Manuel is establishing a Worker's Center in Mexico's second largest industrial city: Monterrey. The Center will deal with all aspects of workers rights, principally offering training for the formation of a democratic, non-corrupt and pacific trade union movement.
The New Idea
Manuel Garcia is setting up Monterrey's first Worker's Center to give legal training to independent trade unions, help dismissed workers assert their legal rights. He also hopes to set up a labor exchange to inform workers of new employment opportunities and help groups organize themselves into new cooperatives.
The idea for the Worker's Center grew out of a movement for dismissed workers which he set up in 1985. Garcia felt it was not enough, just to give legal backing to workers claiming dismissal pay. What they needed was trade union organization, new sources of employment, and respect for their rights. This is what the Center hopes to achieve.
Monterrey, Mexico's second largest city, is the center for many of the country's most important industries such as brewing, glass and steel. It sees itself as a city at the forefront of Mexico's modernization. Yet it has an extremely backward approach to labor relations, and had the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Current unemployment runs at about 10%. With such high unemployment, factories offer one month contracts to avoid paying legal benefits, and they pay only the minimum wage which families cannot survive on.
The local factory bosses have to control the work-force through two kinds of trade unions. the opted so-called "White trade unions with leaders being hired by the bosses, and the official trade unions belonging to a faction of the ruling political party, the PRI. Any opposition to this status quo is met with threatened with dismal beaten and even murder. Local government authorities often side with the factory bosses to prevent workers from obtaining their legal rights.
Yet increasingly independent workers refuse to accept these imposed leaders. When they claim better wages and conditions, however, they are passed to the Boards of Conciliation and there they may have their demands declared legally non-existent by corrupt bureaucrats. Furthermore, they are often fired and replaced with new workers who are willing to accept the lower wages.
Garcia himself describes the problem most graphically:"Many years have gone by and the situation today continues to be as cruel as yesterday. We experience the same exploitation, the same oppressive system, the same management and the same crisis.
Last year, Garcia's long experience in the trade union movement led to form the Centro Oprero De Nuevo Leon (The Nuevo Leon Worker's Center) The idea was to start a new worker's movement, and which follows four main principles: Advice, Organization, training Action.
Garcia learned from past experience that direct confrontation with the corrupt trade union movement or with the factory bosses was unproductive. He rejected the all-or-nothing strategy followed by many in the trade union movement. Taking each stage as it comes he argued feeling such an approach could lead to a more just situation for Mexican workers.
Garcia maintains that it is important to create links of solidarity not just between workers groups but also with a broad base of popular community organizations, teachers and students. In this way personal reprisals against individuals can be avoided.
He is developing two approaches to help workers. The first is to provide legal advice and mobilize protests when workers have been laid off without pay.
The second and more discreet approach, is to work with specific groups of workers with the aim of making their trade unions democratic. An important part of Garcia's strategy is to produce printed material and maintain good relations with other media. That have so far contributed significantly to the success of the Center.
In concrete terms Garcia's strategy includes the organization of Assemblies, Public Acts, the Trade Union School and Study Circles. In the general assemblies of the Center the members discuss the way in which the organization is developing, and its insertion into the worker's movement. The Public Acts include protests in front of the State Congress, the Palace of Government and the local Board of Conciliation. In some of these acts the press and TV are present, and this had been an important influence in curbing the varacity of corrupt officials. However, Garcia realizes it is not enough just to stop corruption through public pressure he must also build an open and just trade union movement. To achieve this, he is organizing courses and study circles which will eventually reach at least a thousand trade unions or worker's groups -- approximately half a million workers.
Manuel has a long background in the labor movement. His first experience of the injustices of Monterrey industry came 25 years ago when he was dismissed from the glass factory where he worked after demanding better working conditions. He was 22 years old at that time.
In his second job at a packaging plant for cattle foods he worked for eight years and ended up as the Secretary General of the plant's trade union. Since then he has worked independently as an electrician. A neck injury for which he was unable to obtain timely medical assistance has restricted him physically from obtaining paid employment.