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Auto workers mount continental protest.

Auto workers in Canada, Mexico, and the US held a highly unusual international labour protest Jan. 8, 1991, to denounce exploitation of workers in Mexico and resulting job loses in Canada and US.

The coordinated protests commemorated the first anniversary of the murder of Mexican worker Cleto Nigno at Ford's Cuautitlan plant near Mexico City.

Nigno was killed and eight others wounded in January 1990 when professional thugs were brought into the plant and opened fire on unarmed workers who had been demanding payment of earnings the company had illegally withheld, and control of their own union.

In an action endorsed by the Canadian Auto Workers, the United Auto Workers (UAW) council of all US Ford assembly local unions, and the Mexican Ford Workers Democratic Movement, thousands of workers in all three countries reported for duty this Jan. 8 wearing black armbands or stickers with the message: "Remember Cleto Nigno -- Solidarity and Struggle for Justice."

At rallies, news conferences, and a memorial service outside the Cuautitlan plant, workers explained that, in addition to marking Nigno's death, their joint protest was aimed at proposals by President George Bush and Carlos Salinas and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to make their three countries a "free trade" zone.

Free trade, workers charged, is designed to make it easier for transnational corporations to produce in Mexico under low-wage conditions and export back to the US and Canada. Workers in the US and Canada said they fear job losses and pressure to accept reduced pay and working conditions in order to compete with Mexican conditions, while Mexican workers fear they will continue to receive a small fraction of US or Canadian wages.

"Mexican workers do not want to be used as scabs by the corporations or steal our jobs," noted a leaflet distributed by the CAW at all Ford operations in Canada. "They want to figh for better wages and working conditions. It is in our interest to stand with our Mexican brothers and sisters to help them come to our level, or we could eventually face a decline to theirs."

Added Tom Laney, a leader of UAW Ford Local 879 in St. Pau Minnesota, "we're not just against free trade. We are for raising Mexican workers pay so they can buy what they produce and take part in expanded trade that would support jobs for all of us."

According to Raul Escobar, elected leader of the Mexican Ford Workers Democratic Movement, "Companies like Ford come to Mexico to exploit workers, pay low taxes, and avoid environmental regulation." Wages at the Cuautitlan plant average less than $60 per week, he said. There is only one break each eight-and-a-half hour shift.

"To cut costs, the company even reduced the number of relief workers that could take your place when you need to go to the bathroom," said Marco Antonio Jimenez, another Democratic Movement leader. "They said you should be able to relieve yourself and still keep up with your job."

Workers charge that the armed attack on them a year ago was coordinated by Ford and the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which is affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has ruled Mexico for the past 60 years.

Three gunman captured by workers inside the plant admitted to the news media that they had been recruited by CTM officials, brought through Ford's security system in a bus, and given Ford uniforms and I.D. badges. More than a year after the killing, however, no one has been prosecuted for ordering the attack, and the gunman themselves are free on bail, with most of the charges against them already having been dropped.

Ford spokesman Al Chambers in Detroit confirmed that armed men were brought into the Cuautitlan plant by someone on Jan. 8, 1990, and that "at least some of them" were wearing Ford uniforms. He said the company played no role in the assault, however.

"We don't know where they came from," he explained. "It appeared to be an intra-union issue, not a dispute with the company."

The Jan. 8 international protests developed out of contacts made by CAW leaders as they and other Canadian unions participated during the past year in a variety of conferences and exchanges with their counterparts in Mexico. As the debate over a US-Mexico or US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement heats up, more such contacts--and more coordinated international protests actions--appear likely.

Matt Witt is a co-director of the independent American Labor Education Center in Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:denouncing exploitation of workers in Mexico
Author:Witt, Matt
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Free workers, not free trade.
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