The Independent,Democratic National Union of Agricultural Workers –
Mexico’s Only Union that Defends Farmworker Rights
Tens of thousands of jornaleros in San Quintin rose up on March 17, 2015 and organized a general strike throughout the valley. They mobilized in the streets and brought the state and federal government to the negotiating table. One of the principle demands of the jornalero leaders was the derogation of the imposed collective bargaining agreements with corrupt and repressive pro-business unions and the creation of a federally recognized jornalero union to protect the rights and interests of salaried farmworkers throughout Mexico. On November 28, 2015, roughly eight months after the initial uprising, the Sindicato Independiente Nacional Democrático de Jornaleros Agrícolas (SINDJA) was inaugurated in its constitutive assembly.
SINDJA is the only independent and democratic farmworker union in Mexico. Unlike the charro, or corrupt, unions employed by growers to repress labor rights and keep wages down, SINDJA seeks to organize jornaleros in order to guarantee the rights and benefits afforded to workers under Mexican labor law and the constitution.
Labor Violations, Labor Suppression and Employer Retaliation
US-based transnational corporations like Driscoll’s export their agricultural operations to places like San Quintin in order to take advantage of cheaper labor costs and a lack of the rule of law. One of the main ways they generate so much profit is by keeping labor costs down by failing to pay adequate wages, wage theft, not paying legally enshrined benefits, making employment flexible and temporary, and repressing worker efforts to organize and unionize.
Throughout the valley of San Quintin, growers employ the “lista negra” or “black list” to identify potentially “troublesome” workers who speak up on the job against health, safety and labor violations. The effect is to keep workers docile given that in the event of being fired for demanding the legal protections under Mexican law, the workers will also be blocked from employment by other growers.
In Mexico, export agriculture dedicated to horticultural crops like berries, tomatoes and cucumbers has seen an enormous rise in the “feminization” of labor – i.e. the employment of women jornaleras on par or even surpassing the employment of male jornaleros. While this is due to the fact that women are often seen to be better at minute and delicate tasks like picking and packaging, female farmworkers are also seen as more flexible, docile and less likely to speak up on the job for fear of employer retaliation.
Corrupt, Pro-Business Unions Suppress Worker Rights and Union Organizing
One of the main ways that worker suppression happens is through the use of company controlled, corporatist labor unions to thwart independent union activism and keep wages down. These unions, often times referred to as, sindicatos charros (cowboy unions), or sindicatos de proteccion patronal (protective unions) are authoritarian, hierarchical and corrupt. When a company opens a business in Mexico, the company employs the charro union to create a collective bargaining agreement that favors the employer and then hires the workforce who must submit to the rules and regulations established by the business and the union. The union does not consult the workers, does not deduct dues, nor is there a democratic process of governance. Instead, the business hires the union and pays the union employees a salary – in other words the union is at the service of the employer and not the workers.
Driscoll’s/Berrymex employs a union from the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM). This union employs harassment and intimidation to maintain a docile workforce and exists in order to thwart labor organizing. The goal is to suppress the possibility of an independent and democratic union that would seek a collective bargaining agreement that protects workers’ interests and upholds the law.
SINDJA demands that all agricultural corporations (especially Driscoll’s and Andrew & Williamson) sign a collective bargaining agreement with SINDJA in order to implement the labor protections afforded under Mexican law in a democratic and transparent process. Only a truly democratic and independent labor union can protect the rights of jornaleros.
Fairwashing – Fair Trade and Equitable Food Programs do not Work in the valley of San Quintin!
In the valley of San Quintin, Driscoll’s/Berrymex employs a corporate social responsibility certification by Fair Trade USA. This program seeks to improve labor and environmental protections and produce higher quality products. According to the corporate executives, this program regulates the relationship between employers and workers and thus a real union is unnecessary. Despite these programs, workers denounce constant labor abuses, wage theft and environmental hazards on the job. As certification happens once a year, the company cleans up its act just before certification but then returns to generating higher profits by exploiting workers after the certifiers leave. The workers consider the fair trade program as meant to “taparle el ojo al macho” or, in other words, to fairwash or create an false image that the company protects worker rights when it doesn’t.
Fair Trade USA is incompatible with repressive pro-business unions! SINDJA demands that these foreign third-party certifiers demand the derogation of the secretive collective bargaining agreements with corrupt charro unions and to sit down at the negotiating table with SINDJA and jornalero representatives to jointly create a collective bargaining agreement and grievance procedure that will truly protect workers’ rights afforded under the law and safeguard the health of both workers and consumers as well as the environment.