Auto parts workers at a maquiladora in Mexico who’ve been organizing to join an independent union got a big boost last week from cross-border solidarity. Nearly 8,000 workers in Ciudad Acuña (located in a Mexican border town south of San Antonio) labor for a company called PKC Group, which makes parts for Ford, Daimler Trucks, Volvo and other automakers. The workers’ organizing, and company efforts to silence them by hiring a company union and imposing a protection contract that prevents authentic organizing and representation, made news headlines and shook up company shareholders last week.
The top wage for a production worker at PKC in Acuña is 840 pesos for a 48-hour week ($65 a week or $1.35 per hour). Pictured at left is the home of one of the local committee members (three families live in the house). Many of the workers cannot even afford cement for their houses and are living in structures made from metal siding and wood with no indoor plumbing.
Workers at the plants have been organizing with the support of the Border Committee of Women Workers (Comité Fronterizo de Obreras), CFO, since the 1990s and had recently joined efforts with the independent union SNTMMSSRM (Los Mineros, or Mineworkers union). Earlier this year, Los Mineros asked the government to authorize an election to allow the workers to choose their representative. PKC had other ideas, however, and brought in a company union (known as the CTM) to prevent the workers from organizing independently with Los Mineros.
But the workers weren’t alone and reached out to their international allies for solidarity.The metal workers union in Finland, where PKC has its international headquarters, along with the United Steelworkers (USW), the UAW and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, helped expose these efforts by the company. The presidents of Finnish industry trade unions declared the company’s actions in bringing in a company union to squelch organizing an “exceptionally outrageous breach of freedom of organization” that was “little short of criminal” and compared it to paying protection money to the mafia. The unions helped interest a reporter from a major Finnish television network in the story to travel to Mexico in March to investigate.
The resulting exposé on the company’s operations in Ciudad Acuña was broadcast in Finland on “45 Minutes” (the Finnish equivalent of “60 Minutes”) shortly before PKC’s annual shareholder meeting. The news report, which caused a firestorm of controversy for PKC, can be seen here. PKC’s CEO Harri Suutari admits in the program that “it (CTM) probably is not a real trade union in the Finnish or European sense” but says, “the employer can protect himself this way and it has been used.” Ana Maria Mendez, one of the workers who has been working to help her co-workers join Local 307 of Los Mineros, says when PKC told workers it had signed a deal with a company union, “They didn’t even let us ask questions, they asked and answered everything for us.”
On April 4, the day of PKC’s shareholder meeting, the company’s largest shareholder, the Ilmarinen pension insurance company, threatened to withdraw its investment in PKC due to the scandal. In response to the media and shareholder attention, PKC Group put out a media release attempting to justify its actions, stating, “Mexican law allows unions to register as the employees’ representative irrespective of the will of the employees....”
Alejandro Ojeda, one of the worker-leaders of the organizing effort, says, “All of this international attention has helped put pressure on the company here in Acuña, and it motivates us to keep organizing!”