of power between the state and independent labour unions (ILU)--that is, those labour organizations that were not part of the corporatist framework underpinning the 1929-2000 civilian authoritarian regime. Results indicate that there have been few concrete changes in state-ILU relations, despite this transition. This is due in particular to the continuation of the Federal Labour Law and the manner in which the Fox government has implemented it, perpetuating limitations placed by the previous regime on the workers' freedoms of association and organization, as well as on their right to strike. Nonetheless, findings also suggest that Fox's administration ended the political marginalization of independent unions by allowing them to play an enhanced--if limited--role in Mexico's political dynamics.

Resume. Cet article analyse l'impact de la transition democratique du Mexique sur la dynamique des relations entre l'Etat et les syndicats independants (ILU)--i.e. les syndicats qui ne participerent pas au systeme corporatiste en place durant le regime civil-autoritaire de 1929-2000. Cette etude demontre qu'il n'y a pas eu de changements marques dans les relations Etat-ILU depuis la transition de 2000. Ceci est particuliement attribuable a la perduration de la Loi Federale du Travail, et a la facon dont le gouvernment Fox l'a appliquee, perpetuant ainsi les restrictions placees par le regime precedent sur les libertes d'association et d'organisation, de meme que sur le droit de greve des travailleurs. Cependant, cet article indique que l'administration Fox a mis fin a la marginalisation politique des syndicats independants en leur permettant de jouer un role accru--quoique toujours limite--dans le processus politique Mexicain.

Introduction (1)

From the mid-1930s until 2000, relations between the state and labour unions in Mexico were conditioned by a non-democratic, state-controlled, corporatist mode of interest representation. (2) This corporatist structure essentially regulated and limited access by social actors to Mexico's decision-making apparatus (Berins Collier 1992, 11; Zapata 1995, 49). Corporatism also significantly contributed to ensuring the legitimacy, stability, and sustainability of the civil-authoritarian political regime in place during that era (Bizberg 1990, 703-704). As a result of this particular context, two categories of labour unions emerged. The first group of unions was granted official status, preferred political representation, and a variety of socioeconomic benefits by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI), the political party that controlled Mexico's authoritarian regime between 1929 and 2000. These labour organizations--generally labelled "official labour unions" (OLU)--were affiliated with the Congreso del Trabajo (Labour Congress, CT). In turn, the Congreso constituted one of the PRI's three corporations, known as "organizational sectors" (Camp 2003, 146; Caulfield 1998, 7). By 2004, the CT's membership comprised approximately six million workers.

The second category of labour organizations resisted state infringement on workers' rights and freedoms, as well as the constraints put by corporatism on union organization and interest representation (Grayson 1989, 33-42). Although the literature uses various terms to designate this latter group, it will be referred to here as "independent labour unions" (ILU). Relations between successive PRI federal governments and independent unions were quite difficult, especially during and after the charrazos of the late 1940s and 1950s--a series of events that led to the unilateral and often violent state imposition of loyal executive committees on independent (or proto-independent) unions active in strategic segments of the country's economy (Middlebrook 1995, 148-153).

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