VW strike in Puebla, Mexico, worries bosses
BY PATRICK O'NEILL
On August 31, one week after government intervention forced them to end their strike of five days, 12,600 workers at the Volkswagen auto manufacturing plant in the Mexican state of Puebla won a 21 percent overall wage increase. Prior to the settlement, the workers at Volkswagen--reputedly the highest paid in the industry -- earned $2.30 an hour.
The workers struck the plant on August 18, hanging black and red strike banners on the factory gates. The union at the plant, affiliated to the National Workers Union (UNT) formed in 1998, initially demanded a 35 percent wage rise in response to VW's offer of 9.2 percent.
Volkswagen employs around 16,000 total in the Puebla plant, its only North American factory and one that functions primarily as a platform for exports into the United States. It is the sole producer worldwide of the top-selling updated "Beetle" model.
Facing losses of $5 million for each day of the stoppage, the bosses threatened that the "demands of the union compromise dramatically the future growth of the firm...and seriously affect the confidence of investors."
On day five of the strike, the federal government ordered the striking workers to return to work or face being fired. In response, 1,000 workers rallied at the government palace in the city of Puebla August 29.
Telephone workers, flight attendants, transit workers, and other unionists joined with the striking auto workers. The UNT threatened to launch solidarity strikes in a number of other plants. A "mood of confrontation persisted," according to James Smith of the Los Angeles Times.
The 21 percent pay raise announced one week later breaks down into a 13 percent direct wage hike, 2 percent in loans, 1 percent in aid for school supplies for the workers' children, and 5 percent increase in payments described as "productivity incentives."
"It is most likely that other labor unions are going to try to follow this example," stated Mauricio González Gómez, director of the Grupo Economistas y Asociados. "But it might not be a healthy signal."
Journalist Smith also noted the apprehension felt by the capitalists in Mexico and by the imperialists in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
"President-elect Vicente Fox could face more aggressive worker pressure for a bigger slice of the...economic pie after years of labor belt tightening," he wrote.