Labor Unions in MexicoIn May 2019, workers won the right to form labor unions in Mexico. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), seven out of 10 Mexicans live in poverty or vulnerability. Meanwhile, the country’s minimum wage is $5.40 a day. Below are 10 facts about labor unions in Mexico and the promise of their implementation to alleviate Mexican poverty.

10 Facts About Labor Unions in Mexico

  1. Before the start of labor reform, thousands of Mexican workers went on strike for better pay, safer working conditions and union representation. The strikes shut down dozens of factories, resulting in 48 assembly plants agreeing to the workers’ demands.
  2. By granting workers the right to form labor unions, they can now engage in collective bargaining. This means that workers in Mexico, organized in a union, can negotiate their own pay, benefits and workplace conditions. Furthermore, they can provide a safeguard against workplace harassment and unlawful business practices.
  3. Many Mexican workers are already members of a union. Due to the fact that these unions completely exclude workers from their processes, however, others have dubbed them ghost unions. Employers establish these unions and they largely exist only on paper. Upon hiring, companies make workers join their union, which prevents workers from forming their own union and negotiating terms themselves. In fact, companies in Mexico force nine out of 10 union contracts without the consent, and sometimes knowledge, of their workers.
  4. Mexican President López Obrador implemented the new labor laws. He did this along with both branches of the Mexican congress in order to raise living standards, reduce crime and discourage migration to the United States. The left-wing president promises to carry out a “radical transformation” in Mexico, focusing on the needs of the poor and rooting out corruption.
  5. Wages in Mexico have fallen far behind the rate of inflation. The average hourly wage for a factory worker in Mexico, traditionally a unionized job, is approximately $2. Collective bargaining gives workers the right to negotiate wages, ensuring that workers have the efficacy to reduce the gap between inflation and pay.
  6. Depending on the collective bargaining contract, many unions provide protections against workplace harassment and unjust employee termination. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identifies forced pregnancy tests and mistreatment of migrant workers as areas of particular concern in Mexico. Employee complaints led to no change in business practices, but union contracts give workers the opportunity to push the issue in order to protect the most vulnerable among them.
  7. HRW and Mexican workers cite unsafe workplace conditions. These indicate employees need more robust labor protections. President Obrador campaigned on a promise to improve workers’ conditions through union representation. The need for better conditions is clear; HRW described some workplaces in Mexico as “life-threatening.”
  8. According to the OECD, 71 percent of the value created by corporations in Mexico goes to shareholders. On the other hand, workers receive only 28 percent. Employees in the United States, on the other hand, have a 69 percent share, and shareholders receive 21 percent of the value created. The disproportionate share exists as evidence of a lack of workers’ representation and labor unions in Mexico can help reverse the trend.
  9. The North American Free Trade Agreement included provisions in order to protect workers’ rights. According to HRW, people often ignored those provisions, especially in Mexico. The recent labor reform comes on the heels of a renegotiated trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The USMCA seeks to, among other things, reduce the gap between workers’ protections in all three signatories.
  10. While labor unions will not completely alleviate Mexican poverty, the country can expect to make some gains. As the share of the value created by corporations becomes more evenly distributed among workers, the Mexican economy will benefit as a whole. Put simply, a larger share of the money will remain in Mexico due to union representation.

Stronger worker protections in Mexico promise to strengthen its middle-class and help the poor. By reducing the degree of poverty, Mexico can also expect to enjoy greater stability. Labor unions in Mexico present an opportunity for economic expansion, foreign investment and an entirely new market for consumer goods.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Google Images

Facts about Workers' Rights in China
While China has grown to be one of the world’s largest economies, nearly 500 million citizens still live on less than $2 a day. As China’s economy booms, its laborers suffer. While the struggle for workers’ rights in China has been arduous, workers are collectively making their voices heard and are finding power in strikes and protests.

  1. Employers tread on workers’ rights – Independent labor unions are illegal in China. The government only endorses one union, known as the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). All other unions fall under their hierarchical control. Since ACFTU is tied to the government, it prioritizes government stability. Most workers do not see it as a reliable advocate for their rights.China Labor Watch (CLW), a workers’ advocacy group, investigated working conditions at Catcher Technology Co., a company that manufactures parts for Apple, Inc. CLW discovered many instances of unpaid overtime work, forced improper handling of toxic materials and work on machines without proper training. Workers report feeling nauseous from the fumes, getting headaches from the noise of the machines––and working so hard that their hands turn white.
  2. Law fails to protect workers’ rights in China – Under Chinese law, workers are technically guaranteed the right to a 40-hour work week with overtime pay, a minimum wage and social security benefits. But enforcement is down to the local governments. Unfortunately, underfunded and understaffed local governments often ignore violations of workers’ rights in China.When violations are reported, documented proof of employment is required to take employers to court. However, the rise of the “informal economy” in China means that many migrant workers are working without formal contracts. They are not officially employed anywhere, moving to and from companies to work during peak production seasons.
  3. Labor activists are changing the landscape – But Chinese workers are standing up. Approximately 600 worker strikes or protests were reported in 2017 alone, but estimates accounting for unreported strikes in recent years are even higher. In 2010, it was China’s youth that led the way. At the Nanhai Honda factory, a 23-year-old named Tan Guocheng led a 19-day long strike of young workers demanding higher wages––and they were victorious.When the Lide shoe factory decided to relocate in 2014, it did not consult its workers; instead, it provided them with little to no compensation. Workers came together to demand fair compensation for the relocation and the welfare benefits the company already legally owed them but had not been paying them. In a collective bargaining process that lasted for over nine months, the company was forced to compensate its workers and finally cover their social insurance and housing funds.
  4. The Chinese government cracks down on activists – In March of 2016, eight workers were sentenced to up to eight months in prison just for protesting their low wages in public. They were charged with the crime of “severely obstructing social-administrative order.”Wu Guijun used to be a factory worker and is now a dedicated labor activist. After organizing a protest of two hundred people, he was detained for more than a year. His crime? “Gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.” Guijun was eventually acquitted.
  5. NGOs fight for workers’ rights in China – After Guijun was acquitted, he was compensated by the government and used that money to found a labor rights group called Xin Gong Yi. This nongovernmental organization (NGO) stands up for workers by giving them legal advice.The Panyu Workers’ Service Centre, an NGO based in the city of Guangzhou, advocates for better labor laws. They submit key research reports to the Chinese legislature, stressing the importance of protecting all citizens equally. For example, they helped draft a new social security law in 2008 that increased the legally mandated welfare benefits for workers.

China’s economic prosperity is built on the backs of its laborers. But, when they engage in collective action and demand to be treated fairly, they can be a pivotal political force. Panyu activist, Zhu Xiaomei, explains in the documentary “We the Workers”: “There’s only one way: solidarity.”

– Ivana Bozic
Photo: Flickr