AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Assault on "Luz y Fuerza del Centro": Calderón's Step Too Far?

From the very beginning of his ill-fated administration (bizarre televised midnight ceremony with an off-camera voice mysteriously declaring him to be the new "president" of Mexico, followed by a three-minute, through-the-backdoor appearance in Congress for an express swearing-in), Felipe Calderón has handled himself in the office he did not win with the bragadoccio and swagger of an emotional three year-old. Explosive, rancorous and revengeful, dogged by his own illegitimacy like a mythological tyrant, and with a propensity for hitting the bottle which is one the nation's more open of secrets (it is not for nothing that columnist Julio Hernández López has rebaptized Los Pinos, the presidential residence, as Los Vinos), Calderón has been giving, with ever-increasing frequency, the appearance of not being, as they say in Spanish, in his cinco sentidos. The results of such a catastrophic unfitness for office are in plain view: an economy set to tumble between 7 and 8% this year, the worst performance since the Great Depression; tens of thousands dead from a US-funded 'war on drugs' and millions more terrorized; the 2007 floods of Villahermosa provoked by dangerously-high water levels in reservoirs, the result of the shadow privatization of the electric industry; a tardy, bungled response to the swine flu outbreak; increased debt, higher taxes, a currency that has lost 30% of its value over the past year, and an upper-level bureaucracy which jealously retains salaries and benefits fit, literally, for kings.

All this notwithstanding, Calderón has been sustained in office, precisely as the rag doll (pelele) López Obrador contends him to be, by a combination of what in Spanish is called the poderes fácticos (defined by the Real Academia Dictionary as "those who operate in society on the margins of legal institutions by means of the authority or ability to pressure that they possess, e.g. banks, churches, the press). The "fácticos" in question here are, in addition to the aforementioned, are former president Salinas de Gortari; a fistful of super-rich magnates, beneficiaries of government largesse, tax exemptions, and the government's not daring to break up their comfy monopolies; and the television two-fer of Televisa and Tv Azteca (which could hardly be considered "press," so I'm putting them in a separate category). Although it has been touch-and-go at times, and has been helped by divisions within the institutional and non-instutional left, these powers behind the throne have succeeded for three years in keeping Little Lipe in office and more or less upright.

Events of the past week, however, have called into question how much longer they might be able to pull that off. A week ago Saturday (in Mexican terminology, a sabadazo: a move made on a Saturday, when things are closed, people aren't paying as much attention, and there's no TV news again until Monday), Calderón, by means of a patently unconstitutional decree, dissolved the state-owned electric company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, throwing 40,000 electrical workers out onto the street in the depths of a recession. This was preceeded, as is standard operating procedure when a public service is on the neo-liberal chopping block, by decades of underinvestment and lapsed maintenance, an 'adjusted' fee schedule which raised rates on irate customers tens of times over, and a well-orchestrated campaign in the media to besmirch the reputation of what is the real target of the company's dissolution: the 90-year-old Mexican Electricians' Union, known by its Spanish initials as the SME. In the weeks leading up to the Federal police occupation of the company's installations (leading to power outages and blackouts, which some of the fired, and supposedly incompetent workers were forced to go back in and fix), story after story railed against the government money being sunk into the company and its union, of the inefficiency, corruption and bloated salaries. Before the ink was even dry on Calderón's decree, the move was hailed as practically an act of patriotism: finally those deadbeat unions getting what they deserved by an administration determined to take on those old, ossified structures of privilege.

The problem, of course, is that the average electrical worker makes 6,000 or so pesos a month, hardly the shower of pesos with which deputies, senators, cabinet ministers and judges bathe themselves daily. And while there is undoubtedly corruption in the SME's upper echelons, there is still more in the unions allied to the administration (Pemex, teachers, etc.), not a hair of whose heads are being touched by Felipe the Brave. No, the sin, as always in Mexico, lies not in being a union (whose armies of workers, properly controlled, can be pressed into service like a president's private army), but in being an independent union, anathema since the days of PRI hegemony. The SME both predates and withstood the historical co-opting of unions by the PRI, which resents them (and has supported Calderón's present manuever) precisely for this reason. Moreover, no amount of anti-union rhetoric in the world can cover up the practical motive underlying the dissolution of Luz y Fuerza: the desire to take hold of the company's fiberoptic network for private gain.

The SME's response, last Thursday, was a large, resounding, and combatitive march through Mexico City to the Zocalo, the largest the city has seen since the days of the desafuero and the protests against the fraudulent 2006 election, a rejection of the government's farcical negotiation terms ("first, accept the liquidation, then we'll talk"), and, by and large, and, by and large, a worker-by-worker refusal to be bought by the administration's offers of cash settlements, English and computation classes. The left appears re-energized, and as well it should, for if the attempt to squash the SME succeeds, one of the last bastions of the post-revolution social contract (that that it was) will be gone, and the left's weakness will have been made evident for all to see. If the left, in fact, cannot rally around the SME and take advantage of the discontent caused by 40,000 workers being summarily thrown out into the street, the worst economy in 70 years, and a host of higher taxes to come that will disproportionately hit the middle class and working poor, and convince the general public that there is a different and better way to go about governing the country, if it can't do this under the current conditions, then the right-wing might as well govern forever, and God help us all.

1 comment:

Eduardo said...

You said it. I am amazed at the distortion they were able to create around the SME conflict (with the help of the mainstream media of course) How can people fall for this. This government will never do something for the good of the people. Money and control is what they stand for.