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Union vote at GM Mexico plant hailed as ‘win’ for workers

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Workers at a General Motors factory in Mexico have elected an independent union -- a step hailed as a victory for labor rights./AFP
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Feb 04, 2022 - 02:29 AM

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Workers at a General Motors factory in Mexico have elected an independent union — a step hailed as a victory for labor rights helped by a revamped North American trade agreement.

The United States had in May asked Mexico to investigate claims of “serious violations” of worker rights during a previous union vote at the GM plant in Silao in the state of Guanajuato.

The Mexican government previously suspended the election following allegations of irregularities, in a country where unions have long been accused of shady backroom deals with employers.

It was Washington’s first formal complaint under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement on July 1, 2020.

The new agreement requires the three countries to guarantee worker rights to collective bargaining, union democracy and freedom of association.

The latest vote in Silao was won overwhelmingly by the National Independent Union of Workers of the Automotive Industry (SINTTIA), which secured the support of 4,192 of the roughly 6,200 workers entitled to participate.

It will have the right to negotiate a new collective contract, the government’s center for labor conciliation and registration said in a statement Thursday announcing the result.

General Motors welcomed the outcome of what it called an “unprecedented democratic exercise” monitored by government inspectors and more than 100 independent observers.

So-called “ghost unions,” born from surreptitious agreements between labor leaders and company bosses, have long favored employers over Mexican workers.

US President Joe Biden ran for office as a champion of American workers, and pledged to take action to ensure they are protected from unfair competition from cheap labor in other countries.

“The brave workers at GM’s Silao assembly plant have voted resoundingly for real change at work,” tweeted Liz Shuler, president of the US labor federation AFL-CIO.

“This win, made possible by the reforms we helped negotiate into the USMCA, is a significant victory not only for workers in Mexico but around the world,” she added.

“Workers overcame gross intimidation and election meddling, and their triumph is an example of what happens when workers stand together,” Shuler said, noting that SINTTIA was the only independent union on the ballot.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist free-trade skeptic who took office in 2018, has also vowed to improve worker rights.

USMCA has provided an additional catalyst for change, resulting in Mexico enacting a labor reform in 2019 demanded by US Democrats as a condition to approve the trade deal.

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