Grupo Proletario Internacionalista: Crisis and workers’ struggles in Mexico
We are publishing here an article from the Grupo Proletario Internacianalista of Mexico. We have already presented this group in previous issues of the International Review (nos. 50, 52, and 53). This article on the situation in Mexico expresses the position of the GPI, and was published in Revolucion Mundial no.4 just before last July's presidential elections in Mexico.
In publishing this text, we intend to express our agreement with its political content, but above all to publicize the extent of the economic disaster that has overtaken Mexican capitalism, along with three quarters of the planet. Our aim is to denounce the appalling conditions that millions of human beings live in today. The text from the comrades of the GPI demonstrates that capitalist barbarism is not a fatality, and that the working class, -- even if its strength locally cannot be as great as in the industrial concentrations of North America and Europe -- is struggling against poverty, and coming forward as the only social force able to offer a perspective other than barbarism to all the unemployed and poverty-stricken masses in these countries. As in the rest of Latin America, the Mexican proletariat is fighting back, and is being lead to develop the same weapons as its class brothers on other continents, against the same obstacles: first and foremost, the left parties, the trade unions, and state repression.
The reality of workers' combativity in Mexico is confirmed by the results of the latest presidential elections, where for the first time in 60 years the candidate of the PRI (the party in power) only won 50% of the votes, in utter confusion, and clearly thanks to electoral fraud. His opponent, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas who also comes from the ... PRI, was supported by a coalition of left-wing parties -- the CP and the Trotskyists among them. The bourgeoisie has tried, and appears to have succeeded, to create a left-wing political force around Cardenas on the basis of such themes "democracy against corruption and electoral fraud", nationalism against repaying the Mexican debt, against the "dictatorship of the IMF" or of American imperialism, in order to derail an increasing anger and desperation onto the safe ground of democracy. And this new adaptation of the bourgeoisie's political forces in Mexico is accompanied by the development of "independent unionism" (ie of the sole trade union, the CTM), which is the Mexican version of rank-and-file unionism.
In short the Mexican bourgeoisie, following the enlightened advice of the USA, is setting up the political and trade union forces of the left in opposition, in order to mislead the workers' struggles which must inevitably come, towards the democratic mystification already being employed in most Latin American countries, like Chile, today.
In the abyss of a chronic crisis
In recent years, the crisis in Mexico has constantly deepened. This situation can only be wholly understood if we take account of the fact that Mexico is an integral part of the world capitalist system, and that it is therefore immersed in the world capitalist crisis which has been inexorably spreading and deepening since the end of the 1960's, in the form of ever deeper and more violent "recessions" (paralysis of industrial and commercial growth) and shorter and less convincing "recoveries".
So whereas the last "recession" in 1980-82 hit the entire world economy, the "recovery" which followed from 1983-86 only affected the great powers, while most countries continued to stagnate. Today, the whole world is on the way to a new "recession", whose effects will certainly be still more disastrous than those of its predecessor.
In Mexico, industry has collapsed since 1982. For five years, the GDP's growth rate has remained negative ... Every branch of industry is stagnant or in decline ... which worsens the situation of the workers. In 1987, "industrial growth remained at a complete standstill".
We will highlight here only three external and visible signs of the deepening crisis in 1987:
1) the weak growth in GDP (1.4%) is far from compensating the previous year's collapse. This demonstrates clearly that production continues to stagnate, due to lack of incentive to invest given worldwide over-production and the collapse of the prices of Mexico's raw material exports (oil, mineral ores, farm produce).
2) an annual inflation rate of about 159%.
Since the internal market is exhausted, the government is trying to reanimate it by increasing its expenditure. To do so, it is printing money to pay its employees ... which allows the latter to go on buying, getting credit, etc ...
However, the uncontrolled production of paper money has the same effect as the production of any other commodity at lower cost: its value falls. And the more paper money is in circulation, the more its value is depreciated in relation to other commodities; in other words, commodities cost more.
Although it is true that all commodities cost more, their prices are not all increasing in the same proportion; the price of labor-power (ie wages) in particular is trailing far behind that of other comodities: a mechanism well known to workers, and which is used by the capitalist class to appropriate improved profits via falling wages,
For capital however, the trouble is that each rise in prices provokes a renewed acceleration in the issue of paper money ... and so on, provoking an "inflationary spiral", where the quantity of money grows at the same accelerating rhythm as its value falls, to the point where prices are rising so fast -- from day to day, or even from hour to hour (What is known as "superinflation") -- that money becomes totally worthless, since it no can longer be used to measure the value of goods, for trade, for savings, or for anything else.
In this way, the mechanism used initially to reanimate the circulation of commodities is transformed into its opposite: yet another obstacle to this circulation, which deepens stagnation still further.
Inflation is a clear example of the way in which the measures of political economy applied by national states today are able to contain the crisis momentarily, but not to put an end to it. During the last few months, the Mexican economy has been heading straight for "hyper-inflation".
3) the fantastic rise in Mexican stock-exchange values over a period of a few months, and their subsequent collapse in October 1987, at the same time as stock exchanges all over the world.
The collapse of the Mexican stock-exchange and its simultaneity with that of others throughout the world is not mere coincidence: its fundamental causes were the same; it has highlighted the complete interpenetration of the world economy. The growth of the world's main stock exchanges (London, Tokyo, New York) during the last two years has been out of all proportion to industrial growth. Capital has been abandoning productive investment, in favor of speculative financial operations, a sign that the "recovery" begun in 1983 was drawing to a close. Since the world's main financial centers were on the way to becoming saturated, capital began to flow into the less important ones. And so, during 1987, a lot of capital "returned" to Mexico, not to be invested in industry, but essentially to be placed on the stock exchange, in the emission of shares, appropriating the money of other investors, who bought up shares, attracted by the promise of juicy profits (promises which went as high as 1000%). Thus, purely through the interplay of supply and demand, encouraged by the press and the government, the Mexico stock exchange grew by 600% in a few months ... only to collapse with the rest of the world's stock exchanges when it became apparent that neither world nor national production had grown sufficiently, and that the promised profits were unreal; the Mexico stock exchange lost 80% of its value. The only ones to make a profit were those who had access to and manipulated inside information, and so were able to sell their actions quickly and keep their cash, while the rest were ruined.
And so, in today's conditions of over-production and saturated markets, industrial production is blocked, while capital turns to seeking profit in speculation.
Faced with this situation, the Mexican government decided in December 1987 to adopt a new economic program, baptized the "Pact of Economic Solidarity". The state recognized the failure of previous plans for dealing with the crisis (which goes to show that previous optimistic official declarations were lies), and that the crisis is continuing and getting worse, making it necessary to retreat in as good an order as possible, by "distributing" (insofar as the state is able to do so) losses among the different sectors of capital, but essentially by increasing still further the exploitation of the working class.
To launch this program, the state mounted an enormous ideological campaign, broadcast by every possible means, to convince workers that they should accept it, that the "pact" would be a basis for solving the "nation's problems", that there should be "solidarity" among the different sectors of society, in other words that they should accept still more sacrifices to save the capitalists' profits.
The "solidarity pact" is in the form of an anti-inflationist program, similar in some ways to those adopted in countries like Argentina, Brazil, or Israel. Starting with a general, sudden and unexpected price rise, combined with a wage freeze and a drastic diminution in state spending (5.8%), it aims, little by little, to rein in inflation. This means nothing other than a new and terrible shrinkage in domestic trade, even if it is "regulated" by the state, and more company closures, starting with those owned by the state (closures which will in turn hit private industry).
In fact, during the last five years a whole string of semi-nationalized industries have been sold off at knock-down prices. This process, which the government calls "disincorporation" has hit some 600 companies, and in the case of some big ones like Fundidora Monterrey has brought in its wake the liquidation of a series of subsidiaries and suppliers. The "pact" has simply accelerated this process: during the "pact"'s first three months alone, the government authorized the liquidation of 40 companies (the most important being Aeromexico, employing 10,000 workers) and the sale of 40 others (including the Canaena, Mexico's largest copper mine).
This is what the deepening crisis means: the acceleration of the process of destruction/devalorisation of capital, through the material destruction of means of production or their devalorisation, and through falling wages and massive redundancies (along with increasing rates of exploitation for those workers still in a job). Capital is trying, on this basis, to compensate the fall in profits, by expropriating more surplus-value in relation to invested capital, which means putting cheaper, more competitive products on the international market.
With the "solidarity pact" the working class' living conditions can only get worse. Physical exhaustion at work, unemployment and poverty are increasing. Capitalist exploitation is becoming daily more intolerable.
The situation of the working class in Mexico
In Mexico, as in the rest of the world, the proletariat's situation is getting worse. The bourgeoisie's own figures are only a pale reflection of this reality.
The collapse of the productive base is matched by massive unemployment. It is calculated that 4 million workers have been laid off in Mexico over the last 5 years, which, when combined with youngsters looking for work but unable to find it, brings us to 6 million unemployed. The DINA group, which once employed 27,000 workers, is a dramatic example: in 1982 it only employed 10,000, and in 1987 only 5,000; the "pact" will cut the number still further, especially since the decision to sell off seven subsidiaries (accompanied of course by appropriate "restructuring" measures, which will mean more lay-offs for the workers).
The immediate result of the "solidarity pact" was the loss of 30,000 jobs (13,000 in the state sector, and 17,000 in the semi-nationalized industries), and the redundancies are continuing.
To growing unemployment, is added the fall in the working class' real wage. We can get some idea of this fall if we look at the evolution of the "distribution of income", wages as a percentage of the GDP. In 1977, wages represented 40% of GDP; in 1986, they were 36%, and in 1987 hardly 26%. Everyone recognizes the collapse of the minimum wage (officially, its purchasing power only fell by 6% in 1987). It should be added that there are an incalculable number of workers who earn still less than the minimum, for example the municipal employees of Tampico [a port of some 230,000 inhabitants on the Atlantic coast, ed.] who went on strike to demand ... the minimum wage. The higher wage brackets are also falling: in 1976, for example, a university teacher earned 4 times, and a university worker 1.5 times the minimum wage; today, they earn 2.8 and 1.2 times the minimum respectively. Other examples: wages in the maquiladoras in the Northern frontier, regions have fallen to the point where they are the lowest assembly-line wages in the world; old-age pensions are only half the minimum wage. Researchers are forced to recognize the effects of the reduction in wages on workers' living conditions. Thus, for example, "between 1981 and 1985, low-income families (40% of the population) have suffered a serious decline in their standards of nutrition, to the point where they are below the level recommended by the FAO". It is also recognized that 100,000 young children die every year in Mexico for reasons directly due to poverty (malnutrition, parasitic diseases).
The "pact" means a new, brutal and two-fold reduction in wages: on the one hand, cuts in government spending will mean cuts in the social wage -- education, health and other services; on the other, the basic mechanism for controlling inflation relies, as we have just said, on slowing down the rise in wages in relation to the rise in prices, or in other words on the falling purchasing power of wages.
To massive unemployment and falling wages should be added the conditions of work imposed by capital: contracts are being broken everywhere with the replacement of permanent jobs by temporary ones (with the loss of all kinds of advantages such as holidays, etc), increases in work rates, all measures that the "pact" simply accelerates. One recent example is that of Nissan, where the bosses wanted to do away with the workers' "leeway" of ten minutes at the beginning and end of each shift, which came down to producing an extra 12 cars per day.
Finally, as a direct result of economies in capital invested (which also implies economies in security measures), and of the increase in work rates, there is an increase in the number of "accidents" at work which is even recognized officially. A recent case is "accident" of 25th January in the Cuatro y Medio de Cohauila mine where 49 workers lost their lives; no matter how the authorities try to hide the causes of the collapse that buried the miners, the facts are there: the collapse was due to the explosion of an electrical transformer which in its turn caused the explosion of a highly concentrated pocket of firedamp; this highlighted both the lack of proper maintenance of mine machinery, and of a team to detect and extract the gas. The other miners were afterwards forced to go back to work in the same conditions.
There it is. The whole Mexican situation reveals the same features of world capitalism. A chronic crisis, which for the proletariat means still more exploitation, still more poverty, and even its physical destruction. A growing social barbarism; a barbarism with no end to it. No "restructuration", no "program" will get capitalism out of such a situation. For the world capitalist class (including its Mexican fraction), the only solution to the crisis would be a new world war as a means of destruction of the means of destruction a thousand times greater than before; this is the only basis which might, hypothetically, open the way to the development of new productive forces and a new division of the world market amongst the victors. But the present capitalist crisis, with the aggravation of living and working conditions it involves, is making things move in the minds of millions of proletarians. It is awakening their will to struggle against capitalist exploitation, a will which has been crushed under 50 years of triumphant counter-revolution, but which is reappearing on an international level with the massive strikes since the end of the sixties. The Mexican proletariat is also a part of this proletarian awakening.
The class struggle in Mexico
There is only one worldwide working class. Its condition as the exploited class and producer of all material wealth unites it with the sane historic interests and objectives: the abolition of wage labor. The chronic crisis sweeping across the whole planet makes it still more obvious that the conditions of capitalist exploitation are the same in every country throughout the world, whether they be "developed", "under-developed" or "socialist", and clearly demonstrates the united, international nature of the working class. In this sense, the struggle of the proletariat "in Mexico" is only a small part of the united worldwide proletarian struggle, even if for the moment this unity is only determined "objectively" because of the increasing exploitation which everywhere pushes workers to resist, and still demands a "subjective" unity, ie conscious and organized by the working class at an international level, in order to carry out its revolutionary objectives.
In the previous issue of Revolucion Mundial, we demonstrated that the Mexican working class is fighting back against capital's economic attacks, and that despite its weakness, its limitations, and the obstacles that capitalism puts in its way, this fight back is part of the wave of struggles that has swept the world since 1983. Its lynchpin was the strike of 36,000 electrical workers in early 1987, which although it remained under union control managed to involved hundreds of thousands of workers from other industrial branches in one demonstration, just as other fractions of the working class were struggling in other parts of the world.
During the first three months of 1988, Mexico has witnessed a new working class upsurge, which even though they are on a smaller scale than those in other countries nonetheless express the same general tendencies, the same difficulties, and the same confrontation with the attacks of the state.
Strikes have broken out throughout the country almost simultaneously, because it is the "wage round" period of the year, both in the "state" and the "private" sector: in the car factories at Ford in Chihuahua, at General Motors in Mexico City, at Volkswagen in Puebla and shortly afterwards at Nissan in Morelos; in other industries, such as the Quimica y Derivados and the Celanese in Jalisco; at Central de Malta and the public transport system in Puebla; Productos Pesceros at Oaxaca; Aceitera B y G in San Luis Potosi; amongst the dockers of the port of Veracruz; amongst the pressed steel workers at CASA in Mexico City. A strike also broke out in the country's 25 insurance companies and 10 universities. In the regions of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa, the employees of the Ministry of Agriculture stopped work; the workers on the Mexico City underground called a protest demonstration. And the employees of the Social Security held stoppages in Mexico City and several other provincial towns. All these strikes and stoppages revolved around the central demands for wage increases and an end to the massive redundancies planned by capital. But all these strikes remained isolated, under the iron control of the unions, both "official" (Labor Congress) and "independent" (Bureau of Coordination) -- with one exception: the movement in the Social Security (IMSS), of which we will speak later.
The unions' control over the movement was expressed, for example, in the agreements that they put forward masquerading as "workers' solidarity", but whose only aim was to put down the struggles: for example, the agreement by the five car industry unions to make each worker still at work give 1,000 pesos a week to "support" those on strike; they thus eradicated the possibility of creating any real solidarity (which can be nothing other than the strike's extension to other factories irrespective of their industrial branch), pretending that passivity and isolation was in fact "support". A similar example is that given by the SUNTU (a sort of federation of unions of university workers), whose work was essentially to keep each strikebound university within a framework of separate negotiations.
The unions are always the first barrier in the way of the workers developing their struggle. The union is capital's main tool keeping the workers' struggles within the framework of isolated protests, preventing them from taking the road towards their coordination, and unification, thrusting aside their divisions by industrial branch or geographical region (which is possible today thanks to the simultaneity of the struggles themselves).
This is what gives the Social Security workers' struggle its importance; their efforts to rid themselves of the union yoke were an example to other workers, on the point of entering into struggle at the same time.
Already in 1986, different categories in the IMSS had mobilized in different parts of the country; now these categories all mobilized together: nurses, doctors, ancillary workers, etc.
The immediate reason for this new struggle was the combined unions and employers sabotage of the contract review, demanding that the workers be satisfied with the "wage rise" allotted by the "pact of solidarity". In reply, the workers began spontaneous stoppages in every hospital in the capital, as well as in certain provincial towns, outside and against the official union; the shop stewards were explicitly identified with the government. The height of the movement was the militant demonstration by 50,000 workers on 29th January, which attracted the solidarity of workers from other parts of the Health Service, as well as of the "colons" (slum-dwellers). The workers also tried to give themselves a representative organism, but this did not come to anything in the end.
The movement was bitterly attacked by the state. The media merely repeated that the authorities and the unions would accept no demand made outside "the legal and trade-union framework". Many workers were threatened with disciplinary measures at the workplace; more than a hundred were suspended. The police also came to repress those who barricaded the roads during the strike. But it was capitalism's left that took charge of the most important part of the attack on the workers.
Each time that the workers tried to get out of trade union control, it was the left of capital that went to work to put forward a policy -- every bit as bourgeois and dangerous for the workers -- of "democratizing" the union, or of creating an "independent" one. Each time, the left attacked on two fronts: on the one hand trying to form a "front" to "put pressure on the union to make it do its job" ... as if it had not already done its job when it openly repressed the workers. On the other hand, by undermining the movement "from the inside", by leading the workers' efforts to organize themselves off towards the creation of a "coordination" which, far from putting forward the needs of the movement, gave itself the aim of "winning positions within the trade union in order to democratize it". At the same time, the capitalist left tried to reinforce the sector's strong corporatist tendencies, in order to keep it isolated from the other workers on strike. And this was how the struggle was exhausted without winning one of its demands.
Nonetheless, the struggle in the IMSS has once again demonstrated not only that the union, as an organ of capital, can very well openly suppress the workers' struggle, but more importantly that it is possible to mobilize without relying on the union. This is therefore a step forward, an example for the whole working class to follow, even if sectional and regional differences, and the isolation of the struggle, still remain to be broken.
In short: the strikes that we have just been through in Mexico, reflect the same tendencies that can be made out in workers' struggles in other countries:
-- firstly, a growing tendency towards simultaneity: series of strikes, breaking out everywhere, in different branches at the same time;
-- attempts to break the control of the union, and in the most exemplaly cases, attempts by the workers to organize the struggle themselves;
-- to a lesser extent, some demonstrations of solidarity between different branches.
These strikes are facing a concerted attack by the state, with the trade unions in its front line. The unions have not managed to prevent the strikes from breaking out, but on the other hand, they have succeeded in keeping them isolated, and within the framework of the demands a "particular" to each sector. Should the workers be determined to get rid of it, union control is certainly capable of changing its mask; it may replace an "official" union with one more "radical", more "independent", or present as "self-organization" something that is merely an empty shell without the slightest proletarian content, and which plays the same role as the union: the isolation and exhaustion of the struggle.
At the same time, the attack is concretized by a constant strengthening of the repressive apparatus, a massive use of police power against workers when they mobilize, and direct repression of certain struggles.
And to all this should be added the campaigns designed to maintain the bourgeoisie's political domination of the workers thanks to the game of "democracy"; today in Mexico, this question is being used to the full in the face of the coming presidential elections. In this way, the opposition parties have tried to channel the discontent at the "pact of solidarity" into the elections, in particular by calling marches supposedly against the "pact", but which in fact end up asking support for some candidate or another. Lastly, the bourgeois state wants to appear before the workers as something untouchable and unmoveable.
The latest expression of the recent wave of strikes in Mexico was the Aeromexico strike. More than 10,000 workers (essentially ground staff) rose against the company's proposal to decommision 13 aircraft, which would have brought a series of lay-offs in its wake.
Confident that the union had the workers well in hand, the government did not, contrary to what had been feared and to what is usual in "para-state" companies, "requisition" the company,(which would have meant the arrival of the police and the scabs). Instead it let the strike break out, only to declare, after a few days and on the pretext that "the strikes had caused too many losses" that the company was bankrupt, leaving thousands of workers without a job.
It is obvious that on this occasion the state wanted to "give a lesson" not only to this branch but to the whole working class. The message, abundantly spread by the capitalist media, could not be any clearer: "Strikes are useless ... workers will have to resign themselves to the inevitable".
But for the working class, the lessons left by these strikes are very different, and so are the perspectives that we should draw out from them.
Perspectives for the workers' struggle
For the moment, the strikes are over. But there is no need to be a magician to see that the workers will be pushed to resist as the cri sis deepens, and it will not be long before the struggle begins again. In fact, throughout the world the tendency is towards a multiplicity of strikes, even if they are still on the defensive, still strikes of resistance to capital's economic attacks.
However, as the strikes spread to draw in other fractions of the working class throughout the world, and to reveal attempts at active solidarity, to break with the unions and to organize the struggle autonomously, capital's counter-attacks will also be increasingly bitter. Confronting an enemy less and less s ready to accord any of their demands, each new struggle will become harder, will demand of the workers greater determination and energy. Each national fraction of world capital will try to crush the struggle by any means at its disposal so as not to risk losing an inch of ground in the competition for markets.
For a long time already, isolated strikes of resistance have been unable to wrest the slightest satisfaction of their demands from capital. Today, only a truly massive and militant struggle, involving hundreds and thousands of workers can hope to halt momentarily capital's economic attacks, and even this is becoming more and more difficult. This means that as long as the chronic crisis continues, the development of defensive struggles cannot bring about any real and lasting improvement for the workers. Consequently, the struggle can only advance through greater extension, the deepening of its aims, the passage from isolated struggles for particular demands to a general and organized struggle for class objectives. The present efforts at solidarity and self-organization demonstrate this tendency.
But the defensive struggles will not take this direction automatically as a result of the crisis; it will demand a further effort by the working class to regain, assimilate and pass on the experience of its struggles, both recent and historic: the experience that demonstrates the need to rise from the struggles whose aim is simply to get rid the effects of capitalist exploitation, to the struggle that aims to put an end to this exploitation definitively. To do so, the class will have to overthrow the bourgeoisie, seize political power, and install the dictatorship of the proletariat. This demands therefore that the proletariat raise itself to a consciousness of its historic revolutionary objectives. This is a collective effort of the entire working class, within which the revolutionary organization (and later the World Party), as the most active and conscious part of the class, has a determining role to play. In the end, the result of the combat for class consciousness will be decisive in the class confrontations to come.
Ldo. May 1988
See Revolucion Mundial nos. 1 and 3. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is a figure of bourgeois economy, which to an extent expresses economic growth from one year to the next. However, it should be born in mind that, given the "scientists'" theoretical assumptions (division of the economy into industrial, agricultural and financial "sectors"; added value, etc) and their manipulation of the results, this kind of figure presents reality in a manner deformed according to the interests of capital.
The tendency to "hyper-inflation" was obvious for anyone capable of adding two and two:
Inflation (annual percentage) / year
In the next phase of the game, the winners also recover at rock-bottom prices the actions issued, as well as keeping their cost. This is why the stock exchange seemed afterwards to recover to some extent.
According to data from the SIPRO (Servicios Informativos y Procesados AC), which coincides with that from other sources.
Official report on the "pact" from the Secretariat of the Presidency, March 1988.
Uno mas Uno, 27/01/88.
The "maquiladoras" are generally electronic and automobile component industries set up by foreign capital, whose output is destined for the US market (which is why they are usually installed on the northern frontier). The table below shows the wages paid in these "maquiladoras" in relation to those in other countries:
Average basic hourly wage
Source: El Financiero, 10/08/87
Le Monde Diplomatique, Spanish version, Dec 1987
The Mexican bourgeoisie took part in World War II, for example, not so much with troops (whose .presence· was purely symbolic), but by supplying raw materials. Afterwards, it benefited from the period of post-war reconstruction, which made possible the country's rapid industrialization.