Auto Workers Vote Overwhelmingly for Independent Union at GM Plant in Mexico

A vote was held February 2nd to elect an independent union. It was a huge victory for auto workers at a General Motors factory in central Mexico. It’s a major breakthrough for workers and labor activists seeking to break the vice grip of the employer-friendly unions that have long dominated Mexico’s labor movement.

Turnout among the plant’s 6,300 eligible voters was 88 percent. The independent union SINTTIA (the National Auto Workers Union) picked up 4,192 votes — 78 percent of the vote. SINTTIA was born out of last year’s successful campaign to remove the corrupt union. It promised to increase wages and fight for workers at the shop floor.

Workers at Silao’s Silao factory voted last august to cancel the contract held by a well connected national auto workers union led by Tereso Medina, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. That union was affiliated to the Congress of Mexican Labor (CTM), the country’s largest union federation.

CTM affiliates, tied to the long-ruling PRI, have long been criticized for signing employer-friendly “protection contracts,” which lock in low wages and prevent workers from organizing genuine unions.

In this week’s vote, a paltry 247 votes went to another CTM affiliate that appeared on the ballot, with 932 (17 percent) to a third union known as “the Coalition,” widely perceived by workers to be a CTM front. (A fourth competitor received only 18 votes.

“Today I believe we as workers are more united than ever,” said Alejandra Morales, SINTTIA’s principal officer, who has worked at the plant for 11 years in the paint department. “Not only in Silao, but in all of Mexico.”

Morales, the weekend before the election reported receiving threats outside her home from three people in a pickup with the license plates removed, part of what she called a “campaign of intimidation and defamation” by “the mafia of anti-democratic and Charro unions.” SINTTIA’s secretary of organization reported getting death threats on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Shot in the Arm

SINTTIA’s victory is a shot in the arm for the independent union movement in Mexico; the vote was closely followed domestically and internationally.

Under Mexico’s labor law reform, which went into effect in 2019, all existing union contracts must be voted on by May 1, 2023, a measure aimed at allowing workers to democratically choose their unions — a freedom long denied Mexican workers. Most union contracts in Mexico have been signed behind the backs of workers by employers like GM and corrupt Mexican union officials — often before any workers are even hired.

Votes to delegitimize existing contracts and open up the possibility of choosing a new labor union have so far been rare. As of mid-January, majorities in only 24 workplaces — less than 1 percent of those where legitimation votes have been held — have opted to throw out the existing union. This was the largest union to do so. It’s also the first where workers have voted to join a new union.

“What we hope is that [workers at] new companies see that they can beat the CTM,” said Juan Armando Fajardo Rivera, the union’s press secretary, who has worked at the plant for 13 years. “The CTM isn’t invincible. If you want a union, you can achieve it with the new reform.”

International Support

Unions and labor activists around the world supported the effort of GM Silao to elect a legitimate union. AFL-CIO and the UAW issued statements urging Mexico to ensure that the vote was free from intimidation and fair. An international delegation of unionists from Brazil and the U.S. participated in the vote. Eight members of local unions at GM were part of the Brazilian delegation.

The second-place finisher, the CTM-linked Coalition, attacked the international solidarity shown by unions and workers around the globe as “foreign interference,” and made the fear of job loss a centerpiece of their campaign. “Both the Canadians and the Americans want to take our production to their countries,” said a leader of the Coalition in an interview with El Financiero.

SINTTIA, on the other hand, welcomed the support. “The union struggle encompasses the whole world,” said Fajardo Rivera. “It’s not just in Mexico.”

“It’s important to recognize the commitment of workers from other countries,” said Morales, “because it’s important that the whole working class, not just from here but globally, be in constant communication for the betterment of everyone.”

What’s Next

SINTTIA will begin negotiations with GM once the results have been certified by Mexican labor authorities. The automaker reported earlier this week that it had made a record $10billion in profits last fiscal year.

Silao workers are able to pick up the lucrative Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra pickups. But they make less than $25 an hour. A wage increase is their top priority. “What workers would like most is to have a decent salary that is enough for their day-to-day [needs],” said Morales.

SINTTIA has many other demands. highlighted in its election campaignBathroom breaks, better benefits, food, and transportation paid for company-paid, and better ability of taking vacation time.

The independent unions that exist at three of Mexico’s two dozen auto assembly plants — at Nissan, Audi, and Volkswagen — have won higher wages and benefits than those where contracts are controlled by protection unions linked to the CTM. The FESIIAAAN (federation of independent Unions of the Automobile, Auto Parts, Aerospace and Tire Industries), was formed by these unions in 2018. They were vocal in their support of SINTTIA.

“We know that those unions have been working for years to obtain what they are earning today [and] their benefits,” said Morales. “We lost a lot over the years, so we are going to have to advance bit by bit.”

Under Mexico’s reformed labor law, the union has six months to negotiate a contract and get it approved by a majority of the plant’s workers.