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63rd National
UE Convention
 

New Official Brings Labor Law’s Benefits to Mexico City’s Workers

Manuel Fuentes
Director of Labor, Mexico City

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Manuel Fuentes

 

As a union lawyer, Manuel Fuentes has spent all of his working life opposing the government. Now he is the government.

Fuentes fights an uphill battle as he tries to overcome decades of corruption as the official in Mexico City’s new progressive government responsible for making labor laws work. He was named director of labor by Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the first democratically -elected mayor of Mexico City in 60 years, who assumed office on Jan. 1.

Mexico City faces serious problems, among them an epidemic of violent crimes and unemployment and gross government incompetence and corruption, Fuentes said. As a result, the people of Mexico City are hungry for change.

The Cardenas government expanded the power of the city’s labor department and created new offices dealing with working women’s problems and under-aged store workers. Fuentes said he is working to fundamentally alter the Office of Legal Defense, which was previously where bosses "could achieve low wages and do away with the rights of workers."

During the past 12 years, there have been no workplace inspections in Mexico City; yet this is a country plagued by one of the highest rates of workplace accidents in the world. Fuentes has hired and trained students who have been sent out to check for health and safety violations.

The city official is also taking aim at protection contracts. "In Mexico there are 86,000 union contracts registered, but only 20 percent are real, active contracts," he said. These sweetheart deals allow bosses to block formation of real unions, with the connivance of government-controlled unions. "When workers go to the Labor Board they’re not allowed a copy of this contract."

Mexican workers have among the lowest wages in the world precisely because they are not allowed to organize real unions, Fuentes argued. His department has embarked on educational programs to explain to workers their rights. "If workers do not know their rights, they can’t defend them," he said to applause. Delegates also applauded his assertion that workers should have access to their contracts and union bylaws.

The Cardenas government is also working to secure the right of secret-ballot representation elections, Fuentes said. Throughout Mexico, whenever workers try to gain recognition of their union or change unions, they must publicly declare their preference, in the presence of the government, the government-controlled union and the boss.

Working people and unions must participate in the changes being created by Mexico City’s new government if the changes are to become real, Fuentes declared.


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