NAFTA ProtestersUnions and social movement groups were on hand to challenge the recent round of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks in Montreal this past January. Concerns about the ongoing re-negotiation of NAFTA brought trade unions, farmers, indigenous people, women, environmentalists, and human rights organizations together to convene a series of protests and public meetings. Many of these groups have been working together since the inception of NAFTA in the early 1990s and have long criticized the agreement.

This time, groups had to face the Trump factor. The question on everyone’s mind was whether US President Donald Trump would withdraw from NAFTA negotiations during this sixth round. He didn’t, and the talks concluded with all three countries remaining at the negotiation table.

Regardless, civil society groups amplified their call for a NAFTA replacement that would genuinely improve peoples’ livelihoods and protect the environment in all three countries. They further committed to forging and strengthening their solidarity across borders, something deemed particularly urgent for the labour movement in Mexico.

In Montreal, Mexican labour leaders called for international solidarity in advance of a looming debate in the Mexican Senate. A proposed bill will substantially weaken workers rights in the country by locking in low wages and poor working conditions and will undermine legitimate unions’ efforts to negotiate collective agreements.

Workers in Mexico work the longest hours for the lowest pay among all countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). They desperately need legislation that guarantees their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, but this proposed bill will do the opposite.

If passed, the bill would help employers, and employer-dominated unions, keep independent unions out of the workplace. It would eliminate transparency requirements for fair union elections and reduce basic worker access to collective bargaining agreements and contract language. The proposed bill would also introduce additional obstacles that make it even harder for independent unions to replace employer-dominated unions, promote greater subcontracting, and will lower the compensation owed to workers who fall victim to workplace accidents and injuries.

In response, Mexican trade unions filed a complaint alleging that Mexico is violating the NAFTA labour side deal, called the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation. In the coming weeks, more pressure will be brought to bear on the Mexican government to implement labour reforms in the interest of workers rather than employers, and CUPE will help amplify these efforts.