Political work among the working class and the labour and trade union movement, the experience of the Communist Party of Mexico

Labour Movement - Trade Union Commission of PCM


Next year it will be a century of existence and activity of the Communists in the life of Mexico - since the Mexican Section of the Communist International (PCM) was created in 1919 - and, of course, there is already an important accumulated experience in the labour and trade union movement.

Prior to the Great October Socialist Revolution, Marxist ideas in Mexico had less impact on the labour movement than those of anarchism, which were predominant and had more followers, until the triumph of Soviet power and Bolshevism produced an ideological influence that qualitatively modified this scenario, although for a brief period the two currents acted in parallel, even in coordination.

When the Communist Party began its activity, it was organically very weak, and a significant percentage of its militancy came from anarchist experiences, which was reflected in its trade union work, as the conceptions of spontaneous actions prevail without organization. Communists and anarchists came together in the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) in 1921 [1], while the yellow trade union movement was organized in the Regional Workers Confederation of México (CROM). Although the CGT gave important struggles, many of them were led directly to defeat, and although it organized workers it was true that they were from non-industrial sectors of the proletariat (artisans, bakers, and longshoremen, for example). Such situation was criticized by the Communist International that guided the PCM to undertake its Bolshevization, to purge itself of the elements in its interior that came from anarchism and Freemasonry. The result was that the PCM separated from its ranks a good part of those elements, and barely remained with a little more than a hundred militants, but they were firm and ideologically clear.

Then, with ideological unity PCM undertook the workers' turn, raised by the Comintern, and thus the whole of the militancy assumed the flag, without hesitation. A very significant example is that of the intellectual David Alfaro Siqueiros (who by that time had made very important contributions such as the founding of El Machete, that became the central organ of PCM and an exemplary newspaper that fulfilled the role of informing, defending and organizing the workers) who, regardless of his lauded work as a muralist painter who expressed the class struggle in the artistic plane, complied with the orientation and started to do political work in the working centres of the mining proletariat, organizing in a short time the respective union. This period of struggle of PCM corresponds to the V and VI Congress of the Communist International, the so-called class against class line, and are years of sharp development of the political work of the communists in the labour and trade union movement: in a period of time shorter than a decade the communists through the Unitary Trade Union Coordinator of Mexico (CSUM) had already strong presence (cells and militants) and great influence among the working class and trade unions (oil workers, miners, teachers, railroads, agricultural workers), which coincides with the contradictions of the yellow trade unions that split, emerging a current (Purged-CROM) led by Vicente Lombardo Toledano, who years later would become the best exponent of the so-called Legal Marxism.

The communists and their trade union expression are strengthened, developing an unremitting struggle against anarchism and reformism, the latter already represented by the Central General of Workers and Peasants of Mexico (CGOCM)[2]. The fight is close and without quarters and the presence of communists is distinctive, they manage to consolidate themselves in the industrial unions, in the branch unions, in the national unions, while the current of reformism counts with the workers of the State, the distributors of milk, taxi drivers, and textile workers. It is undoubtedly a time when the Communists are about to have a majority in the labour and trade union movement, but there is an important change: the rise of fascism and the possibilities of the outbreak of an imperialist war with the main objective of attacking the country of socialism, the USSR.

With the guidelines of the VII Congress of the Communist International in Mexico there is great confusion in the action and intervention of PCM among the workers' and trade union movement and also in political life [3]. The trade union movement advances towrads the unity of communists and reformists in the Confederation of Workers of Mexico (CTM), but placing unity as a priority the communists do not impose the correlation of forces that corresponds to them, but make unnecessary concessions [4], the "unity at all costs" to achieve the Popular Front.

And if in terms of correlation of forces mistakes are made, it is in the political-ideological front where the most serious error lies. Even before trade union convergence, communists pass from just and hard criticism to Lombardo's reformism to complacency, but during the congress to form CTM it is accepted that this Union be a sector of the Mexican Revolution Party [5], which the PCM considered the materialization of the Popular Front [6], accepting the bourgeois ideology of the Mexican Revolution. Under these premises the bulk of the workers' movement is corporatized by the Mexican state, worker-industrial pacts are signed and in the name of national development, in the name of progress, strikes are left aside. The bourgeois ideology of the Mexican Revolution and the current of Lombardo Toledano places the theory of the State as above the social classes and as an arbitrator in which the workers must deposit the resolution of the worker-employer conflicts. The communists criticize that harshly, but the negative influence of Browderism corrodes the structure of PCM. Earl Browder [7] sends letters, goes to the plenary sessions of the Central Committee of PCM, acts, according to the vision he has of what will be the postwar period, of collaborationism between socialism and capitalists, and in the national frameworks of interclass pacts. The attempt to liquidate the CPUS is also brought to Mexico in two lanes; one to propose the fusion of PCM with other groups in the Socialist League [8], and two, to dismantle all the cells of industry and work centers, reconverting them into territorial clubs, which combined with the anticommunist and McCarthyist atmosphere that begins in the US, and is driven also in Mexico, end up uprooting the communists out of the labour movement and consequently to degrade the trade union struggle itself, and as a worthy example of this is the fact that since the 1930s there has not been a single general strike in Mexico.

This tight counting allows us to extract lessons for our activity.

1) The activity of the trade union movement is qualified with the intervention of the communists, otherwise it can navigate aimlessly, from defeat to defeat for periods of time that can extend for decades.

2) The existence of the communist party, of its grassroots organizations that act regularly among the working class is of vital importance.

3) The role of communist ideology among the workers' movement and its confrontation with bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and social-democratic ideological currents is a life or death question; the minimum concession opens the door to the predominance of bourgeois ideology in the labour and union movement.


The recovery of the Communist Party in Mexico has been a long road, and although it may seem obvious that the Party that fights for the overthrow of the bourgeois order and for the establishment of socialism is from its very conception a Party whose activity gravitates around the working class, it was a complex and tortuous process to achieve it; a process that continues now in the search to qualify the communist intervention among the working class and to unfold the influence of the Party on the proletarian masses.

The birth of our Party, which is about to reach 25 years of activity, after years of liquidation (1981-1994 was the non-existent interval of PCM) had to walk its first steps clearing out a whole ideological tangle installed in the revolutionary camp that had risen up against not only the theory of Marxism-Leninism, the experiences of socialist construction, against the theory of the vanguard party, but even against the role of the working class as the subject called to lead the revolution and even its role in the production process.

This was on the one hand the case of movementism, the theory of so-called emerging subjects, the multitude, etc., which sought to replace the role of the working class and in accordance divert all activity of the communists when more than ever firmness was required to resist the disbanding that accompanied the counterrevolution in the socialist camp.

On the other hand it is the case of opportunist and reformist theories that for a long time prevailed in the strategic conceptions of the first PCM; hegemonic theories also for decades among the cadres of the most general revolutionary and labour movement in the country, and with which we had to demarcate ourselves in a long process. Gradual and reformist development towards socialism, primacy of the conflict among rival bourgeoisies over the capital-labor conflict, erroneous conceptions on the subject of imperialism, erroneous readings of the degree of development of capitalism in Mexico, a stage by stage conception that restricted the struggle to anti-neoliberalism, etc., all of them prepared the direction of limiting working class independence, of curtailing political autonomy with respect to the bourgeoisie, of curtailing the actions of its Party.

The ideological demarcation that lasted between the 1st and 4th Congress of PCM has been the first precondition for any intervention among the working class of this country. The natural rule of worker’s turn along with the assessment that the economic conditions are ripe for socialism in Mexico were defined from the IV and even more the V Congress, to overturn the major activity of the communist militants to the factories and work centres. Greater weight has been given to the political work done in strategic industries, tracing the party activity in such a way that the new party organizations that have been rising between the V and VI Congress were around key industrial corridors.

Between the IV and VI Congress, 4 Conferences on Labour movement and Trade Unions have been held, where our militancy has studied the situation of the trade union movement in Mexico for 8 years, exchanging their experiences of intervention.

The summary of our diagnosis is as follows.

Mexico has a huge working population, in which we find about 26 million people directly involved as subordinate wage earners in industry, agriculture, mining, communications, construction, transport, etc., in addition to other 7 million and a half people who are workers in education, health, administration, services, small-scale trade, the industrial reserve that the unemployed suppose, etc.

However, this enormous power, both in number and as the generator of the wealth of the nation, is gripped to use its strength to change the situation in its favour given the disorganization that characterizes its tools of struggle, notably its trade union organizations. In our country there have been decades of constant control and undermining of labour and trade union federations. The historical setbacks in class unionism aggravated the effect of the permanent policy of hostility against the workers' organization, against collective bargaining, against the right to strike, which has even led to the case of the disappearance and murder of opposition union leaders, of repressing through blood and fire strikes, etc.

The rate of unionization in Mexico is defined as the proportion that exists between the total sum of unionized private sector workers (Section A, federal jurisdiction), plus the number of unionized public sector workers (Section B) - much higher than the private sector -, divided by the total salaried workers.

In this way, it is established, in a very general way, that by 2014, 13.64% of the formal employees belonged to one of the 34 large labour and union federations, continuing with the decline in unionization rates it was just 10.02% for 2017, a downside record.

The unionization rate in our country is 10.02%. That is, 9 out of 10 salaried workers do not have a union. Officially there are 34 large trade union federations that bring together most of the 3,262 unions that the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare –STPS- reported for 2016, of these there are 728 unions that are declared independent, some of them with several thousand members.

Up to this point, almost all of the existing federations are directly or indirectly linked to the ITUC-CSI policy, even some of the so-called "independents" incorporate in their definition, in their theory and practice, the collaboration of classes. In total, they administer almost 30,000 collective contracts. Where at least 12,000 of these Collective Contracts are considered false, that is, their content is not known by the workers, in some estimates up to 90% of the Collective Contracts are of mere employer protection.

In most of these federations there is no democracy except simulated at best and no union life, with apparatuses of terror at the service of the employer in the worst.

The Coefficient of exploded strikes recognized over summoned strikes has decreased from about 2.5% in 1990 to less than 0.5% at present. The strike, although it is formally recognized as a right in the law, has been subject to such a regulation by the State, which for practical purposes has been outlawed. The strikes exerted in fact by the workers are not recognized in the statistics given that they are declared "non-existent" (illegal), while the so-called emplacements are mostly acts of simulation of the officials of the “white” unions.

This void in organizations defending their most basic interests is a collective tragedy for our class. It is a well-known fact that we are the detachment of the international working class of the capitalist countries that work the most hours per year for the lowest wages. An indicator that allows comparing these wages in relation to the wealth produced is that of the wage share of GDP itself; at the beginning of the 1980's, it constituted around 50%, in 2003 the total of Mexican salaried workers distributed among themselves 30.1% of the GDP they produced, a decade later this indicator decreased to 27.4%. More than 60 percent of workers do not have social security coverage. If we take into account 2008 as 100% to measure both productivity based on hours worked as well as the unit cost of labour, we observe that the former increases by about 3 percentage points in the last 9 years while the unit cost of labour decreases by almost 15 percentage points.

The devaluation of labour force was exacerbated by the rest of the phenomena arising from the capital-labour contradictions during the crisis of over-accumulation unleashed in 2008. In Mexico, the effects that the proletarian masses resented led to shocks and social turbulence of great magnitude. This is what we called tendency to insubordination and the working class was not exempt from it, it responded with strikes and strong protests to the thousands of dismissals, hardened conditions of exploitation, etc. Such were the case of teachers, agricultural workers, workers in the assembly plants, oil workers in some plants, workers of Walmart commercial stores, miners, contracted workers, etc. The lack of organicity did not prevent our class from fighting, but it limited its scope by isolating most of the outbreaks.

Forced to rebuild its domination, the bourgeoisie has given its backing to the social democratic government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose mission is to shield bourgeois domination while achieving the greatest possible demobilization of the proletarian masses, using the expectations created in his favour. Similar to progressivism in Latin America, the Lopez Obrador government secures the monopolies' profits while demagogically attempts to attenuate socio-class conflict.

An example of these efforts to manipulate the expectations of the working class has been the banner of the so-called freedom of association. For almost two and a half decades the bourgeoisie of our country has used excessively low wages as a commercial advantage. This has been particularly useful in industries such as automotive, electronics, auto parts, aeronautics, export agro-industry, etc. In such a way that the bourgeoisie of other countries, and more particularly that of Canada and the United States, consider that Mexico engages in labor "dumping" practices. In the revision of its inter-imperialist treaties, it has been forced to temper this practice by ratifying, among others, ILO Convention 98. However, this ratification has been sold as a tinsel to the working class of our country, great promises are made that, now, freedom of association will be guaranteed, which will terminate employer protection contracts, that will be the end of misery wages , etc. All this without touching the essentials of labour reforms, much less decisively affecting the property or profits of large monopolies.

Another example where the bourgeoisie with palaver aims to demobilize and fill the working class with confidence in the State has been in the question of the change of the collaborationist union leaderships. Great expectations were raised among our class with the electoral defeat of the PRI, especially with regard to the end of union officials and apparatus dedicated to the control and collaboration of classes, based on labor terror, long associated with the PRI. In fact what has been happening in these first months of transition to the social democratic government is an adaptation of this control. In some cases, the same union control apparatuses operated shamelessly since the campaign in favor of Morena, in other cases the union officials have changed without changing the policy they follow, in others the union dissent akin to Morena requests the intervention of the State to change the union leadership without mentioning the logical consequences of it - to change a union official under the control of the bourgeois state by another union official set by the bourgeois state itself. What is required for a powerful labor movement is not a simple change of personalities, it is a change of policy at the grassroots level. Defeat work center by work center, sector by sector, class collaboration policy. Conquer a decisive influence work center by work center, sector by sector, for the policy of clash with the power of monopolies.

During the same period of time the communist militancy of the PCM, in accordance with the Giro Obrero and the Strategic Plan, has mobilized and directed multifaceted efforts among the electricians, the automotive sector, the cargo transport, the subway, cements, of textiles, electronics, surgical instruments, the rubber industry, the pharmaceutical chemical industry, telecommunications, the soft drink, food, gas, metal-mechanics industries, etc., as well as among workers of the shopping centers, technical workers and researchers, teachers, doctors and nurses, migrants, etc.

It is still a minority of cases where cadres have played a leading role in the workplace but there are already early experiences in this regard, in other cases cadres have been recognized as counsellors for guidance of the most advanced trade union activists, in other cases they have grouped a current within the union that disputes the leadership, in considerable cases the Party has been the one who articulates effective solidarity, in all cases the Party has sought to carry its propaganda and agitation either by clarifying the nature of the conflict in the work centre or the hot topic discussed, such as the Labour Reform.

A notable case is the experience among the workers of Nissan, the Cuernavaca plant, where the Sen Katayama [9] cell has operated, which combines the agitation at the factory door with our newspaper and leaflets, the organization of our militants within the plant, and the broader intervention between the workers as a trade union current, where with clear positions it raises why go beyond the salary cap and the conditions that the monopoly wants to impose, and with that we achieve, the mobilization in a political sense against the labour reform, and the strike for economic demands, this without having representation in the union leadership.

Today, the cadres must go one step further. After 8 years of the Fourth Congress and the Workers' Turn it must be considered that they have matured enough to move on not only to intervene in the labour movement but to do so by pointing in a class direction that solves the serious problems and challenges of trade unionism in Mexico. The Party, in the manner of a collective brain of our class, must recapitulate and finish assimilating the experiences of advances and defeats in this field.

In addition to the unions where the Communists can lead, such as those of the Federation of Independent Workers (FTI) [10], a Class Front policy is required so that the Communists can mobilize the workers who are motivated by expectations established in the next period, towards a massive unionization, towards the democratization of unions that have acted as shackles against the workers themselves, towards a combative unionism that exercises the right to organize and to strike even if these have been deleted from the law, etc.

This forces us to cross through a multitude of trade union acronyms, forces to activate the great untapped potential of the young workers who approach the ranks of the Party without organization in their own work centre, forces to move from the brigades in the industrial corridors to bolder plans of penetration in the strategic branches that contemplate the professionalization of the cadre dedicated to it, etc.

The Party will make even more explicit the frontier between what counts within the trade union movement - where the united front must be used to reverse the destruction of the trade union organization - as what counts outside the trade union movement - where it will raise the quality of its propaganda , it will improve its communication with the working class, it will increase its performance in the public arena to correspond with the requirements of class conflict to our role of confrontation with the social democratic management of the dictatorship of the bourgeois class. Armed with the experience that ratifies the Party's thesis in each step, we are ready to immerse ourselves in the work to strengthen the class struggle in Mexico.

[1] The members of the PCM intervened in CGT through the Communist Federation of the Proletariat, its first instrument of trade union struggle, founded in September 1920.

[2] Name adopted by the Purged-CROM directed by Lombardo Toledano.

[3] We do not agree with the position that the conclusions of the VII Congress of the Communist Internationale are the highest and final step in terms of strategic conceptions, nor that it disavows or discards proposals of the previous Congresses. We understand that the defence of the country of socialism, the USSR was the priority, but once achieving that goal it seems a mistake to establish a permanent alliance with social democracy or with sectors of the bourgeoisie.

[4] Lombardo Toledano was elected Secretary General, the second responsibility corresponded to the Communists, by agreement of several industrial unions, among them that of electricians. In the name of unity, the communists gave away that space to the Lombardist current that blackmailed to obtain that responsibility. Several unions that supported the communists withdrew in that moment from the union congress.

[5] That arose with the name of the National Revolutionary Party, and that after the denomination Party of the Mexican Revolution happened to be called Institutional Revolutionary Party, a party of the bourgeoisie.

[6] Even the communists affiliated themselves in the individual to the PRM to participate in their Congress, we insist under the wrong approach that it was the concrete expression of the Popular Front.

[7] Secretary General of the PC of the USA and member of the EC of the Communist International.

[8] In Cuba and Colombia Browderism led to the modification of the name of the Parties; In Chile, its influence was also negative, as can be studied in the PCCh Magazine Principios of those years.

[9] Member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International and one of the founders of PCM.

[10] Member Organization of WFTU