April 16, 2019
Two Latin American labor bodies have joined TUED in recent weeks. Details below. Meanwhile, for those who may not yet have seen our report and short video on activities last year, you can find them here:
- TUED 2018 Year in Review — Video
- TUED in 2018: “Advancing a Disruptive Solidarity to Reclaim Energy”
Key Latin American Unions Join TUED
Organizer Lala Peñaranda reports for TUED
Following a series of discussions, labor bodies from Mexico and Colombia have joined TUED. We welcome and look forward to collaborating with the Electrical Workers’ Union of Mexico (SME) the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores of Colombia (CUT).
Electrical Workers Union of Mexico (“Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas,” SME)
SME is one of the few independent unions in Mexico and is widely considered a national leader in grassroots political struggles and anti-privatisation efforts. Humberto Montes de Oca, Secretary of External and International Affairs, will represent the union in TUED calls and activities.
The union is no stranger to confrontation. In 1936, for example, it led a victorious strike that shut off all power to Mexico City. In the 1960s, following the nationalization of the energy system, SME became a symbol of workers’ power through its participation in variety of popular struggles. In 2009, the administration of former President Felipe Calderón used army and police force to raid the headquarters of the public electricity entity Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), evacuating union members. Shortly after, Calderón dissolved both LyFC and SME, leaving 44,000 workers without employment. Over 14,000 of these workers declared a strike, demanding the reconstitution of the public entity and their union. Although SME has since recreated LyFC as a cooperative and founded its own electricity company (Subace) to employ as many of its members as possible, those still unemployed maintain the strike. Members have led hunger strikes and several have been incarcerated.
Currently, SME’s political activities include the ongoing payment strike of the National Assembly of Energy Users (ANUEE), co-leading the Nueva Central de Trabajadores (NCT) and the Organización Política del Pueblo y los Trabajadores (OPT). SME is currently in negotiations with the new government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as “AMLO,” around the proposed Energy Reform, and solidarity campaigns with the Congreso Nacional Indigena (CNI).
For more on SME, see The Rebirth of Mexico’s Electrical Workers, by David Bacon.
Central Union of Workers (“Central Unitaria de Trabajadores,” CUT)
CUT is Colombia’s largest labor organization, with over 500,000 workers and over 700 unions. It includes the militant teachers union, FECODE, and most of the large energy unions in the sectors of carbon (SINTRACARBON), electricity (SINTRAELECOL), and oil (USO). Jairo Arenas, director of the Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, will represent the organization in TUED calls and activities. According to Arenas, “the CUT has long talked about bold action regarding energy and environmental justice but our organizing has to be internationally bound if it is going to be effective structurally. In terms of our biggest challenges, better access to updated technical trainings on just transition would go a long way towards strengthening our organizing strategy and supporting our political demands.”
As Sergio Mauricio Zamora of the Cali Municipal Workers Union (SINTRAEMCALI) explained during last month’s TUED call, the situation for labor unions in Colombia continues to be delicate. The recent assassination attempt against SINTRAEMCALI President Ricardo Muñoz in front of his home is part of a national spike in violence; according to the Ombudsman’s Office, from January 2016 to February 2019, 462 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed, 135 of them in the last seven months. In labor-specific violence, the Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) documented 161 violations against trade unionists in Colombia during the first nine months of 2018, including 14 homicides, 6 homicide attempts, and 134 life threats.
CUT is currently working on several activities and campaigns including the congressional energy-mining roundtable, the FECODE teacher’s strike, student mobilizations in defense of public education, the ongoing indigenous Minga, defense of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), and opposition to Duque’s Nacional Development Plans (PND).