By RICARDO CASTILLO
The wheel of fortune has made a full circle for Mexican Senator Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. In 2006, Gómez Urrutia, then — and still — leader of the Mexican Miners and Metal Smelters Union, fled Mexico Canada-bound, charged with a $55 million embezzlement of union funds. Had he not fled, he would have spent that time in a Mexican jail.
Instead, Gómez Urrutia legally fought back the myriad of charges filed against him in 11 separate lawsuits and, in the end, won them all. Not only that, Canada granted him first residence and then citizenship. Those moves came as a shock to Gómez Urrutia’s Mexican foes, principally former Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón.
Furthermore, after those two victories, then-President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) made a deal with Gómez Urrutia and AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena) awarded him with a plurinominal senatorial seat (granted to political parties in Mexico in accordance to the number of votes the party has). Morena, of course, is now the majority party in both houses of the Mexican Congress.
Political gossip has it that Napoleón (best known for the diminutive of Little Napo, or Napito, as he inherited the union he now runs from his father Napoleón Gómez Sada) promised AMLO some 200,000 votes from dissident unions of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). At the last minute – again, rumor has it – Napito delivered over a million votes and got the Senate seat.
He returned from Canada in August 2018, just in time for the senators swearing in ceremonies. President AMLO defended him from critics, noting that since the courts had thrown out all charges against him, he was clear to occupy the senate seat. “He was falsely accused and he’s proven it, so he can occupy any seat in Congress,” AMLO commented at the time.
While doing time in exile in Canada, Gómez Urrutia continued in his post as Mexican Miners and Metal Smelters Union (with the long winding title of Sindicato de Trabajadores Mineros y Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana, or STMMSRM – no doubt, Mexicans love long monikers) and contacting U.S. and Canadian union centrals, the U.S. American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the Canadian Labor Congress, respectively.
Ever since he took office as senator last Sept. 1, Gómez Urrutia began inviting a myriad of different unions to join him in the formation of a new labor central under the aegis of the International Workers Confederation (CIT.) The announcement of the integration of the Mexican chapter of the CIT – to make good on long titles, it will be called the International Democratic Unions Confederation (CSID) – will be announced at the central offices of STMMSRM on Avenida Vértiz in Mexico City – known popularly as the July 11 Theater. The CSID will have for starters 10 independent unions from the once-powerful CTM and the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Farmhands (CROC), both of which were ousted from the International Unions Confederation last December on charges of betraying workers’ rights to favor employers, a move known in Mexico as “white unions.”
Whatever will come out of the CSID is anyone’s guess at this moment, but according to Gómez Urrutia, it may mark the beginning of the end of CTM and CROC as labor centrals because current CTM leader Carlos Aceves del Olmo has aged substantially and “he’s conscious that he has a terrible internal division due to the power greed of many of the CTM’s state leaders, who are waiting for him to retire to launch a power struggle.”
Gómez Urrutia specifically accused his personal foe – the man who accused him of embezzlement – CTM miners’ leader Tereso Medina of inciting workers to violence.
Gómez Urrutia says the same thing may happen with CROC and “the rest of official labor centrals, which became instruments of media projection and control of workers. Confronted with this scenario, and with an administration that’s wagering on the Fourth Transformation, many organizations will seek a new space to regroup in a project that guarantees the right to unionizing and to choose leaders without repression, blackmail or threats.”
The Fourth Transformation refers to President AMLO’s aim at coming up with a new constitution, since he considers that the nation has undergone three previous transformations with the drafting of three different constitutions in 1824, 1857 and 1917.
But what is certain is that from his senate seat, Gómez Urrutia will be promoting the labor agenda of the Morena party, which is aiming to totally revamp what it calls “labor justice and union democracy.” as well as pensions and union dealings with the federal government.
Overwhelmed by the Morena party majority in both houses of Congress, so-called opposition parties such as the National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolutionary (PRD), are sharing Morena’s concern for retirement pension reforms. In the Chamber of Deputies, are pushing to exempt pensions of less than 10,000 pesos month from taxation. Of course, all back the creation of new and better paying jobs.
Among the hot issues regarding labor, there will be a fierce debate over outsourcing, which Gómez Urrutia is totally against since he considers it as a means of depriving workers from their rights. Confronting him on the outsourcing issue are the different business organizations who see it as the future of labor.
The announcement of the creation of the chapter of the International Democratic Unions Confederation may mark the beginning of a new era in Mexican business-labor relations.
How well – or badly – will it go? That remains to be seen. But, for sure, the CSID may point to a different course for Mexican workers.