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On 5 February 2017, the government of Mexico City, one of the world’s largest and most populous cities and capital of the Federal State of Mexico, promulgated its first constitution, which will come into force on 17 September 2018.
It is the product of a Constituent Assembly that sat for four and a half months, exceptional for a city, and covers the human rights of all the federal capital’s citizens. The Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Gobierno de la Ciudad de México (SUTGCDMX), affiliated to PSI and a member of PSI World Network of Local and Regional Government Workershas been a key actor in this process. It made a major contribution to the movement that led to the creation of the Mexico City Constituent Assembly and the inclusion in the final text of important gains for workers in the federal capital and the public and municipal sector trade union movement. The president of SUTGCDMX, Juan Ayala Rivero, was an elected member of the Constituent Assembly.
PSI interviewed Juan Ayala Ribero about the process and about its achievements.
PSI: What are the most important wins by the trade union movement in Mexico City’s Constitution and how will workers benefit?
JAR: Our trade union actively participated in the constitutional process. We were elected to the Constituent Assembly by popular vote and with the support of workers. This gave us the opportunity to argue for the inclusion in the constitution of many of the benefits contained in collective agreements we already negotiated with the local government and upgrade them from tertiary level legislation (collective agreements) to primary level (constitutional), which makes compliance obligatory. The constitution lists all types of workers: manual workers, peasants, unwaged workers, informal workers, outsourced workers, public employees and the self-employed. They are all specifically named in this new constitution, which is justiciable, enforceable and punishable by the constitutional court. The new constitution makes provision for four and a half month maternity leave in addition to the minimum of three months under federal law, making a total of seven and a half months on full pay.
First, this allows women workers to have the time and rest they need so they can breast feed naturally. It is scientifically recognised that mother’s milk provides important protection for the baby and prevents disease. Second, this period is very important for allowing the mother and child to bond. Third, because when the mother has to return to work and leave the child, the child can already walk and can be left at the nursery, in a secure and stable environment. During the two years in which the new collective agreements are in force, more than 50,000 women workers have benefited from this provision, which the constitution now guarantees to all women workers in Mexico City. The constitution also provides for one month’s paternity leave so that fathers can be fully involved at the birth of their children. Fathers are also allowed ten days’ leave if their child is ill.
The constitution recognises the existence of workers who are not paid a fixed wage and who instead earn a living from tips. It gives them a status that facilitates formalisation of their jobs and access to a basic level of social security, although strong opposition from the official parties meant we did not manage to guarantee them the retirement pension rights enjoyed by informal workers. However, in the case of informal workers they do have access to retirement as long as they contribute to a pension plan.
The Head of Mexico City’s government, Doctor Miguel Ángel Manzera, wanted to include in the new constitution a minimum wage of 82.86 pesos/day for all public and private sector workers in Mexico City. We argued against a minimum wage and for a higher living wage, instead. Many of those opposed to the living wage claim it causes inflation but we showed that this was not true, so much so that one of the employers’ organisations (Coparmex) proposed more, 89.10 pesos/day. However, other employer organisations opposed this. The strongest opposition to a living wage did not come from the employers but from the federal government, which set a national minimum wage of 70.10 pesos/day. This exemplifies why it essential that the municipal trade union movement pushes at a local and regional level to go further than the minimum provisions set at the national level.
We also managed to include clauses excluding any form of privatisation of public services, which the constitution recognises to belong to the citizens. So we have excluded any participation by private capital or privatisation in the form of public-private partnerships or commercial agreements such as TISA and TPP. The constitution recognises that water is an irrevocable and non-negotiable human right and that Mexico City has the duty to guarantee water to all its citizens.
We are now working on an adjustable virtual digital pay scale to increase the wages of municipal workers on low pay. We are going to conduct a survey of 10,365 colleagues with a view to obtaining a 15-25% pay rise that will benefit 34,000 workers in a single action.
PSI: What strategies did you use to achieve these wins?
JAR: The truth is that it was all down to continuous work by the whole union, which mobilised and dedicated itself to changing the way it operated. We had already established a constructive dialogue with the Mexico City government and its Head, Doctor Miguel Ángel Manzera, while negotiating collective agreements in the municipal public sector. But we went further than this by explaining and demonstrating in practical terms the advantages for the city, its stakeholders and communities, not only workers, of including social and labour issues in the constitution. We said we believed this would help to make the federal capital a fairer and more inclusive city.
The work we did with PSI, its policy agendas and the fact that its decision-making bodies all understood the challenges facing public service unions throughout the world have been very useful in helping us to develop our own concrete proposals, formulate them, adapt them to the local situation and include them in our collective agreements and at the Constituent Assembly. We are very worried about the wave of privatisation affecting essential services in many countries, services that have traditionally been examples of the defence and promotion of public services, especially in Europe.
We cannot forget that Mexico City is only one part of the country, with a population of 24 million out of the national population of 122 million. We face a lot of resistance from the federal government, which likes to keep full political control of the country’s cities and regions.
PSI: How are all these benefits that you managed to negotiate going to be funded? What has the government of Mexico City agreed and committed itself to this sense?
JAR: We do not want the benefits negotiated for workers in the new constitution to be funded by an increase in taxes. We don't think that would be appropriate or democratic. But we are retaking control of various resources that are already there for workers but which are hidden, kept away and not used. We conducted our own analysis of the city budget and went on to develop a joint analysis with the government. We are readjusting the finances, optimising them and promoting the good management of public finances to provide sustainable funding for the labour and social benefits that are now enshrined in the Mexico City constitution. As trade unions, we need to play an advisory role regarding the good management of the public finances. In order to do this, it is very important not to owe anything to the government and to make sure we are equally responsible and transparent in the way we manage the resources of our own trade union.
PSI: Many local and regional/municipal government trade unions in the world must fight on a daily basis to defend their basic labour rights, to be recognised by the public authorities and to be able to conduct collective bargaining. What would be your recommendations to these sister unions to be successful?
JAR: I would make two recommendations. First, it is key to remember that trade unions sometimes get it into their heads that they can support a government indefinitely. However, when this government is voted out and another one comes in, there is almost always a confrontation. But this is no use in the long term because all governments come and go and follow political cycles. We are willing to work with governments that are willing to work with us but we won’t give them our unconditional support. We believe it is important to make the most out of favourable political conjunctures to deepen and widen rights and to secure them, as in this case in which the constitution enshrines them, so they are no longer subject to political cycles depending on whoever happens to be in government. And it is essential for the union and the workers themselves to monitor compliance with these commitments and, in this case, constitutional guarantees.
Second, I think it is fundamental that, as trade unions, we do not have a paternalist attitude. We should maintain direct contact with our members on a daily basis, get them involved in the debate, encourage and train our leaders, especially women, so that they are all actors of change. Our leaders do not spend the day in their office but in the field, shoulder to shoulder with workers, and go wherever the problems are. It is also the union’s responsibility to keep workers and the general public informed in as much detail as possible in order to strengthen participative democracy. As we are human beings, we all make mistakes, but the closer we are to workers, the better we are able to correct ourselves and make the necessary changes to improve our trade union work and make progress towards achieving our collective objectives.
Article prepared with contributions from SUTGCDMX.