Enrique de la Garza and Nestor de Buen have been
pivotal in the study of labor relations and labor law reform,
respectively, in Mexico. De la Garza, professor of Sociology
from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Iztapalapa)
and director of Trabajo magazine, is widely regarded
as an expert scholar on labor relations and unions. He is
the author of, most recently, Cambio en las Relaciones
Laborales (1999) and Tratado Latinoamericano de Sociología
del Trabajo (2000). In turn, Nestor de Buen teaches law
at UNAM and runs a law firm dealing with labor law reform.
De Buen was a key participant in the drafting of the NAFTA
Labor Side Agreement, and is also a councilmember of the
Human Rights Commission of Mexico City.
de la Garza (second from right) and others who attended
session began with opening presentations by the guest speakers
on their respective areas of expertise and then opened to
a general discussion. The discussion focused on three key
issues that have risen in the wake of Fox's election and
the climate of political change in today's Mexico. First,
what options does Mexican labor have under the new Fox administration,
and how might relationships between Mexican and United States
labor unions change? Second, what are the perspectives for
labor law reform in Mexico, including the key proposals currently
being discussed and the most likely outcome of these proposals?
And finally, regarding the current U.S. Mexico relationship,
what might U.S. Congress and labor unions do to improve labor
conditions in Mexico? Conversely, what might key social actors
in Mexico do to advance labor issues in the United States?
la Garza's presentation began by stating that the Mexican
corporate model, which historically allowed rising wages
and benefits for Mexican workers, is undergoing a crisis.
From the 1980s, Mexico instituted neoliberal policies that
led to the restructuring of production and labor. Wage policy,
for example, became targeted at controlling inflation. In
addition, social security benefits were reduced and privatizations
were launched, leading to unemployment. In turn, the composition
of the labor force became younger, less educated, more mobile
and with a higher female participation. Market liberalization
and government policies have thus led to a declining ability
for employers to maintain minimum labor standards.
to de la Garza, the Labor Question is a crisis of identity
among employees, one of the survival of organized labor in
the face of its lower bargaining power under the new contractual
system. De la Garza thus envisions three likely outcomes
under the incoming Fox administration. The first possibility
is that the government upholds legal minimum labor standards
and favors official unions, but refrains from more comprehensive
reform and fails to include independent unions. Second, the
government could support a policy more radically in favor
of private sector management that ignores workers' concerns,
although this option might arouse conflict with labor representatives.
The third, and most likely, option, would be a conservation
of the current relationship between labor unions and the
government, favoring some independent unions in certain district
of the country but maintaining its historically strong relationship
with the official unions.
what for de la Garza will most likely be an unchanging outlook,
he did stress that the PRI's decline came about due to a
crisis of leadership and of unions, as well as a crisis of
representation. He also noted that the main leaders of unions
are seeking to side with President Fox, and wondered whether
they are truly restructuring in a more representative form,
or merely defending their old power positions. In any case,
de la Garza concluded, any hope for change lies in the unions
and not in the new political leadership.
de Buen focused on the evolution of labor law in Mexico.
He noted that Mexico's first labor law, approved in 1931,
was copied from the Italian Carta di Lavoro, which
was fascist in nature. Therefore, the government controlled
unions, selected leaders, and repressed strikes and collective
bargaining. The only change to this system was as recently
as 1970. Effectively, the new labor law did little other
than provide more vacation time to workers and provide a
cash bonus to employees equivalent to 15 days paid salary,
to be paid during Christmas. However, collective rules remained
the state still controls unions, strikes and collective bargaining.
The legal mechanism whereby the state controls collective
bargaining is by making it mandatory for the union leader
and the employer to sign collective contracts and register
them with the government. However, in practice labor union
leaders do not represent their workers' interests, but rather
hold informal alliances with the government and in return
obtain government positions and political influence. As a
result, 92% of collective contracts are signed without the
consent of the workers involved.
Buen concluded by saying that it will be difficult to pass
a new labor law, especially since no party has majority in
the government. He also noted that recent proposals for labor
law reform by both the PAN and the PRD were turned down in
Congress. In addition, he believes that the emerging labor
culture, which rests on an understanding between government,
corporate unions and management, leads to the exploitation
of workers and will do little to further comprehensive labor
both presentations, there followed several interesting questions,
focused mainly on the possibilities and challenges of labor
law reform. During this discussion, de la Garza noted that
Mr. Abazcal, a conservative, is rumored to be the future
Minister of Labor in Mexico, and that this would not bode
well for labor relations. While both speakers regarded that
possibilities for reform are better now than under the hegemony
of the PRI, neither was confident that significant reform
could be achieved, in part due to the nonexistent unionization
in the growing maquiladora/export sector of the economy.
In addition, 80% of Mexican workers gain less than three
times the minimum wage, and this is not being addressed due
to ineffective labor representation. According to both speakers,
any hopes for change lie in union alliances with the United
States and increased union activism in Mexico.