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After the historic labor reform of 2019What is the biggest challenge for its implementation? Guy Ryder, director of the International Labor Organization (ILO), asked Luisa María Alcalde, secretary of Labor and Social Welfare, at an event last November. “Change the culture,” he replied quickly. And today there is an example at the door to illustrate what the official said: Pemex union.

On January 31, nearly 90,000 affiliates will be able to vote for a new leadership of the Petroleum Workers Union of the Mexican Republic (STPRM). But the political and economic power that this organization has exercised, with “components of authoritarianism and domination,” cannot be changed with a law, says Graciela Bensusán.

The reform set the conditions for the transformation, but it is not enough, adds the professor from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), Xochimilco campus.

“We are talking about a cultural change. As long as the policy of putting an end to simulation does not take root, the small or medium capos will continue to exercise their power” within unions, like that of Pemex, warns Alfonso Bouzas, coordinator of the Citizen Observatory of Labor Reform (OCRL).

For the first time in its more than 80 years of existence, the STPRM directly elect its leadership. In 2019, Congress modified the Federal Labor Law (LFT) and established that voting must be free, direct and secret.

Carlos Romero Deschamps he was the last leader to benefit from the old rules: voting by show of hands in which, moreover, they did not elect the national leader, but rather delegates from the union sections who, on his behalf, chose him.

With the reform, “what could be done was done, to guarantee that the union leadership is elected by universal, free, secret and direct vote”, points out the Doctor of Law. The rest will be accompaniment by the authorities, but the working base must help change a deeply rooted union cultureBoth specialists agree.

Little bosses who want to grow

“You have to be realistic and start from the fact that the old labor model lasted 100 years”, during which time corruption was allowed to union leaders, points out Graciela Bensusán, a doctor in Political Science and an expert in labor issues.

Some labor movements they arose, but were repressed, like the teachers’, railroad workers’ or doctors’, to demand, in addition to union democracy, better working conditions.

But the case of Pemex union it is particular, because “it has a strong collective contract, its workers are in better conditions than most of the country,” he explains. It is not a protection contract for the company, as in many cases. It will be “democratic transformation is difficult”, because the staff could be hesitant to change those who brought them benefits.

“They are immersed in that culture and not everyone knows about the new rules, that there is a profound change underway. Or they are afraid of losing what they have”, in the face of the threats or lies of their leaders to maintain the old power.

Romero Deschamps resigned from the leadership in 2019 and Pemex in 2021, when the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) launched an investigation against him for money laundering. “But that does not mean that he has gone, in the sections the bosses who were subordinate to him remained and now they claim the national leadership,” says Alfonso Bouzas.

“The local bosses they continue to exercise” in the different entities of the country, often protected by local governments, says the professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

At the end of last year, the electoral process in Pemex began with the renewal of the 36 union sections. In four of them the vote will be repeated, due to irregularities committed, but almost all of them will be directed by the group close to the previous leadership.

In addition, one of the 25 registered candidates for the national leadership is Ricardo Aldana, current treasurer of the STPRM, and who was the right arm of Romero Deschamps.

What corresponds to the authority, and what does not

On January 14, at the morning conference, Luisa Maria Mayor was questioned about the guarantee for Romero Deschamps not to continue in the union through other candidates. “The big difference now is that it is the workers who are going to decide. Before, the government imposed the leaders,” he replied.

“Not only for the case of Pemex, it must be understood that corporatism it was real and it is not something that we can disappear by wishing it”, says Graciela Bensusán.

“This cannot be solved by Luisa María Alcalde, or by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They cannot make the workers vote for one or the other to get that Pemex clique, if precisely for that reason that change was made, so that the government no longer gets involved, ”says the specialist.

“It is not only a legal issue or one of the labor authority”, says Alfonso Bouzas. In the processes of legitimizing collective contracts, for example, “the Confederation of Workers of Mexico (CTM) and the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC) continue to win”, despite the corruption and job insecurity in which they have suffered. had to the base.

In the case of the oil tankers, he foresees, “someone of those who until now have been small capos” will prevail. In the coming days “we will see how old practices are mixed with the new democratic rules”, says Graciela Bensusán.

What should be asked of the labor authority it is to verify that the conditions for voting are optimal and that those who aspire to the position have an even floor, points out the specialist. And on the other hand, the FGR should really investigate those leaders. “Many would have to be in jail and not be an option in an election, but since they were never proven a crime,” they continue, like Romero himself.

“They have only touched the leaders when they have been politically convenient, such as (Enrique Peña Nieto) Elba Esther Gordillo” and (Carlos Salinas de Gortari) Joaquín Hernández Galicia, La Quina, because he supported (Cuauhtémoc) Cárdenas”, points out the academic. The latter was leader of oil union.

A different union future

Slowly, workers and workers they will know that “they can now change their leadership, which is no longer eternal and the stage of leaders of 10, 20 and more years is over”, trusts Alfonso Bouzas.

Right now there is “a complicated mix, in which part of the problem is the culture of the advantages and benefits that the workers received and their lack of knowledge of the depth of the transformation that we are experiencing”, considers Graciela Bensusán.

Despite all this scenario, “hopefully there will be more unions, that there are many options, even when they are not the most qualified”, says Professor Bouzas. Managing a union to protect and expand rights, “you learn. But the tricks are not removed by decree.

And that the new generations, who “express their disenchantment with the union and opt for individual solutions”, are interested in the labor movements. “Perhaps in the future we will have other forms of organization or collectivization and not the unions,” but for the time being, these institutions will have to be renewed, concludes the academic.

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