Mexico News and Analysis: November 16-22, 2009

1. SME struggle continues
2. Calderon co-opts anniversary of revolution
3. Mexican corruption increases under Calderon
4. Migrants pay more to US government than families


1. SME struggle continues
The Electrical Workers Union (SME) continued its struggle to reopen Central Light and Power (LFC) and regain more than 44,000 jobs lost during a midnight action last month in which the Calderon administration abruptly closed the state-owned electrical company.  Calderon was hoping the vast majority of workers would accept sweetened severance packages, but only about half of the 44,000 workers, including most of the office and salaried workers, accepted before the November 10 deadline.  Instead, 25,265 union workers plus most of the 14,000 retirees joined in legal actions filed by the SME.  An additional 3,700 workers filed legal actions with private lawyers, while 3,500 workers refused to accept severance packages but also did not sign onto formal union legal actions.  To close out the LFC, the Calderon administration needed about a 90% participation rate, according to many experts.  They didn’t get it.

Electrical service continues to be sporadic with inexperienced temporary workers trying to patch an antiquated system that was decapitalized by successive PAN administrations since 2000.  There are no personnel to read meters, meaning electrical bills have not been sent to clients for more than a month.  The company may try to send estimates rather than actual bills, an action that is almost certainly illegal and will generate thousands more legal cases for the government.

The November 11 one-day strike virtually closed Mexico City as traffic backed up at dozens of road blockades armed by union members, students and colonos.  The SME is now laying plans for an open-ended national strike, probably in early January.  Despite a union with no strike fund and workers who didn’t receive their final paychecks, the SME workers are leading a national movement that threatens the very foundations of the Calderon presidency.  On Thursday, union rank and file announced a hunger strike in the Zocalo.   Throughout the struggle, rank and file workers have been more radical and creative than the union leadership, which often counseled delays and legal tactics rather than street actions.  Look for the rank and file to take more initiative in coming weeks as the movement moves into a decisive period.


2. Calderon co-opts anniversary of revolution
The Calderon administration hijacked the 99th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution this year, first changing the legal holiday from November 20 to November 16, then organizing a military parade in place of the usual civic celebration of the Zapatista- and Villa-led 1910 popular revolution. 

Mexico’s political class is concerned about a general uprising next year, the 100th anniversary of the Revolution and the 200th anniversary of Independence.  Rumors are circulating throughout the country that “something” will happen in 2010, though nobody is quite certain what.  Indications of a political and economic crisis abound that could spark an uprising.  A bickering political class joined popular organizations in criticizing recent tax increases approved by a PRI/PAN alliance.  Many political leaders are calling for a new economic model that would jettison two decades of neoliberalism in favor of “capitalism with a human face.”  Meanwhile, at the community level, spontaneous crowds are increasingly taking justice into their own hands as confidence in government is at an all time low.  The Left is calling for a national anti-capitalist movement, while dozens of guerrilla groups reportedly gear up for possible actions next year.  The economy is in free-fall with historic unemployment rates exceeding 6.5% (in a country with no unemployment insurance).  More than 4 million Mexicans joined the ranks of the poor this year, according to a study published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal), while pundits from Joseph Stiglitz to Bancomer criticize the Calderon administration for doing virtually nothing in the face of the worst economic and political crisis since the Great Depression.


3. Mexican corruption increases under Calderon
Mexico fell 17 places in Transparency International’s annual ranking of corruption around the world, moving from number 71 last year to 88 this year.  Mexico rated a 3.3 on a one-to-ten scale, performing worse than some of Latin America’s historically most corrupt nations, including Colombia, Guatemala and Peru.  Low qualifications “reflect weak institutions, deficient governmental practices and excessive influence from private interests,” according to the report.  Canada led the hemisphere with a rating of 8.7 while the US was second at 7.5.  Somalia and Afghanistan are considered the most corrupt countries in the world.

In related news, a poll released this week by the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) showed less than 10% of the population thinks elected officials represent them, while 60% think the actions of elected officials have little or nothing to do with voters.


4. Migrants pay more to US government than families
Migrant workers from Mexico paid more than US$52 billion in taxes last year, more than double the amount they sent home to families, according to a study by BBVA Bancomer, Mexico’s second largest bank.  The depression has hit migrants harder than most US workers.  Of the 8 million jobs lost in the US since the end of last year, more than ten percent were migrant workers.  The number of Mexicans living in poverty in the US reached 3.2 million this year, 27% of the total Mexican migrant population.  The result is a dramatic decrease in family remittances, with some Mexican families now reportedly sending pesos north so that migrant workers can survive.