El Financiero: Observations On Union Democracy and Political Machines

According to the Netroots, “Oaxacan paramilitaries were merely firing into the air” on the day Brad Will of Indymedia was killed. Brad Will was a New Yorker. The NMMist is a New Yorker. New Yorkers are not hot on terrorists who kill other New Yorkers (whether we especially like the politics of those other New Yorkers or not).

It is quite unfortunate that the axiom “labor protection kills the right to work” often prevails in regional political circles. Or, in other words, if the labor market is to be dynamic, labor protection must be strictly avoided. In a ground-breaking report on labor’s role in an open economy published two years ago, the Bank recognized for the first time that those who work with trade unions representing workers are partners in the workplace’s collective bargaining process, and that they contribute substantially to improving and reinforcing the productivity and competitiveness of firms. –Fouad Benseddik, World Bank

Not to mention union democracy movements put down by machine-political death squads, as appears to be the case with Oaxaca’s SNTE Section 22, and as attested to by mass graves in the Colombian countryside. And see also

El Financiero‘s FT-style “intelligence unit” cites said World Bank report: “Authentic labor unions required for economic growth.”

Also in this special section: Despite promises to the contary, the Fox and Calderón (PAN) governments have maintained the machine politics based on these types of organizations. And indeed, PAN appears to rely on time-tested PRI machinery to consolidate its power and carry out its program of government. On which more later.

En el ámbito laboral abunda la simulación. El marco legal facilita que la democracia sindical y la negociación contractual sean asuntos desconocidos para el grueso de la clase trabajadora. Los contratos colectivos de protección patronal son una práctica que afecta la concreción de garantías consagradas por la ley. Para el sociólogo Jorge Robles, miembro de la coordinación nacional del Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), esa práctica no es nada novedosa; “es tan vieja como la Ley Federal del Trabajo (LFT), promulgada por el presidente Abelardo L. Rodríguez en 1931”.

On the labor scene, simulation abounds. The current legal framework tends to perpetuate the fact that union democracy and contract negotiations are something that most of the working class has never experienced. Collective agreements for the protection of business owners (CCPP) are a practice that affects the concrete realization of legal guarantees. In the view of Jorge Robles, member of national board of the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), there is nothing new about this process; “It is as old as the Federal Labor Statute decreed by President Rodríguez in 1931.”

Not to mention civil service unions, where the “bosses” are the state and the unions get used as machine-political bloc votes. One of the most dramatic examples in modern times:

Los contratos colectivos de protección patronal (CCPP) pueden definirse como aquellos convenios que son pactados entre el secretario general de un sindicato sin vida real, en ocasiones inexistentes, pero dueño del registro que exige la autoridad laboral, y el propietario de la fuente de trabajo, con el propósito de eludir la verdadera negociación obrero-patronal, al definir las condiciones de trabajo. Además de también afectar salarios y prestaciones, impide a los trabajadores ser parte de una autentica vida gremial, pues menudean los casos donde éstos descubren ser parte de un sindicato justo en el momento en que pretenden organizarse.

CCPPs can be defined as agreements negotiated between leaders of a union with no real existence, on a fictional date, but have the membership list that the law requires, and the owner of the employing firm, for the purpose of evading any real worker-ownership negotiations over working conditions. Besides affecting wages and benefits, such arrangements prevent workers from genuinely participating in authentic union democracy, because they often find themselves assigned to [such an owner-controlled] union just at the moment in which they set out to organize themselves.

En los últimos años el problema se ha extendido de manera alarmante. La apertura económica dio lugar a la entrada masiva de franquicias, maquiladoras y contratación de terceros que, en la expansión de sus negocios, suelen echar mano de los CCPP. En entrevista para la UIAE de EL FINANCIERO, Robles externa que no es un asunto de pequeñas firmas. Consorcios tan poderosos como Wal-Mart, Grupo Carso (salvo excepciones como Telmex), o los bancos privados, “son ejemplo de una practica que supera 90 por ciento de los contratos colectivos registrados en el país”.

In recent years the problem has grown at an alarming rate. The opening of the economic gave rise to a wave of franchises, maquiladoras, and outsourcing contractors which, in expanding their businesses, often use CCPPs. In an interview with EL FINANCIERO’s intelligence unit, Robles notes that this not a phenomenon limited to small business. Consortia as powerful as Wal-Mart, the Carso Group (with some exceptions, such as Telmex) and private banks “are examples of a practice that accounts for more than 90 percent of the private-sector hiring in Mexico.”

El abuso de esta práctica determina que cada día sean más las confederaciones, sindicatos y abogados patronales que ofrecen un servicio, que puede ir desde la asesoría hasta el registro de un CCPP; incluso, disponen de sitios electrónicos donde publicitan sus servicios, dándose casos en que existen sindicatos y contratos en empresas aún no constituidas.

The abuse of this practice means there are more and more labor federations and unions, and labor relations lawyers offering CCPP-related services, ranging from consulting to union certification. They even have Web sites advertising such services, listing case studies of unions that have signed contracts with firms that do not even exist yet.

La Constitución de 1917 privilegió, en su artículo 123, los derechos colectivos sobre las libertades individuales. Esto debería alentar la autonomía sindical, pero la excesiva reglamentación de la LFT hizo impracticable esas garantías. Desde el momento en que la autoridad laboral recibió la prerrogativa de conceder registros sindicales (toma de nota), los sindicatos tuvieron un precio y la vida de los gremios se pudo desvirtuar.

The 1917 Constitution, in Article 123, privileged collective rights over individual rights. This ought to have helped union autonomy to prosper, but the excessive regulation of the LFT made those guarantees impossible to realize in practice. Once the labor authority was granted the right to certify unions, unions had a price tag on them and union democracy could be ignored.

El primer caso documentado ocurrió al ser promulgada la propia LFT. En previsión de un conflicto con sus trabajadores, la cervecería Cuauhtémoc explotó las bondades legales y promovió la formación de un sindicato con clara influencia patronal, luego llamado “blanco”, y registró un CCPP que sigue vigente.

The first documented case occurred as the LFT went into effect. Foreseeing a conflict with its workers, the Cuauhtémoc brewery exploited the legal loopholes in the law and promoted the formation of a union that was clearly owner-controlled — this later came to be known as a “blank” union — and registered a CCPP that continues in force to this day.

El problema es grave. Aunque el diseño de un CCPP busca el beneficio del empleador, hay indicios que lo muestran como una carga. Además de casos de extorsión al patrón, la nueva dinámica productiva exige la plena participación del trabajador en su centro de trabajo. Robles expresa que “el propio Banco Mundial ha señalado que sólo con sindicatos auténticos se puede dar un gran salto en la productividad”.

This is a serious problem. Although CCPPs are designed to benefit the employer, there are signs that it also has costs. Besides cases of extortion of business owners, the new dynamic of production demands full participation by workers in the workplace. Robles says, “Even the World Bank has signaled that only with authentic unions can a leap forward in productivity be realized.”

Let me see if I can dig up the source of that position he is referring to.

Naturally, the network just went down for an hour.

Speaking of Telmex and Carlos Slim, who operate the NET cable broadband service here in São Paulo in partnership with Globo.

Make note to self and check later.

Ah, here is a World Bank page on the topic, at least. He may have in mind this essay by Fouad Benseddik of Morroco or some related policy paper.

The example of Japan is often cited as one of the great modern success stories in terms of both its dynamic labor market and high levels of employment, as well as its ability to guarantee employment for life to workers in certain sectors. Why is it then that, in contrast to this experience, labor protection is considered to have an adverse effect on the European economies? The assertion that labor protection hinders economic growth by decreasing workers’ productivity and, to a certain extent, hampers competitiveness, needs to be weighed against the specific case of Japan and other countries. The complexity of this issue in all its dimensions is usually ignored among policymakers in Morocco and in other countries in the region.

“Unions kill the right to work.”

In this connection, it is quite unfortunate that the axiom “labor protection kills the right to work” often prevails in regional political circles. Or, in other words, if the labor market is to be dynamic, labor protection must be strictly avoided.

The “future of work” is a meme — IBM is a fervent evangelist — dedicated to spreading similar ideas.

“The Internet makes your 4th Amendment rights irrelevant!”

See From the “Dictatorship of the Labor Unions” File


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