The visit of Vice President Kamala Harris to Mexico on June 8 had three central issues: migration, security, and freedom of association.
The visit of Vice President Kamala Harris to Mexico on June 8 had three central issues: migration, security, and freedom of association. Of these topics, the least commented by the Mexican and U.S. press was the last one, considered decisive for the future of the USMCA, the most important free trade agreement on the planet.
The renegotiation of the agreement with Canada and Mexico forced by Donald Trump had special emphasis on Mexico having to constitute a framework of freedom of association that would allow wage improvements in the country and, according to Trump's logic, prevent Mexico from taking jobs away from the United States just because its workers are cheaper.
The dynamics is sustained by Joe Biden's administration. Democrats are close to union leaders who were instrumental in the new USMCA deal, such as Richard Trumka, who also advocates for greater freedom of association in Mexico. In addition, Trumka has a close relationship with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives.
Historically, trade unions were controlled by the PRI in Mexico, a political party that remained in power for eighty years until the year 2000, when the opposition finally won the presidency. During those decades, trade unions that highly identified with the Government were created, but were fundamentally monopolistic. There were no elections among the workers, and each employee was assigned a compulsory trade union membership. When there were attempts to create new unions, they were violently repressed.
This matrix is still very present in Mexico. The various branches of the economy and production have little or no freedom of association. AndrĂ©s Manuel LĂłpez Obrador is very influenced by labor lawyer Arturo LĂłpez Alcalde; in fact, the lawyer sat two places away from the former senator during his visit with Vice President Harris.
LĂłpez Alcalde has been a promoter of freedom of association in Mexico since the 90s, and has at least 20 years of friendship with the Mexican president. LĂłpez Alcalde has been promoting the emergence of new unions in Mexico from the Labor Board, which is currently in the hands of his daughter, Luisa MarĂa.
This unit has the capacity to oversee union elections and, fundamentally, to grant the corresponding legal status to the new unions that are being planned. And this is the big point of conflict with Harris' proposals on her visit.
The United States hopes that Mexico will create an autonomous body outside the government in order to channel greater freedom of association from there. In Washington's view, there is little point in changing unions controlled by the PRI for unions controlled by Morena, LĂłpez Obrador's party.
According to sources who were at the bilateral meeting, Harris pointed this issue to the Mexican president to which he replied that creating such a body was an economic effort for his government that preaches austerity and the reduction of government spending. Harris went further and replied that the US would provide the resources for the creation of the agency.
That's why, at the close of Harris' visit, U$ 130 million in support was announced for Mexico in the field of "advice to improve labor legislation." In reality, the U$ 130 million is to create the body that oversees freedom of association, although it has not been explicitly announced.
This advance is a problem for attorney LĂłpez Alcalde, who understands that he will lose influence if the fate of labor relations moves away from the Labor Board, of which his daughter is in charge.
The opinion held by Harris and her staff regarding the labor lawyer, friend of AMLO, is correct. LĂłpez Alcalde has the fantasy that the unions will be the true base of Morena, which will prosper even if this party one day leaves power, in a scheme that is similar to United Kingdom's Labor Party.
That is a dream of permanence and hegemony that does not coincide with Harris' plans for Mexico.
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