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Date: Sat, 11 Jul 98 16:44:45 CDT
From: Sid Shniad <shniad@sfu.ca>
Subject: Han Young: NAFTA and labor
Organization: ?
Article: 38869
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.8102.19980712121719@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

What's wrong with NAFTA? Look at Hyundai factory in Tijuana

By Larry Weiss, 11 July 1998

Han Young welds truck chassis exclusively for Hyundai. In June 1997, the factory's 120 workers stopped work, angry over wages of only $33 to $46 for a 48-hour work week and the company's failure to provide safety equipment and adequate ventilation.

But when they went to the government labor board to register as an independent union, a right supposedly guaranteed by Mexican labor law, they were told they already had a union and a contract. Like most of Tijuana's quarter-million maquiladora workers, they found they were victims of a "protection contract."

Companies buy such contracts from the government-controlled unions that dominate much of Mexican industry. Workers subjected to such arrangements are generally unaware of the supposed union representation. There are no union meetings, no elections of officers, no contract negotiations, no copies of the contract.

Undeterred, the Han Young workers navigated a maze of legal procedures and called on international support to publicize their case, successfully pressuring the labor board to hold a union recognition election. Despite firings of their leaders, threats by thugs from the government-controlled union, and warnings the plant would close, they voted to be represented by an independent union. Members of the press witnessed the victory as workers voted out loud, one by one, in front of company supervisors.

The labor board refused to certify the results, instead ordering a new election. The company had been recruiting new workers from the south of Mexico, in the apparent hope that a new election would produce a different result. But workers again voted for independent union representation. By law, the labor board should have brought the new union and company together for negotiations, but refused to do so. Workers were subjected to more firings and threats as the situation remained in limbo.

On May 22 the workers went on strike to force the company to the bargaining table. The labor board ordered them back to work, but a federal judge overturned the board's decision, ruling the strike lawful.

Despite the judge's ruling, hundreds of tactical unit police arrived at the factory on June 3. They tore down and burned strike banners -- legally required to be posted during a strike -- and escorted replacement workers and management into the plant. Under Mexican labor law, factories are prohibited from operating during a legal strike.

Despite the international news media attention this conflict has drawn, the Mexican government has shown no shyness about repeatedly violating its own laws to prevent these workers from exercising their rights. Its actions make a mockery of claims that workers' human rights will be respected under NAFTA.

The government is acting at the behest of the maquiladora industry association, which has strategized with government officials on an almost daily basis throughout the dispute. The companies, mostly U.S.-based, have made it clear that they are in Mexico only for the cheap labor and that if labor costs rise, they might well look for greener pastures.

Hyundai holds the key to resolving the situation. As a prominent member of the maquila industry association and Han Young's only customer, Hyundai is in a position to insist that the workers' rights be respected. But Hyundai appears uninterested in bringing about a just and peaceful resolution of the dispute.

The outcome of the Han Young situation remains to be seen. But events to date are a clear example that NAFTA-style free trade is based on the abuse of human rights in the service of maximizing profits for transnational companies.

-- Larry Weiss, of Minneapolis, is coordinator of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition.

/s/ Mike Dolan, Field Director, Global Trade Watch, Public Citizen

Our web-site is also interesting ---> http://www.citizen.org/pctrade/tradehome.html