Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Labor reform fight: Surprise in store next week?

The Mexican senate will vote on the labor reform next week, and the battle is truly heating up. Despite a persistent drive from the PRI to have the legislation passed just as it is - and as it was passed in the Chamber of Deputies three weeks ago- things may take a very surprising turn in the end.

My own views on the legislation are, in very general terms, that a reform is badly needed, and the original proposal from Calderón had both good and bad parts, yet unfortunately the Chamber essentially voted to remove many of the good parts - democracy and transparency within Mexico's notoriously corrupt and authoritarian PRI-linked (as well, yet to a far lesser extent, PRD-linked ones) unions - while making it far too easy to fire workers, pay starvation wages, and outsource. Yes, one may well argue that in certain instances businesses should be freer to hire and fire, and that this may be a genuine impediment to formalizing jobs. But if one does this without putting any credible social safety net in place in return, it is obvious that the reform will be too slanted towards business interests, and not the workers who, lest we forget, also create the wealth. Even so, the left will not be able to block these parts, but it should work with PAN to pass some other key pieces on union democracy.

The hope is above all that the left will  now act in unison, and avoid the embarrassing spectacle in the Chamber:

On Sept. 29, when the legislation came to a vote, despite having vowed not to undertake any "radical" actions such as storming the congress podium, a group of legislators linked to Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) still resorted to this thug tactic. A few thoughts on this:

* Using physical force to block legislation is about as undemocratic as it gets, and worthy more of blackshirt storm troopers than any political organization that purports to be left wing. No matter how much one opposes  a particular legislation, as a democratically elected legislator you simply don't use violence to stop it. This is not a case of legitimate "civil disobedience" against some authoritarian, colonial power or what not - this is using violence to promote your means when you fail to do so through the democratic channels. In this case, PRD deputies Karen Quiroga and Lourdes Amaya, linked to the "radical" IDN faction in the PRD, violently ripped the microphone from the president of the congressional mesa directiva, and was backed by a handful of other PRD, PT and MC deputies who tried to storm or "take" the congressional dais.

One the one hand, such behavior undermines the image of the Mexican left and presents it as radical, quarrelsome, thuggish, and outright anti-democratic. Even more important, in my view, is that it sets a frightening precedent that would legitimize any force - from the extreme right, for instance - to seek to block i.e. progressive legislation on the grounds that it would against the "will of the people." If the left can openly and violently defy elected democracy by thug actions, why should not the far right, or any other force, feel they have every bit as much right to do so? There is a time for "civil disobedience," yet this is absolutely not it. Love or hate the legislation, it was legitimately voted upon and passed. If you don't accept this, you don't accept democracy.

And the kicker: According to some counts, had the left actually remained united and voted as a block, it could have prevented the entire legislation from being passed in the first place! After protesting, rather than remaining for the vote - which is what these legislators are actually paid to do, that is, to vote - dozens of them simply abandoned the chamber. In addition to lackluster democratic credentials, it illustrates an utter lack of political responsibility.

Jesús Ortega, leader of the social-democratic majority faction in Mexico's largest party on the left, the PRD, noted in an op-ed,
Our "ultra leftists," who "take" tribunes, flee the debate, and who shout instead of responding with arguments, in reality despise the fight in parliament and the electoral path. They feverishly seek to be parliamentarians and when they become so instead of fighting in the battle of ideas - and fighting to win the votes - they withdraw from these, promoting precisely an extremism that, in light of the facts, is tragically useless.


They weren't the only to blame, though:
* A handful of PAN deputies as well voted for the legislation in the plenary, even though it came as a "preferred initiative" from president Felipe Calderón, of the PAN.
* A deputy from the "radical" PT, Adolfo Orive, voted in commission against Art. 357, which included union democracy. His vote was decisive in removing this from the final text that was voted upon. Despite disingenuously claiming to have actually voted in favor - the brazenness is simply stunning - the "radical left" legislators in practice ran the errand of PRI, which virulently opposes democracy in the unions.   Afew days later he just happened to be promoted to head the sought-after commission of competitiveness, which he is utterly unqualified for. It reeks of a pay-off.
* The PRD in general backs union democracy, and also wants the government to stop funding unions, instead relying solely on membership dues. This is a Mexican twist that of course stems from the PRI's union advantage, product of its 70 years in power. The PRD also wants to reinstate language removed that regulate work conditions for miners, and prison penalty for owners that neglect worker safety.

(Interestingly, some unions, above all in the PRI-linked CTM, are already calling on the PRI's president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to block the reform)

Yet then something interesting happened. Despite the many "leaks" in the increasingly pro-PRI Milenio that the senate would simply pass the legislation as it stands - without union democracy and transparency - a few important panistas suggested that PAN would seek to reinstate this language. Finally, PAN president Gustavo Madero confirmed this. The left has also suggested it will try to vote as a block this time. Both PAN and PRD have publicly accused the PRI of exerting enormous pressure on them to not change a comma of the legislation. If united both internally and in unison with the PAN, they have a chance of blocking the legislation, in order to halt it, reinsert the union democracy language (both PAN and the left backs this), and send it back to the Chamber, where, if united they could pass it. This would, however, require an enormous amount of discipline, and, as seen earlier, coherence. I remain cautiously optimistic that they may defy the pessimistic predictions that, come next week, they will fail again.

PRD lamenta que “tribus” de izquierda abandonaran pleno. El Universal, Sept. 30
Jesús Ortega: El extremismo: Enfermedad senil de la izquierda. Excélsiór, Oct. 2, 2012
AN insiste en incluir democracia sindical. El Universal, Oct. 9, 2012.
Alista PRD más de 150 reservas. El Universal, Oct. 9, 2012.
Proponen a Adolfo Orive para presidir Competitividad. La Jornada, Oct. 11, 2012
Chocan partidos en Senado por sindicatos.  El Universal, Oct. 9, 2012.
Denuncia PAN presión de PRI para no tocar reforma. El Universal, Oct. 10, 2012.
PRI presiona para no mover ley laboral: PRD. El Universal, Oct. 11, 2012.
Pide CTM a EPN frenar la reforma laboral. El Universal, Oct. 12, 2012.
Hay acuerdo en Senado para cambiar ley laboral. El Universal, Oct. 18, 2012
PRI y PAN chocan por ley laboral. El Universal, Oct. 17, 2012

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