Labor Day demonstrates Mexican workers' anger

From the NAFTA & Inter-American Trade Monitor, Vol. 2, no. 14
5 May, 1995

The Mexican government and the government-dominated union Confederacin de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM) canceled the traditional May Day labor celebration this year, in an attempt by CTM not to further embarass the government of President Ernesto Zedillo. Labor had little to celebrate, with 600,000 jobs lost during the first two months of 1995 alone, and with current incomes the lowest seen since 1935. With the government's celebration canceled, throngs of angry workers flooded into the Zcalo (the central plaza in Mexico City), demanding jobs, wage increases, peace with justice for the Zapatistas, and the resignation of President Ernesto Zedillo and of regent Oscar Espinosa, who orchestrated the dismantling of Ruta 100.

Ruta 100, the 4,000-bus, 14,000-driver transit service for the Federal District, was dissolved by the government on April 8. The government charged that Sutaur-100 (the Ruta 100 union) had diverted $4 million of public money to the union and had links to radical groups including the Zapatistas. On April 10, Luis Miguel Moreno Gomez, chief of Ruta 100, died in his office of two gunshot wounds. The government says that he committed suicide, but others remain suspicious of that explanation. After taking over Ruta 100, the government dismissed union drivers and began hiring replacements.

Marchers expressed solidarity with Sutaur-100, and heard a message from Ricardo Barco, a jailed officer of Sutaur-100, calling for organization of unions independent of the government, and for defense of collective bargaining, the right to strike, and union autonomy.

Laborers were joined in the Zcalo by farm workers, government employees, and representatives of social organizations. Speakers called for the reversal of neo-liberal government policies that they claimed benefit only bankers and speculators. They also denounced suppression of independent unions in various parts of the country.

Estimates of the size of the crowd ranged from 30,000 (according to government television stations) to 70,000 (New York Times) to 100,000 (various news agencies) to 300,000 (police on the scene) to 1,500,000 (organizers of the demonstration). While politicians, including the PRD's Cuahtemoc Crdenas, attended the gathering, they were relegated to silence, by agreement of the organizers. After the crowd had gathered under the hot noonday sun, some began to attack the National Palace, throwing bottles, sticks, and stones, and breaking windows, with some even trying to set fire to the doors. Police took video and still photographs as demonstrators spray-painted anti-government slogans on the seat of government. The videos were later used to identify and arrest nineteen of the participants.

Eventually, police confronted demonstrators, and some young people among the demonstrators attacked, throwing stones and bottles against the full-length acrylic shields carried by police. Police held their ground until organizers of the demonstration arrived on the scene, denouncing the presence of paid provocateurs. The rock and bottle-throwing episode lasted for less than 30 minutes and involved few of the demonstrators gathered for the nearly four-hour observance.

Laurence Iliff, "Unemployment Shows Sharp Increase," El Financiero, April 24-30, 1995

Andrea Becerril, Judith Caldern, and Ciro Prez Silva, "Cambio de Poltica Econmica, Demanda Central en el Zcalo"

Blanche Petrich, "Desfile Ms Espontneo Que Bien Organizado"

Victor Ballinas, Roberto Guardao Espinosa, Juan Manuel Venegas, and Ricardo Olayo, "De Las Mayores Movilizaciones Populares"

Victor Ballinas, Alonso Urrutia and Ismael Romero, "Intil de Apaciguar los gnimos"

Ricardo Olayo, "Los Acusan de Daos al Palacio Nacional" La Jornada, May 2, 1995

Tim Golden, "Defiant Workers in Mexico Demonstrate Over the Government's Economic Policies," New York Times, May 2, 1995

Brendan M. Case, "City Bus-ts Union," El Financiero, April 17-23, 1995

"Ruta 100," La Jornada, April 14, 1995

Leslie Crawford, "Mexican Unions Shun May Day March," Financial Times, 4/27/95

Diego Cevallos, "Unions in Crisis," Interpress Service, April 25, 1995.