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Interview with Mexican labor leader: ‘Critical moment’ in electrical workers’ fight for jobs

Published Sep 15, 2011 8:37 PM

On Aug. 25, while attending ESNA IV (Encuentro Sindical Nuestra América Union Meeting of Our America) in Managua, Nicaragua, Martha Grevatt and Ignacio Meneses of the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange interviewed Humberto Montes de Oca, secretary of external affairs of the Mexican Union of Electrical Workers/Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas, which for several years has been fighting privatization and the loss of their jobs. Since this interview was conducted, the SME has called for a week of solidarity with electrical workers and in support of SME’s demands for recognition, rehiring of 16,000-plus workers who did not take cash settlements and give up their right to their jobs, and freeing of SME’s members who are being held as political prisoners, Sept. 8-15.

IM/MG: Tell us about your struggle.

HMO: The government wanted to close the public electric utility and reopen it as a private company. On Oct. 10, 2009, 44,000 workers were fired without notice. The military forcibly removed them from their jobs.

On March 3, 2011, workers occupied the main plaza in Mexico City, Zocalo Square. We are still there. At this critical moment the government of Calderón is threatening violence. He has escalated threats of violence. The media have criminalized our movement.

The government has ordered the arrest of SME Secretary General Martín Esparza Flores, Labor Secretary Eduardo Bobadilla and attorney Amalia Vargas Ríos. Thirteen of our leaders are in jail, 11 for 10 months and two since April 11.

Our communities in Juando, Hidalgo, Necaxa and Puebla have been militarized. The military patrols these communities, including with helicopters. The right wing that is in power is demanding our expulsion from the square. Their excuse is that they need the square cleared to celebrate Mexican independence on Sept. 16. What is the union’s response?

The General Assembly of SME decided to keep occupying until our demands are met. We want to return to work, our political prisoners freed, the return of our dues money that was frozen and the political recognition of our 26-member executive committee. For this reason we are calling on all Mexican workers and international organizations to reinforce the encampment in the Zocalo.

What are your goals here at ESNA IV?

We are participating to make contact with workers of Our America and to strengthen our unity with workers and leaders of the unions of Latin America and the Caribbean, to give strength to our resistance and to find new alternatives for a new society.

Will you attend the Labor Conference in Tijuana scheduled for December 2-4? (Sponsored by the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange, the International Action Center, the Union del Barrio, the World Federation of Trade Unions and the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five)

Yes, we will be there with our Mexican brothers and sisters from Mexico and the United States.