Mexico News and Analysis: October 5-11, 2009

1. Calderon attacks Electrical Union


1. Calderon attacks Electrical Union
President Calderon dissolved the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) late Saturday night and fired more than 41,000 union workers, effectively shutting down the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), one of the most combative and independent of Mexico’s unions.  The administration promised severance pay, with substantial increases for workers who accept a deal within a month, and plans to re-contract a certain number of workers, though without union representation.  The company provides electricity to more than 25 million customers in Mexico City and surrounding states.  Shortly before midnight, Federal Police and army troops occupied 91 of the 103 installations of Central Light and Power.  Calderon plans to merge LFC with the state-owned Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), with an eye toward eventual privatization of the electrical sector.  The CFE provides power to the rest of Mexico.  The energy sector is constitutionally a state monopoly, and the SME plans to challenge Calderon’s actions in court.  The SME is badly divided after closely contested elections earlier this year.  Earlier in the week, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano refused to provide current President Martin Esparza with formal recognition as union head.  The “toma de nota” is a holdover from PRI regimes that allowed the party to have the final word in union elections.  Esparza won the election by about 350 votes, though opponents within the union claim fraud.

Calderon may be biting off more than he can chew.  While he has a long history of anti-union activity, most recently directed against mineworkers, the SME is a different story.  The union led the fight against privatization of the energy sector in recent years and has a 95 year history of building solidarity with worker and campesino movements.  Calderon’s actions may quickly dispel divisions within the union, and many organized workers are expected to heed a potential call for a general strike.

The Calderon administration, aided by Televisa and TV Azteca, mounted a campaign in recent months against the SME, claiming LFC was spending nearly twice as much as it was taking in from electricity bills, forcing the federal government to make up the difference.  The union presented conflicting data to the Interior Secretary earlier in the week, but apparently the Calderon administration ignored the union’s calculations.