November 27, 2007
Despite employer harassment and intimidation, mass firings, and threats of a factory closure, on Friday, November 23, workers at the Vaqueros Navarra jean factory in Tehuacan, Mexico stood up to their employer and voted in favour of the independent September 19 Union, which is affiliated with the Authentic Labour Front (FAT).
The final vote count, which included the votes of approximately 45 dismissed workers, was 263 for the September 19 Union, 187 for the CROM, and 3 for the CROC. Both the CROM and the CROC are "official unions" supported by the employer and the state PRI government. The CROC currently holds the title to the collective agreement at the factory.
The victory is even more impressive considering the nature of the election. Each individual worker had to walk up to a table where a representative of his/her employer, the official unions, and the state labour authorities were standing, and verbally state which union he/she supported.
The FAT and the Human and Labour Rights Commission had been calling for a secret-ballot vote in a neutral location. Instead, the vote was held inside the factory by individual voice vote.
Despite this blatantly undemocratic process, the workers, most of whom are young, indigenous women, stood up to the powers that be and voiced their vote for the independent union.
Observers at the union representation vote included US Labour Attaché Kevin Richardson, Angelica Gonzalez of the Jesuit Centre for Reflection and Labour Action (CEREAL), and Lynda Yanz for MSN.
Despite this precedent-setting victory, the struggle is far from over. Both official unions and the employer have contested the votes of the approximately 45 dismissed workers, and the CROM is challenging the September 19 Union's legal status.
The Vaqueros Navarra campaign will now shift focus to pressuring the employer to accept the election results and negotiate with September 19, take no retaliatory action against the workers who voted their conscience, reinstate the unjustly fired workers, and keep the factory open.