Thousands of Pemex workers will elect today for the first time directly to their national leadership. And although dissidence grew in several of the 36 sections, in different entities, personnel and candidates denounce that the reminiscences of the power of the former leader Carlos Romero Deschamps are still present.
The historic elections to choose who will head the Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) come when the PRI lost its enormous political weight in the country, but not in that organization. Also when the federal government has ambitious plans for Pemex, in addition to the goal of leaving a legacy of union transformation.
These elections, forced by the labour reform that they be personal, secret and direct, and not through delegates, “they matter a lot to the 4T. But for change to be seen as real, our goal is by no means to build an electoral force or revive corporatism toward government. That is not the intention”, assures the deputy Manuel Baldenebro (Morena)
“What we are looking for, since we reformed the Federal Labor Law (LFT) is that all union organizations become democratized.” Of course, “the eyes are on these elections, they are of the utmost importance for all that it implies Pemex and its history”, recognizes the president of the Labor Commission of the Lower House.
The oil union has been important for the political history of the country since its creation in 1935. What happens in this organization has been substantial for each administration “in terms of labor policy,” says Héctor de la Cueva, coordinator of the Center for Labor Research and Consulting Union (CILAS).
In addition, during the PRI hegemony of more than 70 years, the guaranteed votes of this guild were necessary. Union money, too. And in the PAN era, they needed your support so that the structural reforms to Pemex would not cause labor conflicts.
“It has always been a key factor in the political relationship of the State and for national political life due to the importance of the oil industry.” Therefore, it is not surprising that the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador “puts part of its labor policy in the STPRM”, says Héctor de la Cueva.
“We must recognize the importance of election of the STPRM for trade unionism in Mexico, for the Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada (T-MEC) and for politics at the federal and local levels,” says Cirila Quintero, a specialist in trade union movements at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
The academic emphasizes the “power outside the union” that the STPRM came to have. The participation of leaders in politics at the local level has also been a constant. In fact, this is how the power of many of those who are now in the national leadership began.
The STPRM has almost 90,000 members at the national level that, according to the calculation requested through the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (Inai), grant the leadership a quota of 2.5% of their salary. According to the analysis of places and remunerations of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP), salaries are 7,058 pesos on average.
Therefore, union dues add up to, at a minimum, 154 million pesos per year. This amount is equivalent to the sum of the fees contributed by UNAM union members, electricians, telephone operators, the postal service and mining, according to the records of each union body.
In addition to the workers’ quotas, the company has obligations with the union that only in three years added 1,312 million pesos spent on travel expenses, celebrations, scholarships and even on musical bands.
Since the beginning of the six-year term, President López Obrador announced his Pemex rescue plan, which includes greater investment and the construction of the Dos Bocas refinery. For this reason, it would also be convenient for the elections to be carried out in peace and with transparency, says Héctor de la Cueva.
But, above all, in this election “the effectiveness of the application of the labor reform and its purpose of democratizing the world of work is at stake before public opinion.” That is why he invited candidates to the conference, he says.
“The labor reform that we approved in terms of syndical freedom in 2019 it will be put to the test” with this election, says Baldenebro. “There are still many pending to consolidate it”, but it takes time, maturity of the unions and sanctions to corrupt leaders, he adds.
Historical symbol of corruption
The Pemex union “It is a symbol of corruption, opacity, corporatism and anti-democracy,” says the CILAS coordinator. For the government to fulfill its mission of cleaning up labor, union life and, in general, the public life of the country, as President López Obrador has pointed out, “obviously the STPRM is a bastion.”
Perhaps the period of greatest corruption of that organization has occurred in the long period of Carlos Romero Deschamps (1993-2019), originally from Tampico, member of the PRI since 1961 and legislator on five different occasions.
The former leader preferred to resign when in this administration the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) initiated investigations against him for money laundering. Until now, Romero, who participated in the Senate Energy Commission during the vote on the 2013 energy reform, had not been touched by any government.
In 1989, the influential leader Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, La Quina, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for possession of weapons. “The quinazo was orchestrated by Carlos Salinas de Gortari,” recalls De la Cueva. The oil tanker had supported the presidential campaign of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. With that move, Salinas took control of the union.
Another example of the power of the PRI in the STPRM, and of the union itself, is that they generally had representatives in Congress. In this LXV Legislature they have no one. Senator Cecilia Sánchez, a candidate for the leadership, is a member of Morena. In that sense, to win Ricardo Aldana, current treasurer and right-hand man of Romero, would guarantee the continuity of the PRI at the head of the organization.
The shadow of Romero Deschamps
“At Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) we are being pioneers of this type of democratic exercise”, says Lida Ruiz, a worker in section 47, in Playa del Carmen, Campeche, proudly.
But going back to the reality that paints the panorama, yes Ricardo Aldana, treasurer of Romero Deschamps and implicated in the diversion of money from the union to the presidential campaign of Francisco Labastida (Pemexgate), will win “that will not take away from the fact that they are the largest union elections of the six-year term,” he reflects.
Last week, candidates for head the STPRM They took advantage of the space provided in the daily morning conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, more than to present proposals, to denounce that Aldana and other commissioners, “abusing the position they occupy, want to leave us true workers at a total disadvantage.” Cristina Alonso, one of the contenders, pointed out.
“The power (that the hegemonic group) achieved inside the union was rooted in managing the Pemex labor market”, says Cirila Quintero. Not all people work in the best conditions, either due to their temporary contract or due to lack of maintenance in the facilities, and both situations have been allowed by the union in the last 20 years, he points out. “There are people who have been waiting for a place for years and have not obtained it.”
Although there has been for years dissidence, it has been in the last decade when it has grown the most, especially in the south of the country. “We workers are fed up with not being served, with not caring about our rights, with the sale of jobs and all the money that is stolen, everything is business for them (in the leadership),” says Lida Hernández.
In its collective labor agreement they have many benefits, but “we haven’t had a single revision as such for years. The conquest of improvements stopped a long time ago”, he points out.
For this reason, the trade unionist calls for a vote. However, as of the weekend, less than 60% of the padrón had signed up. “The first thing is representative democracy”, if the results place Aldana in the general secretariat “we will have to continue fighting” to move to participatory democracy.