Cablegate: Esparza's Last Stand? National Strike Likely to Fail

DE RUEHME #3200/01 3141640
P 101640Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

A: Mexico 2865
B. Mexico 2933
C. Mexico 2978

1. (SBU) Summary: The battle between the Sindicato Mexicano de
Electricistas (SME) and the federal government over the shut-down of
Mexican electricity company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC), is
dwindling in Mexico City. Former SME leader, Martin Esparza, is
mobilizing as many allies and arguments as he can to remain a viable
opponent, while Secretary of Labor Javier Lozano and other cabinet
Secretaries wage a strong public relations campaign and use their
considerable resources to counter the claims of the union. The SME
continues to organize protests and rally social and union groups to
its cause, but as the crowds are shrinking, so is SME's ability to
meaningfully galvanize public opinion. End summary.

Calls for a National Strike
2. (SBU) The SME has called for a national strike to take place in
mid-November. News reports indicate that the remaining SME workers
and other radical groups - especially university students - are
calling urgently for the strike and that Esparza is working to hold
them back. He apparently needs more time to get participating
parties organized and to allow for the democratic process of voting
within unions on whether or not to strike. Laboff contacts dismiss
Esparza's calls for the strike completely: he is losing ground fast
and no longer even counts on the entire workforce of the LFC for
support. The so-called radical and independent unions and social
groups that do support him, however, are facilitating the
organization of the strike. While a major strike is unlikely,
November could be unsettling for Mexico City. Still, the GOM has
handled this issue quite well, and the repercussions for Mexico's
competitiveness agenda could be significant should it emerge

Radical Cohesion
3. (SBU) In late October Esparza and his allies formed a new united
front against perceived government aggression called the National
Assembly of Popular Resistance (ANRP). The ANRP counts around 100
social and union groups and is trying to create a Mexico-wide
footprint to enable its national strike. The second ANRP meeting
took place on November 5 and participants determined to begin a
series of peaceful and civic activities to build up to the national
strike planned for November 11. Initially the strike planning
meeting was planned for October 31 and the strike for November 5,
but the SME has pushed both back. Esparza claims this is to give
supporters the opportunity to organize their participation, but
detractors claim that Esparza is struggling to unify a critical
mass. Likely participants will be university groups, peasant and
rural worker groups, and dissident unions: the Coordinadora Nacional
de Trabajadores de Educacion (CNTE), the unions of telephone
workers, tramway workers, and the nuclear industry. November 5 and
11 are significant dates because they mark the one-month anniversary
since Lozano denied Esparza the "toma de nota" and since Calderon
shut down LFC. In addition to the major protest march planned for
November 11, the SME and its supporters plan to peacefully and
symbolically retake the LFC buildings on or before the date of the
march. Esparza is also calling for former LFC clients to not pay
their CFE bills and for all of Mexico City to turn off the lights on
November 11 from 7.30 - 9.30 PM. SME members and their sympathizers
began to hang red and black flags from buildings in the evening on
November 5 while union and social group leaders organized committees
for the November 11 strike. Early reports suggest that the ANRP will
block roads and close federal buildings and tollbooths in certain
areas of the city.

4. (SBU) In addition to social and union groups, the SME receives
considerable support from the Partido Revolucionario Democratico
(PRD) and the other leftist parties. PRD deputies in the Distrito
Federal legislature and UAM students donated more than 250,000 pesos
to the SME protest movement on November 5. Support from the PRD may
lose value for Esparza, however, in light of the PRD's recent
midterm political losses, mostly to the Partido Revolucionario
Institucional (PRI). The role of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO),
once believed critical to the SME's sustained protest, has waned
recently. During the protest on October 15, AMLO did not join the
main speakers on the podium for speeches but instead brought up the
rear of the march. It is unclear whether he chose that role because
he believes the SME protest is doomed and wants some political
distance from it or if Esparza sees AMLO as a fading star and
relegated him to the back.

Splintering Internal Support
5. (SBU) Esparza has a growing need for other unions to support his

MEXICO 00003200 002 OF 003

cause as former SME members are increasingly accepting the
government's severance package. As of November 3, more than 19,700
workers (44% of the 44,500 former employees) had accepted their
severance packages. Workers have until November 14 to accept the
severance arranged by the government. These packages are valued at
between 10 and 80% more than the legal requirements, depending on
the seniority of the worker, and provide, on average, 2.5 years of
support. Additionally, nearly 6,500 former LFC employees have
expressed interest in working for the Comision Federal de

6. (SBU) On October 26, Alejandro Muoz, Esparza's opponent in the
SME's June elections, offered to reopen negotiations with the
federal government. He accepts that the government will not rescind
the decree and asks only to be allowed to improve the severance
package for LFC employees. Negotiations between the Secretary of
Government (Segob)and Muoz over the expanded package are underway,
and the government has accepted early retirement for about 1,500
workers. Munoz and Segob are now struggling over the re-employment
of LFC workers in CFE. Esparza continues to deny Muoz' right to
speak on behalf of the SME, and Esparza supporters have accused
Munoz of stealing 23 million pesos from the SME. According to Munoz,
the money is in the SME bank account and can only be withdrawn by
the General Secretary and the Treasurer. Given that the SME has no
General Secretary since Esparza was denied official recognition, the
money cannot be withdrawn. Munoz is also working with Segob on how
to properly redistribute the SME funds frozen since October.

Legal Issues and Constitutional Questions
7. (SBU) Esparza announced on November 2 that the SME will present
two constitutional challenges before Mexico's Supreme Court. PRD
legislators say the challenges will be based on the constitution's
articles defining electricity and oil as property of the nation,
though previous reports focused on workers' rights. The GOM has not
responded except to say that it has no doubt of the legality and
constitutionality of its act. Civilian supporters of the dissolution
told Laboff that since LFC was formed by decree and was a
decentralized institution, the president has every right to dissolve
it by decree. One Laboff contact explained that, based on precedents
set in the private sector, the legality is probably not an issue.
Moreover, the government planned its move carefully and certainly
studied the legal basis for its action. The legislative committee to
investigate the constitutional complaint in the Chamber of Deputies
has been disbanded and the issue will be addressed in full session
on November 6.

8. (SBU) Pending decisions in the Legislature, the SME had also
launched several efforts to block the dissolution of LFC and the SME
in Mexico's courts. November 6 brought the first SME defeat when a
judge ruled that workers could not sue to get their jobs back since
the company no longer exists. Unless the decree ending LFC is
reversed, workers have no company to work for and therefore no basis
for lawsuits. Several other cases are pending addressing possible
legal ways to stop the process of dissolving LFC. There is some
reason for concern that as legal and civic possibilities for protest
fade, the SME and its supporters will become increasingly radical
and violent. Already protesters have had a minor clash with police
in Hidalgo in Esparza's home town, prompting the GOM to request that
everybody concerned respect the rights of expression of both sides.

Seeds of Truth in Workers' Rights Violations
9. (SBU) Lost in the political and personal drama of this issue is
the seed of truth about workers' rights. International Labor
Organization (ILO) conventions protect workers' rights to freedom of
association, and the legally required GOM certification of the union
elections, the "toma de nota," is a solid means of government
control on who leads which unions. Although both the miners' strike
and the electricians' case are vastly more complicated, both are
directly affected by the "toma de nota" issue. Much of the sympathy
for the SME in Mexico and around the world comes from the violation
of workers' rights to organize and function independently of the
government, and many international unions, including some from the
U.S., have expressed their solidarity based on this issue alone. For
many of the international supporters, the issues of corruption and
abuse among union leaders are lost in the question of union

10. (SBU) Comment: The problem of inappropriate government control
of union activities and officers should not be dismissed even though
the leaders and activities of the SME and many of its current allies
are questionable. Esparza's likely failure in his quest for a
national strike will hopefully end the resistance movement and allow
the LFC workers to accept their severance pay and return to gainful

MEXICO 00003200 003 OF 003

employment. The government has a lot to gain by allowing Esparza to
exit gracefully after his fight: if other unions are confronted in
the future, the government could save itself some unrest if the
union leaders know that they will be looked after. Given Esparza's
tenacity to date, it is hard to say how this issue will end. In
spite of the SME's continued agitation and its position at the head
of a radical front, its popular support is diminishing. End

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