Feb 18, 2019
This article is from the February 8th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
Matamoros is a Mexican city along the border with the U.S., home to more than 120 factories and 70,000 workers. In mid-January, these striking workers won a raise and a bonus.
As soon as the new president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, took office in December, he announced an increase in the minimum wage, from a disgusting $4.57 per DAY to a miserable $5.35 per day. In a special 15-mile-long zone near the border, where thousands of factories are sub-contracted to U.S. companies, the wages are slightly higher, $9.30 per day. In exchange for a slightly higher minimum, the bosses of these U.S. companies pay much lower taxes.
The strike in Matamoros broke out when the workers of several factories noticed their salaries did not go up and the bosses refused to pay the customary bonus for the preceding year. They stopped work despite the threat of layoffs, pressure from their own union and without legal authorization.
A procession of striking workers went from factory to factory to bring out more workers, forming picket lines in front of the entrances and arranging a meeting for all strikers in the center of the town. They used social media to coordinate their strike and bypassed the local heads of the union, giving leadership of their strike movement to a lawyer from another town. They gained a 20% increase in their salaries and a bonus of $1,661 (which is more than a minimum wage worker makes in a year in Mexico).
Some bosses wanted to pay lower bonuses, but they didn’t succeed. These bosses put pressure on the workers, threatening layoffs and muzzling the press. But on January 23, the president of Mexico answered a question at a press conference on the striking workers: “It seems the workers have boiled over, despite the officials of the unions, and the situation has become uncontrollable.” Then he told the workers to seek compromise.
The workers got the unions to call for an official strike on January 25. On that day 50,000 workers were officially on strike. A few days later, a boss announced that 15 maquiladora factories had shut or quit the country. The press tried to blame the strikers for the layoff of thousands of workers. But the strikers ignored this and ended up winning the salary increase and the bonus in dozens of factories. Finally the workers won these raises in more than a quarter of the factories there.
Striking workers seemed encouraged by what the president had to say, but in fact they can only count on their own forces to obtain their demands.