“Poor Mexico! So far from God, so near to the United States.” The
famous words of Porfirio Díaz are truer today than at any time in the
tempestuous history of this country. The crisis of world capitalism has
hit Mexico hard. And its extreme dependence on the USA, which
previously was presented as something beneficial to the Mexican
economy, has turned out to be a colossal problem.
collapse in demand in the USA has hit Mexican exports hard. Already
around 36,000 businesses have closed with the loss of 735,000 jobs.
Unemployment, however, is far higher than the official statistics
pretend, as the latter includes the millions of Mexicans who scrape a
living selling chewing gum in the streets and metro or cleaning the
windows of cars stopped at the traffic lights as being in employment.
Above all, the remittances from Mexican migrant labor in the USA
have fallen dramatically, as migrant workers with few rights are the
first to be laid off. Since there are whole areas of Mexico and Central
America that depend almost entirely on the money they receive from
relatives working north of the Border, this is creating an extremely
serious situation with potentially explosive consequences.
The explosive mood that has been accumulating beneath the surface of
Mexican society for decades was dramatically revealed on 2006, when the
blocking of the opposition PRD candidate López Obrador provoked a
national uprising in which millions of ordinary Mexicans, workers,
peasants, students and unemployed came out onto the streets. The famous
Zócalo in the centre of the capital was occupied by a city of tents for
two and a half months. But finally, the absence of a determined
leadership led to a falling off of the movement, and the right wing
government of Calderón and the PAN was imposed on a reluctant populace.
The program of the PAN from the beginning was a direct attack on the
living standards and democratic rights of the working class. This
policy was not the result of any caprice, but a reflection of the dire
position of Mexican capitalism. The figures speak for themselves. In
2009 the Mexican GDP will fall by 5.5%, according to official
government estimates. However, the OECD says that the fall will be even
steeper at -8%.
The fiscal deficit stands at about 400,000 million pesos and is set
to rise to 500,000 million pesos next year. The Calderón government is
determined to place the entire weight of the cuts in public spending on
the shoulders of the masses. However, the Mexican ruling class forgot
one small detail. The Mexican workers and peasants have a long
The PAN government has increased VAT and is contemplating charging
VAT on food and medicines, which till now were exempt. Since many poor
families spend most of their income on food and medicines, this would
represent a very serious attack on living standards. At the same time
as Calderon slashes the income of the poorest sections, he is handing
out lavish subsidies to the bosses, following the example of the
governments of far richer nations. While the poor suffer, the profits
of the banks and financial sector increased in the second quarter of
2009 by 18,714 million pesos, an increase of 70% over last year.
All this is provoking a profound discontent in the population, a
fact which is not lost on the strategists of capital. The newspaper La
Jornada (8th November) published an article with the headline: It is not the financial crisis but the economic and social crisis that is worrying. Alemán Velasco, the former governor of Veracruz, was reported as warning that the country was on the point of no return.
He told a forum of Mexican industrialists: “The country is on the
point of no return, like an airplane in mid-Atlantic”. And he stressed
that Mexico must do everything necessary to be as competitive as other
nations. On several occasions in the course of his speech, Alemán
reiterated the idea that he was worried about the situation of the
country, and that this was the general feeling of the business
community in Mexico.
On Monday 9 November La Jornada quoted the richest man in the world,
the Mexican Carlos Slim as saying that he did not expect a substantial
recovery any time soon. Slim stated that since the crisis of 1982 the
growth of income per head of population has been practically zero. His
recipe for combating poverty was predictable: more investment to
produce more jobs and get people to work instead of receiving benefits
from the state:
is employment that combats poverty, not social security, and for this
we require investment and economic activity.” The capitalists will only
invest when they are sure of obtaining profits, and since the profits
of the bosses are extracted from the unpaid labor of the workers, the
conclusion is inescapable.
Translated into simple language this means: more profits and lower
taxes for the bosses and the slashing of all state aid and benefits for
the poor. This is precisely the rationale behind the policies of
Calderon and the PAN government, which is the faithful representative
of the voracious Mexican capitalists.
The government not only wants to cut wages directly but also to
reduce the budget deficit by slashing the social wage: reducing and
eventually eliminating the state assistance that has made life at least
a little more bearable for millions of poor Mexican families. Health,
education, housing and the anti-poverty programs are all under threat.
For decades the Mexican bourgeoisie, using the PRI party, adopted a
skilful policy of keeping the workers quiet, on the one hand by
controlling the bureaucratic apparatuses of the trade unions and other
popular organizations, on the other hand by giving concessions in the
form of social security. The PRI even nationalized certain sectors of
the economy, notably oil, which was nationalized by Lázaro Cárdenas in
1938, and electricity, over which the Mexican state gradually obtained
control in the 1950s.
This clever policy of balancing between the classes in reality
disguised the dictatorship of the Mexican bourgeoisie, which did not
hesitate to use the most brutal repression when the movement threatened
to get out of control. But by a combination of corruption and
repression, they succeeded in maintaining control for a long time. Now
that is all finished, and a new period of convulsive class struggle
opens up. This explains the worry of people like Aleman and Slim.
The world economic collapse has cruelly revealed the weakness of
Mexican capitalism, and has exposed the deep fault lines that divide
Mexican society. Until fairly recently, with the income from oil,
tourism and the remittances from migrant workers, they succeeded in
keeping the lid on the class struggle. But 2006 was a dramatic turning
point on the situation.
The eruption of the masses onto the scene made the whole edifice
tremble. The Mexican bourgeoisie, and the reformist leaders of the PRD,
looked into the abyss and saw what the future holds for Mexico. Like
the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the PRD candidate López Obrador had conjured
up forces he could not control, and drew back from the abyss, handing
power, in effect, to Calderón.
The fact is that the Mexican capitalists can no longer afford to
tolerate the kind of situation that existed under the PRI. The economic
collapse means that they no longer have the same room to manoeuvre.
Instead of the sly, hypocritical methods of the PRI, the bourgeoisie is
forced to resort to the open, blatant, aggressive methods of the PAN.
The previous government of the PAN under Fox attempted to push
through a program of cuts and privatization but was forced to retreat
by the movement of the working class. Now the Calderón government has
drawn the necessary conclusions: in order to carry out the necessary
measures, we must first smash the main obstacle in our path – the
organized working class.
It is very clear that the government took advantage of the internal
power struggle between rival wings of the SME bureaucracy to provoke a
conflict with the powerful electricians union, precisely because it was
one of the strongest and most militant in Mexico. On 11 October the
government announced the closure of the state-owned electrical company,
Luz y Fuerza, without any warning. The news fell like a bombshell on a
I spoke to a member of the union today, who told me: “We were
shocked when we heard that they had closed Luz y Fuerza. We were
expecting some kind of attacks from this government, but we thought
they would begin with the weaker unions.” Just as in Britain in the
1980s, Margaret Thatcher provoked a fight with the miners to give an
example to the rest of the British working class, so the PAN government
has decided to make an example of the SME to terrorize and intimidate
the other unions.
Those who planned this operation knew what they were doing. The
closure of Luz y Fuerza immediately dealt a heavy blow against the
union, above all at the level of its bureaucratic apparatus. The truth
is that, despite its (justified) image as a powerful union, the SME
(Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas) was under the control of a highly
corrupt bureaucracy, which enjoyed huge privileges, and was closely
linked to the company itself. When the state closed the company, with
the stroke of a pen, it cut the ground from under the feet of this once
The government immediately put into action plans that had obviously
been worked out long ago. They used the age-old tactic of stick and
carrot, and the equally venerable tactic of divide and rule. The
government offered what they call “liquidations” to the former
employees of Luz y Fuerza. In exchange for accepting the closure, the
authorities offered sums of money, and also dangled the prospect of
This was a divisive tactic, since the amounts on offer varied from
100,000 pesos to several millions, according to length of service. The
offer of future re-employment was also a divisive fraud. Out of a total
of 45,000 sacked workers, only 10,000 would even be considered, and
these would only be those who accepted the liquidation offer. Even
then, only 7,500 would eventually qualify for employment.
Scandalously, about a third of the old officials have accepted the
liquidation, thus abandoning their members to their fate. This tells us
a lot about the nature of this bureaucracy. Fortunately, the strength
of this union, like any other, lies not in its head office with its
army of functionaries, but in its working class base, which has reacted
angrily to the actions of the PAN.
Interestingly, the old corrupt leader of the union, Martín Esparza,
has opposed the closure of Luz y Fuerza and the liquidation scheme. But
neither he nor Alejandro Muñoz, the leader of the opposition tendency,
Transparencia Sindical, have a serious strategy for winning this sharp
and bitter struggle. Most of their effort has been to make legal
appeals to the state, and while they have called for action, there has
been very little real effort to organize a mass campaign of explanation
in the factories, in order to achieve mass solidarity action – the only
way to force the government to retreat.
The real possibility of obtaining such action was shown on 15th
October when up to half a million workers and youth answered the call
for a mass demonstration in support of the electricians. This shows
that the workers understand that the attack on the SME is a preparation
for a general onslaught on the organized workers. The mood of the
demonstrators was angry. Most of the slogans were directed against the
government and in defense of Luz y Fuerza. But some of the
demonstrators chanted: “Si no hay solución, habrá revolución” (“If
there is no solution, there will be a revolution”), and “Esta lucha
llegará a la huelga general” (“This struggle will end in a general
The march ended with a mass meeting in the Zócalo, the ancient
centre of México City. The size of the demonstration can be gauged by
the fact that the last contingents were entering the Zócalo one hour
after the meeting had finished. Some did not even get there, dispersing
in the side streets after hours of demonstrating. The march lasted
seven or eight hours. A very important (and new) element was the
presence of a large number of young people.
Many students marched with the workers, including students from the
Universidad del Valle de México, a private school for the children of
the rich. On the other hand there was a contingent from Tepito, a very
poor area, where many people live from the sale of pirate discs and
goods illegally imported from China – an area where the police are
afraid to enter and are met with sticks and stones if they do. In other
words, here we had an expression of virtually every section of the
workers, youth and poor people of Mexico, demonstrating their support
for the electricians.
Also significant was the presence of workers from the Social
Security union, whose leader is a PAN member of parliament. The
government has been completely ruthless in using the Social Security to
crush the electricians and break their spirit by attacking their
families, their wives and children. The offices of the Social Security
have nursery facilities for the children of working mothers, which is
legally withdrawn after two months unemployment. However, it has been
the custom of workers in these offices to ignore this rule and allow
unemployed mothers to keep their children in the nurseries. But the
Social Security bosses, on orders from the government, have issued
strict instructions to expel the children of unemployed electricians.
More than anything else this reveals the true cruel face of Mexican
capitalism. The electricians are being attacked remorselessly from all
sides. The press has always been hostile to the union. But it has now
intensified its attacks to an unprecedented level of ferocity.
Previously the papers spoke of “privileged and unproductive workers.”
In the case of Luz y Fuerza the line was: “Let them strike and close
On Thursday 5th November the union convened a mass
meeting attended by some 2,000 people from about 40 different unions,
as well as student organizations. Among other unions represented were:
telephone workers, university and teachers unions, as well as public
sector and car workers. Some unions had never participated in action
before, such as the state legal office workers, while others were
unions traditionally dominated by corrupt right wing bureaucrats
(“charros”). There were also a handful of members of parliament from
the PRD and PT (Workers Party). Speaker after speaker pronounced in
favour of a “paro nacional” (national stoppage).
The mood is undoubtedly hotting up. The SME leaders called on the
sacked workers to put red and black flags on the closed offices of Luz
y Fuerza (the colors are a reminder of the old anarcho-syndicalist
tradition that was once powerful here). This was done in many areas,
but in some places it went far further than the leaders anticipated. In
some places the workers turned up at the offices, not with flags, but
with buckets of red and black paint, with which they proceeded to
decorate the buildings. This artistic activity led to violent clashes
with the police, in which the workers fought back.
In Necaxa (Puebla) the workers broke the locks of the gates. This
also occurred in Pachuca. In the Salonica area of Mexico City, the
authorities sent mobile cranes to tow away the lorries parked on Luz y
Fuerza property. The workers found out and immediately blocked the
gates, stopping anybody from entering or leaving – including the
police. They remained there for hours, until the mobile cranes went
away: a small but significant victory.
During the mass meeting on 5th November, one of the
speakers was a worker from Juandho. At first he spoke nervously
(probably he had never spoken in public before): “We workers were not
doing any harm, just carrying on our normal trade union activity, but
then the police started to provoke us. We fought back and one of our
comrades was wounded. But the police had even more injuries and were
forced to retreat.” These words were greeted by a stormy ovation. The
speaker seemed to rise in stature, carried away by the emotion of the
occasion. There was now no trace of any nervousness, as he addressed
the union leaders: “What we need is more decisive action. WHAT WE NEED
IS A STRIKE!” The mass meeting agreed with him. It voted unanimously
for a national stoppage on Wednesday 11th November.
What is being proposed stops short of a general strike, and is open
to many different interpretations, from a 24 hour strike to partial
stoppages of one or two hours, or even calling in sick. However, since
there has not been a general strike in Mexico since 1916, the calling
of a national stoppage was a big step forward. Some sections are sure
to strike, mainly in education and part of the public sector. The
students will join in, as usual. But unfortunately, since there has not
been a systematic campaign of mass meetings in the factories, it is
likely that stoppages in the key sectors of industry will be sporadic.
The miners, a traditionally militant section of the class, sent
representatives to the mass meeting, but they did not call for a
strike. The same was true of the key metalworkers union.
It appears that there will be no central demonstration in México
City. Instead what is being proposed is the blocking of traffic and
spontaneous local demonstration. This tactic unfortunately leaves
plenty of scope for provocations and police violence. Despite these
limitations, there is no doubt that there will be a widespread movement
of protest in many parts of the country with many demonstrations.
Particularly important is the movement in Michoacán, where the
industrial workers will join together with teachers, students, peasants
and the rank and file of the PRD. The paro nacional can be an
important way of preparing the ground for a real general strike at a
later date. This is how it is seen by many workers.
As I write these lines, on the evening of the 11th,
preparations for tomorrow are in full swing. I have just received an
enthusiastic phone call from a comrade in the Polytechnic, a
traditionally combative section of the students, saying that a mass
meeting of around 400 has voted unanimously to support the action.
There have been rumors that some workers are planning to occupy the
company installations. This will mean further clashes with the police,
with the possibility of workers being injured or even killed. Such a
tragic development could rapidly transform the whole situation. The
spokesmen of Capital know that Mexico is a powder keg that can explode
at any moment. We can expect dramatic developments.