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Canada hosts the Mexican president and ignores Mexico's assault on worker rights

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This week Canada was host to Mexican President Felipe Calderon.  He spoke to our Parliament and was interviewed on CBC television.  He appealed for Canada to lift the new visa requirements and he called for action on climate change.  There was commentary in the Canadian media on the 23,000 victims of Mexico's drug war over the last three years.

Not one word could I find on Mexico’s continuing assault on worker rights.  This in spite of a statement on May 21 by CLC President Ken Georgetti urging Stephen Harper to “raise the issue of the continuing violation of fundamental labour rights and the repression of democratic labour unions in Mexico.”   Georgetti’s letter cited violations of ILO conventions including the repression against Mexico’s independent National Mineworkers’ Union, Los Mineros, and the union busting and mass firing of 40,000 members of the SME, the Mexico City electrical workers.  

Georgetti’s appeal follows a similar one by the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka during Calderon’s US visit.  Trumka blasted Calderon for the decision in April to give mining company Grupo Mexico a green light to mass fire hundreds of workers at the Cananea copper mine in Northern Mexico.  The government then surrounded the mine with armed soldiers and police.  According to Mexican labor experts, this decision effectively eliminates the right to strike in Mexico.

There were more incidents in real time with Calderon’s presence in Canada.

On May 23, Mexican federal police fired at and beat members of the National Mineworkers’ Union in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas in the state of Michoacán.  A Mineros’ official, Mario García Ortíz, and two others remain hospitalized.  Following the attack the union shut down production at the Arcelor Mittal steel plants and held a civic march to call for the removal of federal police detachments from the city. 

On May 26 an international appeal from US Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) was issued to support 400 workers at Johnson Controls in Puebla, Mexico, which produces interior components for BMW and Ford.  The workers have joined an independent union, and the company has reportedly bused in 70 thugs.  At last report, workers feared for their physical safety and refused to leave the plant.   

These are only highlights of the many well publicized events and issues concerning labour rights in Mexico.  There are also official ILO and NAFTA complaints lodged by Canadian and American trade unions.

If anyone has seen a comment by a Canadian government official, or any reference in the Canadian media during Calderon’s visit to Canada on labour rights in Mexico, please draw it to my attention.  Certainly there was no reference to these issues in the several articles in the Globe and Mail, and the interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge presented the Mexican leader as a crime fighting populist.

There is a Mexican saying about being “kicked around worse than a Mexican dog.”  Mexican independent trade unionists know only too well what that means.  In Canadian officialdom and media, labour rights have about the same status.

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