Close to midnight on 10 October 2009, members of the army, marines and police force, with weapons in hand, occupied buildings belonging to Luz y Fuerza del Centro, a public company that produces and distributes electric energy.
Orlando Oramas León
Power stations, substations, operating units and administrative headquarters were militarised. At the time this happened, Felipe Calderón was in office.
It looked like an operation against a criminal organisation, but instead a privatisation policy was underway, hand in hand with neoliberalism – which has been very much in vogue since then – and the desire to criminalise the Mexican Electricians Union (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas – SME), with its history of struggles and service provision to the country for more than a century. Overnight, thousands of workers found themselves unemployed and without a living. The government’s aim was to disband the SME, under the assumption that the fight with its members would be short.
The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation approved a decree of extinction against this trade union in January 2013. This meant that legally, there was nowhere for the SME to turn.
In the negotiations, the government sought to demobilise Luz y Fuerza del Centro by terminating the 44,000 employees affiliated with the trade union. They faced two choices: surrender or resist without knowing for how long.
In the years that followed there were struggles, street demonstrations and extraordinary general assemblies. During this time, 28,000 trade union affiliates decided to accept their termination, which was the option presented by the government. However, thousands of others decided to resist and fight for their future as well as that of the union.
With the administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto, and as a result of the resistance, important agreements were reached, which are still being fulfilled. Among these, include the delivery of 30 plots of land and 14 micro power stations that previously belonged to the former company. As part of the negotiations, the government indicated the need for the trade union to revalidate its registration through an employment contract with its members.
By then, SME had micro hydroelectric power stations and skilled labourers, but lacked the funds to start up the old machines that the Federal Electricity Commission had no interest in operating.
The Fénix group was then created with the Portuguese consortium Mota-Engil and SME, which managed to reintegrate 500 of its members whose employment contracts kept the union register valid.
Furthermore, as part of the bilateral agreements, around 1,000 SME members took retirement on the basis of an annuity income agreed with the government, which is still in the process of being paid.
However, there are still thousands without work, which is why in its General Assembly, the SME decided to create the LF del Centro cooperative, in acknowledgement of the public company that neoliberalism ended.
Why create a cooperative? “The LF del Centro cooperative is the only model in the country in which workers can collectively become the owners of their means of production”, said its president, Eduardo García. The relationship with the Luz y Fuerza del Centro company are its workers, “but we do not want to repeat the previous management models. The cooperative movement has its principles and we are in a frank process of education and adaptation to ensure success”, he notes.
“Above all, we are trade unionists because our company exists thanks to the trade union struggle, but the commercial and productive aspects are the cooperative’s responsibilities – with the SME, we maintain our affiliation and ideological ties”. (PL)
“We are receiving land and recovering it in order to prepare our production centres”, continued García, who also underscored the government’s failure to deliver facilities that had been promised.
The coordinator of the Distribution Production Unit, Ricardo H. Martínez, explains that the LF del Centro cooperative’s profile is the construction, attention and maintenance of both overhead and underground networks, as well as high power cable maintenance.
Its best asset is the skilled labour force that has demonstrated its capability and dedication for years and its Construction Production Unit is now responsible for carrying out private and public domestic works, for which more than 1,600 trade unionists have returned to work.
(Translated by Sydney Sims – Email: email: email@example.com)