President Felipe Calderon Absent from May Day Celebrations
Breaking with tradition, President Felipe Calderon decided not to host an official celebration in observance of International Labor Day in Mexico. The Mexican president said he did not want to detract from the celebrations and marches planned by various labor organizations. The decision elicited mixed reactions, with the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) accusing the president of abandoning Mexican workers. Most labor leaders, however, said that they were not bothered by the lack of an official ceremony, which comes as Calderon's party, the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), is embroiled in a major controversy with the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalurgicos y Similares de la Republica Mexicana (SNTMMSRM) regarding the ouster of its leader last year because of corruption charges (see SourceMex, 2006-03-01 and 2006-05-03).
Calderon announced his decision during a meeting with representatives of the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM), one of the largest labor organizations in Mexico. The president told CTM president Joaquin Gamboa Pascoe and other leaders that the best way to pay tribute to Mexican workers was to respect the autonomy of labor organizations. "Today we live in a different time, and that's why we decided to commemorate May 1 by giving the spotlight to the workers," said Calderon.
Rather than host a ceremony, Calderon taped a message for workers, aired on May 1, in which he pledged to respect the historic achievements of labor, including labor autonomy, collective bargaining, and the right to strike.
Calderon's decision drew some criticisms from the PRI, which organized a major celebration on May 1 every year during the seven decades that the party held the presidency. The PRI lost the presidential election to the PAN in 2000 and again in 2006.
In many of the May Day celebrations, the president would lead the parade organized by the Congreso del Trabajo (CT) and the CTM. Former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari even used the May Day celebration and his cozy relationship with the two largest labor organizations to rally support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while negotiations were still in progress (see SourceMex, 1993-05-05).
The PRI's relationship with the labor organizations was not always cozy, however. Labor organizations used the May Day celebrations to organize protests against former President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), blaming him for Mexico's economic woes (see SourceMex, 1995-05-17).
PRI officials criticized Calderon's decision to forego an official ceremony. Even Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, who had a tense relationship with labor, would hold some ceremony on Labor Day (see SourceMex, 2003-05-07), although he would avoid taking part in the parade.
Party president Beatriz Paredes Rangel said the president's presence at May Day ceremonies was an important symbol for workers. "This decision not to have a ceremony is regrettable," said Paredes. "I hope it is not a sign that this administration is shutting off all channels of dialogue with organized labor."
Labor leaders have no problem with decision
Leaders from Mexico's largest labor organizations said they had no problems with Calderon's decision not to have even a private ceremony to commemorate May Day. Enrique Aguilar Borrego, head of the CT, said labor unions affiliated with his organization did not place any major significance on the president's decision. "Anyone who thinks that labor is estranged from Calderon is mistaken," said the CT president who also heads the la Federacion Nacional de Sindicatos Bancarios (FENASIB). "We have had good communication with [President Calderon]."
Independent unions like the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT) and the Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) also placed little importance on the absence of an official ceremony. Jorge Robles, an official in the FAT, said the Calderon and Fox governments have demonstrated little ability to respond to the demands of workers. …