Comité Fronterizo
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CFO

For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers

 
   
   
   
Home> CFO in the Media 2002
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Texas & Mexican groups join together in San Antonio to make Alcoa feel the pressure

La Voz de Esperanza
November 22, 2002

The Provocation: Alcoa Attacks.
On October 3rd and 4th, 2002, Alcoa fired 20 workers in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Where they employ 2,000 people. With this move the US Corporation signaled their intent to crush an unprecedented border democratic movement which in March had elected a union committee dedicated to representing workers but functioning within the Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos. The Confederación, or CTM, usually controls elections and more or less appoints committee members who are willing to represent management. Despite the workers’ mandate, from the March election to the October firing, corrupt union officials limited the democratic committee to decisions on everyday operations and reserved for themselves the power to negotiate substantive issues. In justifying the firing, Joca San Martín, the human resources manager for Mexican operations, located in San Antonio, stated by telephone that the company based its decision on careful examination of evidence (videotapes and photos) which proved that those fired were involved in organizing. Despite San Martin’s citation of “evidence,” it is not a crime to organize or campaign for a union committee. It’s a guaranteed right. San Martín further alleges that the organizers conducted an illegal work slow down.

The Background: Power and Corruption Snack the Decks.
The Alcoa executive’s allegations are based on a double bind of historic proportions. The CTM is the prevailing union in many part of Mexico. If it is present, no work action is legal unless the CTM leads it and the CTM never leads an action that represents the workers’ interest against the company’s. The workers’ hands are tied and they can take no action, beyond casting ballots to gain relatively powerless positions; unless, that is, they form an independent union. This is exactly what they propose to do in Piedras Negras. On May 1st they began navigating the hazardous state legal system to quit the CTM and register their union. They continue to pursue this avenue. Moreover, the firings appear not to have intimidated them. On October 18th, only two weeks alter the assault, in the second Alcoa Piedras Negras plant; the independents ran the “Unity” slate against candidates that Alcoa and the CTM sponsored. The upstarts won by solid margins and continue, as of this writing, to function as union representatives but within the CTM structure.

The Protest: The Workers Respond.
Having understood the October 4th firings as a rebuke to the whole principle of worker representation, fired workers joined with the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras/os to send out a bi-national call for solidarity in support of their three demands which are:

Reinstatement of all fired workers.
• Recognition of the independent union
• Replacement of Paulino Vargas and José Juan Ortiz, the general and human resources managers of the Alcoa plants.

Allies on this side of the border, composed of national and local groups, have so far organized a campaign of support in two phases. The first advocated for the workers and their demands by means of communications to Alain Belda, Alcoa’s top CEO, located in Pittsburgh. The second took to the streets to make Alcoa feel the pressure in local offices and facilities. On November 22nd, a Texas coalition targeted the San Antonio facility at the De Zavala Center, which directs operations of the Mexican subsidiary and houses functions like engineering and accounting as well as executive offices. Leading the San Antonio action were, from Austin, the American Friends Service Committee, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, and two Alcoa shareholders. From San Antonio, Fuerza Unida, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Southwest Public Workers Union led the charge. After intricate negotiations with the INS, two workers, Margarita Ramírez and Guillermo Fernández, crossed the border to join the protest.

The objectives of the action were; first, to make Alcoa feel the pressure, second, to state the workers’ case to a wide audience, and third, to provide an opportunity for all the protesting parties to get to know each other. The pressure tactics consisted of picketing, presentations of the workers’ case through speeches and information flyers directed to the public and to Alcoa employees, and finally, a petition that the protesters attempted to deliver to Martín. The human resources manager had locked the entrance to the executive offices The protesters then entered the reception lobby in an adjoining building where what appeared to be an office manager and a security manager gave them a hostile reception. However the protesters politely persisted in asking to see Martín. Eventually the office manager called Martín on an interoffice phone looking for help in getting rid of the protesters. Martín refused to come out to receive the petition and he refused lo listen to it over the phone. By his avoidance tactic he demonstrated the trademark Alcoa arrogance. The protesters then quietly occupied the reception are until a first police officer arrived and told them to leave, which they did, reassembling in the parking lot. Soon eight police cars arrived bring 10-12 officers, all men. They lined up before the single story glass and steel building to protect the transnational giant from a crowd that had dwindled from 40 to 30. In the ensuing confrontation between police and protesters some observers saw history repeating itself.

The protesters still stood on private property and the biggest police officer strolled over and demanded, “Who’s in charge here?” One protester responded, “No one; we’re all leaders.” Changing tack temporarily he appeared to soften. He said, “Ok, Ok, Group hug.” As no one took him up on that, he started to lecture on what “demonstrators” usually do, that is, appoint someone to be in charge. The protesters started to spell it out for him. One said, “We’re a collective.” Another said, “we work by consensus.” And another: “If you talk to us, we will listen.” He then informed them of the law –get off private property –which they did. This is exactly what happens in Chiapas. The military come barging in and say, “Where’s Marcos?” The people answer, “Todos somos Marcos.”

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Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
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