Labor Unions Struggling to Define Role Following Defeat of P.R.I. in July Presidential Election

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 19, 2000 | Go to article overview

Labor Unions Struggling to Define Role Following Defeat of P.R.I. in July Presidential Election


Mexico's official labor unions have lost their ability to influence the policies of the federal government because of the defeat of their longtime ally, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), in the July 2 presidential election. PRI candidate Francisco Labastida lost the election to Vicente Fox Quesada of the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) by almost six percentage points (see SourceMex, 2000-07-05).

The defeat will almost certainly unravel the cozy relationship these labor organizations--the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM), the Congreso del Trabajo (CT), the Confederacion Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos (CROC), and others--enjoyed with the federal government for almost seven decades.

This relationship was strongest under the leadership of Fidel Velazquez, who presided over the CTM for almost 60 years. Velazquez, who ruled the union movement with an iron hand, died in 1997 at age 97 (see SourceMex, 1997-07-02).

Velazquez's successor, Leonardo Rodriguez Alcaine, is perceived as a generally ineffective leader. A member of the older generation of labor leaders, he is also said to lack political savvy. In an ill-advised move, the CTM leader issued a threat two days before the election to organize a work stoppage in the event of a Fox victory.

"We would run the risk of losing much," said Rodriguez Alcaine. "They would try to do away with unions, which won't happen."

In the end, the CTM leader decided not to follow through on his threat because of the wide margin of victory for the PAN candidate.

Under Velazquez's leadership, the CT and CTM literally became units of the PRI, supporting most programs proposed by the executive. These labor organizations openly endorsed or tolerated wage controls, free trade, and other neoliberal policies endorsed by recent PRI administrations, even though the measures were generally viewed as detrimental to workers.

The close relationship to the PRI allowed some union leaders to amass great wealth, causing further friction with the rank and file. In a report published in mid-July, the daily newspaper La Jornada said Rodriguez Alcaine, Victor Flores of the Sindicato de Trabajadores Ferrocarrileros de la Republica Mexicana (STFRM), and Carlos Romero Deschamps of the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la Republica Mexicana (STPRM) bought a new luxury automobile every year and owned homes in exclusive Mexico City neighborhoods.

"How did these labor leaders, some of whom did not even finish high school, accumulate such fortunes?" the report asked.

In the end, the failure of neoliberal policies to improve living conditions for Mexican workers caused the CT, CTM, and affiliated unions to gradually lose the support of their rank- and-file members. Some disaffected union members joined new labor organizations, such as the Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), which are gradually gaining influence in labor policy. The UNT, increasingly viewed as an alternative voice for the rights of workers, was formed in 1997 by disgruntled CTM and CT affiliates (see SourceMex, 1997-11-26).

Union leaders failed to deliver votes for PRI

The loss of rank-and-file support was especially evident in this year's presidential election.

As was their custom, union leaders like the CTM's Rodriguez Alcaine and Joel Ayala Almeida of the Federacion de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado (FSTSE) endorsed the PRI candidate.

But unlike in previous elections, union bosses could not guarantee delivery of a massive number of votes for the governing party. Many workers opted to vote either for Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) or for Fox. The PAN candidate had a special appeal among younger workers because of his pledge to end the extremely corrupt policies that prevailed under the PRI. …

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