Thursday, June 11, 2020

Clamping down on class war in Mexico

 Susana Prieto Terrazas, prominent labour lawyer in Mexico’s borderlands has been arrested on accusations of inciting violence – a move family members and colleagues denounced as retribution for advising wildcat strikers at US-owned factories. Prieto has made many enemies by representing workers fighting for higher salaries and trying to organise independent unions at maquiladoras – largely foreign-owned factories that manufacture products for export. She was arrested on charges of inciting riot, threats and coercion of public officials and  transported to the state capital, Ciudad Victoria – 320km south-east of Matamoros.

 Fernanda Peña Prieto, the lawyer’s daughter, explained,  “They’re trying to fabricate false evidence, saying that my mother was the mastermind of whatever violence workers may have committed.”

Prieto has also battled union bosses, who have a history of putting company interests ahead of workers’ wages and benefits. 
“They have always been the right arm of the companies’ human resources department,” she told the Guardian in 2019. “That’s why they don’t allow workers to join or register independent unions.”
Prieto’s arrest comes as more maquilas reopen following lockdowns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to health officials, Mexico has not yet reached the peak of its outbreak and the number of Covid-19 deaths is still rising, but the country has come under intense pressure from the US to declare many manufacturing activities “essential” as they form part of continental supply chains. Prieto had campaigned against policies at maquiladora plants in Ciudad Juárez, which she said had put workers at risk of catching the new coronavirus. 
In 2015, Prieto advised workers at a Ciudad Juárez plant operated by the US printer and software company Lexmark, who were fired for demanding a wage increase of $0.35 per day.
During an unprecedented wave of wildcat strikes in 2019, Prieto described fierce resistance from maquila owners. “They’re fighting tooth and nail because these gringo bastards don’t want to set a precedent.”  Those strikes spread to other businesses.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, has shown little enthusiasm for labour activism along the border, despite winning power on the promise of a better deal for workers and doubling the minimum wage.

“We’ve not been favoured by the federal government in any way,” Peña said. “Mexico is wearing itself out trying to please the United States.”

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