By RICARDO CASTILLO
Baseball aficionado President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was pitched two unrelated labor strikes in a row on the week of Jan. 21. One was in the state of Michoacán concerning teachers, and the other was in the border city of Matamoros launched by maquiladora (in-bond assembly) industry workers. Both strikes were swerving curves that smoked right past batting AMLO. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
In Michoacán, teachers belonging to the notoriously belligerent Section 18 of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), who grinded to a halt that at least 90 percent of the elementary schools in the central Mexican state. The worst part was that, by using their usually destructive guerrilla tactics, the teachers blockaded the railway connecting the ports of Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo to the Central Mexico auto industries. Thousands of loaded double-stack cargo cars have been stalled for 12 days and counting, causing losses by now of billions to industries and supply chains to Mexico from East Pacific nations.
The teachers strike is more complicated than meets the eye. The strike began with CNTE leader Isidoro Castañeda claiming the Michoacán state government – the teachers’ direct boss – did not pay their January wages when they went on strike Jan. 14.
Immediately, the Public Education Secretariat (SEP) – which provides states with education funding – released an advance of 200 million pesos to cover the January wages and have the CNTE teachers clear the tracks.
But Castañeda, an expert extortionists of political situations, saw the Education Secretariat’s move as a sign of weakness and entrenched the blockade, demanding 6 billion pesos for backpay owed to the teachers by the state government. His move created a rift between the state and the federal governments.
This created a situation that is best explained by the tweets of Communications and Transportation Secretary (SCT) Javier Jiménez Espriú and Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles.
“The labor conflict between National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) and the Michoacán state government is damaging to the national economy as a whole, affecting both privately owned and government owned enterprises,” wrote Jiménez Espriú.
Aureoles tweeted that the railroad problem – since Mexican railroads are governed by the SCT – was not his concern.
“We’re asking you to do what corresponds to you and for the good of Michoacán residents, the state and the nation’s economy, to intervene in a formal manner to guarantee the immediate liberation of the rail tracks,” he wrote.
In not-so-formal language, what Aureoles was asking for was for the federal police to clear out the squatting teachers from the tracks.
On the morning of Monday, Jan. 28, AMLO said that federal police could not intervene in the matter, since this was clearly a conflict between the CNTE and the state government, adding that he “will not use public force” to remove the teachers from the occupied six sites of tracks. The president added that he usually abided by popular demand, and that to have the teachers fight for their rights damaging the nation’s industry “will only hurt your movement.”
Of course, the CNTE’s Castañeda is just praying to have the federal police remove the teachers to start accusing AMLO of human rights violations or better yet, shell out the ransom payment he is demanding on behalf of the state’s teachers.
In the meantime, cargo keeps accumulating undelivered at the Pacific ports, forcing industries to lose money.
As for the in-bond industry strikes, last week 45 maquiladora industry factories in the border city Matamoros, Tamaulipas – across from Brownsville, Texas – went on strike, sending shudders up the spine of the Mexican Employers Confederation (Coparmex) because they demanded a 20 percent wage hike. This, Coparmex claims, will only make Mexico less competitive in world job markets to attract this type of labor-intensive manufacturing schemes.
Each of the maquiladoras has different unions representing them, but their leaders originally decided to put up a united front. A total of approximately 32,000 workers went on strike.
By Monday, Jan. 28, at least 17 of the 45 companies had settled their wage negotiations with unions and had gone back to work.
This is a case in which the federal government has not been invited to intervene, but reports are that AMLO’s man at the Chamber of Deputies, Deputy Ricardo Monreal, called the Matamoros Workers Movement’s (MOM) labor union legal representative, Susana Prieto, to try and convince employees to return to work Monday morning. The call angered Prieto, who went to the auto parts assembly company to stay put with the strike within the Federal Labor Law statutes and asked “state and federal” politicos to stay off the labor strikes.
It is expected that all the Matamoros strikes will come to an agreement within a few more days on a case-by-case basis. At least two companies decided to withdraw their investments from Matamoros.
And returning to the topic of real baseball, on Sunday, Jan. 27, AMLO spent the day in Guasave, Sonora, announcing a plan to proclaim baseball as “the king of sports” in Mexico and promote the game nationally by opening baseball schools with the hope that, by the end of his mandate in 2024, there will be “from 60 to 80 Mexicans” in the majors.
At a meeting at the local ball park, AMLO heard a critic claiming that there were more important things for a president to do in Mexico than promoting baseball.
“There are people telling me there are other needs,” he responded. “What shall I answer them? We are going to go after all the needs. There’s going to be baseball and there’s going to be wellbeing.”
And for a change, that was not strike three!