Mexico: Workers at the country's biggest university to vote on pay cut

STUNAM workers in Mexico City
STUNAM members are calling for their union to be more "confrontational"

Workers at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in Mexico City will vote on whether to strike or accept an offer of a 4.25% pay rise which even the under-fire union leader admits will amount to a sharp pay cut in relation to inflation.

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on October 30, 2007

The workers' union STUNAM (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) had hoped for a 15% increase, in line with recent steep rises in the cost of living, especially with regard to food and gas. Agustín Rodríguez, STUNAM's unpopular General Secretary, called the offer "insufficient", and the deal will be voted on by the union rank and file as of today (October 30th). Any possible strike action would be as of this Thursday (November 1st), although the motives of striking during a national holiday for the Día de Muertos festival (with no classes on 1st or 2nd November) must be questioned.

The University Rector's offer actually represents a net improvement on previous years' 3% pay rises, which the union has accepted. However, a combination of sudden elevation to the cost of living and an increasingly combative union membership have upped the stakes. The prices of tortillas and maize have risen by as much as 50% in the last 12 months (in a country where 19 million people are said to be in a state of "food poverty", including 500,000 of Mexico City's 9 million population), and workers have also been hard-hit by President Calderón's so-called "gasolinazo" plan, in which the government intends to bail out struggling Pemex, the state monolopy gas company, by increasing domestic gas prices by up to 30%. Many parts of the city have already experienced gas shortages as households struggle to buy the expensive canisters.

Some STUNAM members believe that the union's bargaining weight is somewhat diminished by its policy of only accepting employees of UNAM, which restricts it to a membership of 24,000 members. UNAM's status as an "autonomous" university prohibits its employees from joining SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), the largest educational institution union in Latin America, whose Oaxacan section's strike in 2006 started a state-wide revolt and led to the organisation of a rank and file movement in opposition to the union's government-affiliated leadership.

Moreover, accusations of corruption, depoliticisation and charrismo (the appointing of government cronies to union bureaucracies, a common practice in Mexico) have seen the union's membership decline by 25% in the last 18 months and Rodríguez, who's been the union boss for almost 14 years, has witnessed a growing movement against the STUNAM bureaucracy by its rank and file.

STUNAM's strike threat also comes at a contentious time for the UNAM authorities, who are about to oversee campus-wide elections for a new Rector, with the candidates put forward being largely rejected by the university's 300,000 students. Moreover, STUNAM members have repeatedly struck as part of the nationwide Movimiento ResISSSTE, the ongoing struggle against the state's attempts to erode the pensions of public sector workers.