Yet more workers have walked off the job in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, to demand better pay and conditions, while experts warn that strike action will spread to other parts of the country.
Employees of supermarket chains S-Mart, Chedraui and Walmart were among workers at more than 27 businesses in the northern border city who went on strike yesterday.
Their demands are similar to those made by workers at 48 Matamoros factories who have started job action during the past two weeks.
Last month, more than 30,000 workers at 45 factories stopped work to demand a 20% pay raise and an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos (US $1,700). Now, the spreading job action has been dubbed Movimiento 20/30 for the fact that more workers want the same increase and bonus.
The demands, presented by the Union of Laborers and Industrial Workers of the Maquiladora Industry (SJOIIM), were met by most companies, spurring employees of dairy distributor Liderlac, water purification company Blanquita and Arca Continental, a large Coca-Cola bottler, to take job action as well.
Two labor market experts agree that workers in other states will follow suit to demand higher pay and better conditions.
Luis Aguirre Lang, president of the National Council of the Maquiladora Industry (Index Nacional), said that “these kinds of situations are going to happen with greater frequency.”
He contended that power struggles between different unions that represent workers at the same factories will be the main cause of future strike action. In the middle of their fight, Aguirre added, they’ll take the companies “as hostages.”
The business leader reiterated that the Matamoros workers’ demands for higher pay, which he said were triggered by the doubling of the minimum salary in the northern border region, will cause companies to leave the northern border city and the country.
Aguirre said that some factory workers might have expected their salaries to double even though they earn more than minimum wage.
Meanwhile, Enrique Larios Díaz, president of the College of Labor Law Professors at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), said that workers are “waking up” to their working conditions and, in turn, taking action against the abuses of both their employers and their unions.
He said that salaries in Mexico are the lowest in the western world, arguing that creates a situation that can’t be ignored.
Larios added that the antiquated structures of many trade unions “are cracking” and that Juan Villafuerte, president of the SJOIIM, is representative of those structures, which keep “workers practically enslaved.”
The lawyer and academic also said that union leaders like Villafuerte “live like princes due to workers’ extremely high union dues.”
Larios said that while strikes have always been demonized, they have a valid purpose because they can help to bring balance to the relationship between employers and a work force.
Aguirre, on the other hand, said that strikes only generate a bad image of Mexico and will lead to a loss of investment. He pointed out that the manufacturing sector generates more than three million direct jobs and generates income of more than US $270 billion a year.
Tamaulipas Labor Secretary María Estela Chavira said that as many as 20,000 jobs could be lost in Matamoros if companies leave or cut their work forces because they can’t afford to continue paying the higher wages to which they have committed.
“The forecast is above 5,000 [job losses] and up to 20,000, companies predict [staffing cuts] within six months,” she said.
Chavira said that similar situations could occur in other states if there are conflicts between workers and employers.
With that in mind, Aguirre said that the federal government must establish clear rules with regard to arbitration between employers and employees.