March 6, 2001
Gangster Union "Wins" In Rio Bravo
On Friday, March 2nd in a government-run union election, the workers at Duro Bag Company in Rio Bravo Tamaulipas, Mexico were robbed of their legal, constitutional and human right to be represented by a union of their own choosing. The election was blatantly undemocratic. The final vote of 498 to 4 replaced the current company-dominated union, the Paper and Cardboard Workers Union (CTM) with a similarly company-dominated union, the Cardboard and Paper Workers Union (CROC), a union that had provided about a hundred thugs to terrorize Duro workers in the weeks before the election. The workers had attempted to win representation for their local independent Union of Duro Bag Workers. Over 150 of them were fired for organizing over the ten months of their struggle. The Mexican government had refused to order a secret ballot election on neutral grounds despite an agreement with the U.S. government last summer to do so in union elections.
Second shift held prisoner
According to six members of the independent union committee who were allowed into the plant to monitor the voting, Duro ordered second and third shift workers to stay in the plant at the end of their shifts and held them prisoner in the plant. The doors were blocked with metal sheets, the windows of the doors were papered over, and rolls of paper blocked the open areas. The Duro union observers were kept in cubicles so they couldn’t communicate with each other, and the women observers were escorted individually into the bathrooms. The observers reported that initially they could hear people yelling, "Let us out!" but then loud music was played continuously. Amidst this deafening music, day shift workers, many of whom were not entitled to vote, were ushered by the thugs through a gauntlet of toughs into the voting area. They were handed a slip of blue paper with only a number printed on it for the CROC union and told to vote for it in the voice vote. Company and company union representatives sat there taking notes. The workers didn’t even know the name of the union for which they were voting.
The independent union committee and their lawyers objected to voting by workers not on the list but their objections were ignored and they were unable to find out who of the second and third shift workers wanted to vote and were prevented from so doing.
On Thursday, the day before the union election, organizers and supporters watched in disbelief as thugs unloaded automatic weapons from a car at the plant gate and very conspicuously carried them into the plant.
Thirty-nine election observers from Mexico, the U.S. and Canada including clergy, human rights and union representatives stood outside the plant gate all day. They were refused admittance to observe the proceedings. Media from local and international press also asked for admittance into the plant but were kept outside with the observers.
While the voting was going on, a car came out of the plant, driven by two of the CROC thugs. The workers recognized the car and drivers one of whom had threatened union organizers during the week. The car hit one of the fired workers and was stopped and blocked by an oncoming car. People refused to let it go and insisted on searching the trunk. In it they found banners and flyers of the independent union that had been torn down from public places and confiscated from employees. Although, nominally the election was between unions, it was clear to everyone that it was really between a workers’ union and the company, and it was the company that equipped and paid for the thugs of the CROC union to harass the organizers and intimidate the workers.
Significance of the Duro workers’ struggle
The attempt of the Duro Bag workers to win a real union was supported through an international campaign by The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) to pressure the Mexican government, Duro Bag and Duro’s largest customer Hallmark. CJM is a San Antonio, Texas-based coalition of North American labor, religious and human rights organizations. CJM Executive Director, Martha Ojeda, herself a former maquiladora worker, said, "With this shockingly undemocratic election, the new Fox administration has made it crystal clear that it has no intention of reforming Mexico’s corrupt system of government and company-dominated unions. Despite Fox’s promise to ‘put a human face on the global economy,’ we now know he will oppose any attempts by maquiladora workers to improve their sub-poverty wages and deadly working conditions. In fact, this represents a step backward from promises made to NAFTA partners by the previous government to move toward secret ballot union elections. Moreover, this election demonstrates the repression and fraud that multinational corporations are willing to use, that the CROC is now replacing the declining CTM, and that in future attempts to organize their own unions the workers are going to be fighting with gangsters."
One of the international observers, Judy Ancel, an educator from Kansas City and member of the CJM Board of Directors said, "A number of the foreigners wanted to know what the Spanish word for "Shame" was. I think we were all appalled at the total lack of pretense of even minimal fairness in this election." She added, "As the Bush, Fox, and Chretien administrations of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada prepare to push for NAFTA expansion to the entire Western Hemisphere, I think the Duro case will haunt the debate. It is a clear example of NAFTA’s utter failure to improve the lives of workers."
"We won our dignity" but repression continues
The Duro workers will maintain their organization and continue to fight for their rights. Sylvia Martinez, a Duro worker, responded to the elections by saying, "They are the losers and we are the winners because we won our dignity."
Latest reports indicate that having stolen the election, the thug union is continuing a mop-up operation of revenge against the Duro workers independent union and their organizers. On Saturday night, Pedro Lopez, one of the supporters from CJM member group FUTURO was returning home to Valle Hermoso in his car and was pursued by a pickup truck which tried to force him off the road. He was hit by the truck and sustained head injuries and needed surgery on his mouth. He is recovering at home while his family tries to get the authorities to investigate.
Meanwhile, Eliud Almaguer reported that workers who were imprisoned in the plant are saying that they were threatened by thugs during the election. Many are confused as to whether the CTM or CROC union won since the union delegate and committee are the same as before. He also reports that some of the thugs are still in town. The Duro workers union is following up investigating and getting testimonies from workers who were held captive and threatened.
The repression has not just been in Mexico. On February 26th the PACE Local representing Duro workers in Ludlow Kentucky co-hosted a press conference and rally at Duro’s headquarters at which two Rio Bravo workers spoke. Afterwards Duro tried to fire Dave Klontz, local president, on false charges of having left work early. Then they refused to permit him to take off on union business or earned vacation to travel to Rio Bravo for the election.
Protest this outrage
Please write letters protesting this blatant violation of worker and human rights to Mexican President Vicente Fox and to Tamaulipas State Governor Tomas Yarrington. Also call, write or fax Duro Bag and their customer Hallmark. Inform your Congressional representatives of these violations and point out the failure of any progress toward labor rights under NAFTA.
Dear President Fox:
The recuento (union election) which took place at the Duro Bag Company in Rio Bravo Tamaulipas on March 2 was a blatant violation of all standards of free elections. The presence of armed thugs, the holding of second shift workers prisoner in the plant, and the intimidation of workers by the company and the CROC union are an outrage. I am very disappointed that after the promises you made to respect worker rights your government would conduct such an election.
You spoke last week in Cancun about putting a human face on globalization. Are we to conclude that this new face is one filled with terror? We demand an end to stolen elections, impunity and corruption in the handling of labor rights issues in Mexico.
Send letters to:
for more information contact CJM at 210-732-8957 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vicente Fox Quesada, President of Mexico. Email: email@example.com
- Governor Tomas Yarrington, State of Tamaulipas:
Email him from web page: http://www.tamaulipas.gob.mx/gobernador/contacto
or send Fax: 01152 (1) 318 8701
- Duro Bag, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: 859-581-8327
- Hallmark (which buys 15% of Duro Rio Bravo's gift bags) can be reached from their web page at www.hallmark.com or at email@example.com or fax: (816) 274-7555.