Workers at the General Motors pickup-truck plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, voted overwhelmingly for a new independent union in early February, sending a message to the U.S. auto-giant bosses they will no longer accept low wages and abusive working conditions.
With 88% of the plant’s 6,300 workers voting, the SINTTIA autoworkers union won 78% of the vote, soundly defeating the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM)-affiliated union, which had “represented” workers there since the plant opened 25 years ago. The CTM, the largest union federation in Mexico, has long been integrated into the capitalist government’s bureaucracy, working with the bosses to keep labor peace.
Willy Gómez Zuppa, an advisor to the union and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, spoke to the Militant by phone Feb. 7. He said the fight at GM began in 2019 after 18 workers were fired for demanding better work conditions, including the right to bathroom breaks.
As part of negotiations over the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact, the Mexican government modified its labor laws in 2019 to require that contracts be approved by workers in a secret ballot, a rarity in Mexico. Regardless of their opinion of the trade deal, the workers used the new law to press their demands.
In August 2021, 55% of the workers voted down the CTM contract. “Taking advantage of that victory,” Gómez said, they rapidly signed up 30% of the workers to demand a new union election.
The organizing drive by SINTTIA was backed by independent unions at Volkswagen and Audi in Puebla and at Nissan in Morelos. It was supported by the United Auto Workers and AFL-CIO in the U.S., Unifor in Canada and other international union federations. U.S. union officials explain their interest in the fight by GM workers in Silao as an effort to help create a stronger union that would “level the playing field,” to put greater obstacles in the way of U.S. auto companies shifting work to Mexico to boost profits on the superexploitation of Mexican workers.
While auto parts workers in the U.S. average $12 an hour, and some at assembly plants make $32 an hour, workers at the GM plant in Guanajuato average around $25 a day for a 12-hour workday.
During the lead-up to the election, SINTTIA Secretary General Maria Alejandra Morales, who works in the paint department, explained that the union would fight for higher wages, bathroom breaks as needed, the right to decide when to take vacation time, and better work schedules.
Now comes the hard part, Gómez said, forcing GM to sit down and to win a better contract. “The workers are learning to have confidence in their own efforts,” he said.