Conflict & Justice

Protests erupt in Mexico as Senate mulls labor reform bill


Mexican policemen surround a group of students under arrest after a violent protest in Michoacan State, on October 15, 2012. Protests have taken place all over the country in the shadow of a labor reform bill that will likely be passed in the Senate.



A tense raid took place yesterday in Mexico's Michoacan state, as student protesters faced off against police after repeated hijackings and more than a week of protests against curriculum changes. 

Police stormed three campuses, where students held buses and delivery trucks hostage, according to the BBC. Over 100 people were arrested and both protesters and police were injured. 

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, students also set 13 vehicles on fire in the latest and most violent of the many protests sweeping across Mexico since late September. 

The students were protesting a planned change in the curriculum of their schools, known as normal schools, which prepare students for careers in teaching. They say learning English and computer science shouldn't be priorities for the rural areas they'll be working in, and had taken control of three sister campuses earlier this month. 

More from GlobalPost: Labor reforms could impact Mexican unions, companies

Yesterday's events included the arrest of teachers union head Secretary General Juan Jose Ortega Madrigal, of CNTE Local 18, the union representing most of the teachers in the area. In response to the police action, most of the elementary schools in the state were closed today. 

The teachers unions have also joined the ongoing protests against a labor reform bill that debuted in the Senate this week, that would allow more hiring flexibility for employers and mandate unions to be more transparent about their finances. 

Since Sept. 21, protests against the legislation have continued, as labor groups and workers allege the bill will favor employers and severely impact working conditions and wages.

GlobalPost's John Otis, writing for this blog, described the details of the controversial bill, which seeks to modernize Mexico's outdated labor laws in an effort to boost the economy and create an estimated 400,000 jobs. 

Nationwide labor and student protests have gripped Mexico this month, as independent unions and opposition politicians fight against a bill they see as being "a bill strictly for the bosses," according to one opposition lawmaker in a post on

"As the Mexican Senate tried to convene last week, unionists, youth protesters from the #YoSoy132 movement and social activists of every stripe blocked the chamber's doors, trying to prevent legislators from meeting to consider the reforma laboral," reported In These Times. And another rally at the site of a 1968 massacre of students by army troops brought chants, banners and flags to the Tlatelolco (Plaza of Three Cultures) in Mexico City. 

More from GlobalPost: Informal economy swallows Latin American workers

Proposed by President Felipe Calderon and backed by his successor Enrique Peña Nieto (who is expected to take office in December), the government's labor reform bill is accused of prioritizing corporations and those corrupt unions affiliated with Peña, which the Los Angeles Times categorized as "dinosaurian" and "notoriously undemocratic."

Workers are afraid the bill will further cut into what little rights they already have, such as the right to strike and their system of wages. Benedicto Martinez Orozco, co-president of one of the country's most democratic unions, the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), said it is “a monstrous law," in an article on In These Times.  

Mexico's two kinds of unions – those that are dependent on employers and the government (known as protection unions), and those that operate outside the system iindependently, like FAT – are often at odds, and this bill has put the differences into stark perspective. Last month, independent unions, including students, teachers, university workers, telephone workers, electrical utility workers and others, also organized marches of multiple thousands of people to march through Mexico City.

The Senate will vote on the bill later this month. 

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of the labor movement, check out our Special Report "Worked Over: The Global Decline in Labor Rights."