Mexican Labor: Cracks in the Monolith

Mexican Labor: Cracks in the Monolith

Fidel Velásquez, the ninety-seven-year-old Mexican labor baron, finally expired on a Saturday morning last June. Those Mexicans who owed him the most were in full attendance at his wake: the free-market, ruling-party elite led by the government finance minister, and Velásquez’s fossilized, millionaire lieutenants in the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM). The CTM, which Velásquez commanded for nearly six decades, claims a membership of five million in more than twelve thousand affiliated unions. But limousines seemed to outnumber workers that day at the seven-story, bunker-like CTM headquarters. Velásquez, who almost single-handedly transformed Mexican workers into an arm of the ruling party, was to the end a servant of the state.

Most of the few hundred blue-collars who showed came from a Chrysler plant, whose managers enticed them with gifts of new uniforms and a free bus ride to the city. They were told to return for the funeral on Sunday, but not many were on hand when President Ernesto Zedillo extolled Velásquez for his role in maintaining social and economic stability. Indeed, by keeping organized labor enchained, Velásquez had done more than any single individual to avert a social explosion during the peso devaluations, privatizations, and International Monetary Fund-prescribed austerity of the last fifteen years. To the delight of multinational enterprises, Mexican workers are now among the poorest, lowest-paid in Latin America. That Ford, Sony, Daewoo, General Motors, General Electric, and others did not send emissaries to honor Velásquez’s legacy was an act of utmost ingratitude.

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Lima