The Guardian August 18, 1999


Mexico:
Han Young workers fight on

by David Bacon

Workers at the Han Young plant, in Tijuana, which contracts the production 
of truck chassis for the huge Hyundai Corporation, have been on strike for 
over a year. Their union wants to raise maquiladora wages from the present 
50-60 pesos daily average to 100 pesos.

The Han Young plant is a maquiladora, an assembly-for-export plant built 
with foreign investment. The strike is the first in the history of the 
maquiladoras.

According to University of California professor Harley Shaiken, "the 
Mexican government has created an investment climate which depends on a 
vast number of low wage-earners".

The key to maintaining these low wages is a system of company-friendly 
unions, encouraged by the government, which sign labour contracts 
criticised by Mexican labour activists as "protection agreements".

Workers often don't even know they have a union, since there are no 
meetings, and union officials do little to defend workers on the job.

"The government basically uses these labour federations to get votes during 
elections", says labour lawyer Jesus Campos Linas.

"Companies make hefty regular payments to union leaders under these 
contracts, and in return get labour peace."

Two years ago, the Han Young workers challenged this system. They organised 
an independent union, and began industrial action.

Pedro Martinez, director of the state chapter of the Mexican Employers 
Council (COPARMEX), and Jose Calleros Rivera, head of the Maquiladora 
Industry Association, call the present strike "a threat to investment all 
along the border".

They warn that independent unions could spread to other factories on the 
border in the wake of a victory at Han Young.

For over a year, city and state police, under the control of pro-investment 
government authorities, have tried continuously to suppress the strike and 
arrest its leaders.

Courts have held those efforts violate the law. On April 6, the First 
Collegial Court of the Fifteenth District, the highest judicial authority 
in Baja California Norte, ruled that those actions were illegal.

"The justice system of the republic protects [the independent union] 
against acts of the authorities", the court said, granting the strike legal 
status. Yet repression against the strike and its leaders continues as 
though the courts have no authority.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its side-agreement, the 
North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation have also had no effect in 
protecting workers' rights.

Hearings on complaints under the Agreement have consistently found that 
Mexican labour law is not being enforced along the border.

The government allows violations of normal legal procedures by the Tijuana 
labour board, intended to deny the independent union the right to represent 
the Han Young workers. Occupational safety and health laws aren't being 
enforced either.

In the last year, proposals have been made by the Mexican government, as 
well as the more conservative National Action Party that rules Tijuana and 
Baja California, that Mexican worker protection law be weakened even 
further.

US Congressman David Bonior, a Republican from Michigan, said recently that 
the Han Young case "shows it's virtually impossible to form independent 
unions in the maquiladora border area in Mexico.

We need to fix NAFTA so that workers in the US, Mexico and Canada are 
protected as much as intellectual property rights."

* * *
People's Weekly World, paper of Communist Party, USA

Back to index page