More than 45,000 workers go on strike on Mexico’s northern border, shaking up the U.S. auto industry

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An unprecedented workers’ strike in Matamoros, Tamaulipas has generated million-dollar losses in the North American manufacturing sector. Business owners report losses of almost 100 million dollars per week after the start of the work stoppage on January 12.

There are around 45 “maquiladora” sweatshops on strike mostly from the auto parts industry which are owned by U.S. and European capital at the border city of Matamoros. The workers are demanding a 20% wage increase and an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos (1,680 dollars) .

Employers fear that the workers’ rebellion could spread to other regions of the country after the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared there would be an increase in salary for border workers. Since then Obrador has changed his tune, ordering trade union officials to shut down the strike, ordering workers back to their jobs. The striking workers now distrust corrupt union leaders and have organized together. One Matamoros striker said, “We all have to go out together. The union is afraid that we are uniting. The majority of us are already out here. The problem is that the union hasn’t helped us and hasn’t represented us. Now is the time we have to go out (on strike).”

The Mexican ruling class is terrified of the growing strike movement.

In an article titled “The End of Labor Stability,” Mexico’s main business paper, El Financiero, warned on Thursday that “not in decades has Mexico been presented with 44 strikes at one time.” In comparison, the six-year presidential terms of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto saw only 49, 40 and 23 strikes respectively.

Of the companies that went on strike, 15 of them accepted the conditions demanded by the workers. But the workers remain united and will maintain the stoppage of activities until all the contractual conditions for the employees of the sweatshops are resolved. Currently there are 31 companies that have agreed to pay a 20% increase and the single bonus, although there are still 11 companies clinging to not giving the bonus.

“The workers are learning that their work force is the engine that moves this multi-million dollar industry around the world and that it only belongs to 10 families. If workers realize this, they’re going to know how to demand for better wages,” says labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas.

The workers’ strike in Matamoros has caused other groups of workers to demand better working conditions in their companies. Coca Cola workers and workers from other industrial centers such as Aguaprieta, Mexicali and Ciudad Juárez, have already joined the strike.

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