Thugs break up Mexico union vote despite new trade pact

Thugs broke up an attempt to certify a new, more independent union at a Finnish-owned automotive wiring plant a day before leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed a new trade pact requiring Mexico to better protect workers' rights, a union charged Friday.

The National Miners Union is trying to wrest the contract for the PKC Group plant in Ciudad Acuna from the Mexican Workers Confederation. The confederation often acted as a wing of Mexico's outgoing ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and frequently signs contracts without consulting workers.

People allied with the confederation broke up Thursday's vote and "later beat up the representatives of the Miners Union" at the plant in the northern border state of Coahuila, the Miners Union said.

A person who answered the phone at the confederation's headquarters said nobody was available to comment on the situation.

Outgoing Labor Secretary Roberto Campa told The Associated Press the vote was cancelled after authorities "determined that the conditions did not ensure a free, secret and personal vote by the workers."

Campa would not say which union was responsible for the violations. He said only that "there were people present who were not on the rolls (of employees at the plant), and there were also people who were carrying out acts of violence against the workers."

He said it will be up to Mexico's new administration "to order that a new vote be carried out."

Leftist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will be sworn in as president Saturday, has pledged to ensure union elections are free and fair.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, signed at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Friday, includes requirements that Mexico enforce a guarantee already in the Constitution that union votes will be free, fair and by secret ballot. However, Mexico's congress has not yet passed enforcement legislation.

For decades the Mexican government has allowed unions to keep wages low by permitting them to sign contracts before plants even open and workers are hired. Many employees have never seen or voted on their contracts and some don't even know a union exists at their plant.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey and Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan wrote in an open letter that the Ciudad Acuna case "is emblematic of Mexico's longstanding failure to afford workers the democratic right to choose their representatives."