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Mexico: Labor Unions
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Labor Force > Labor Unions


More than 90 percent of production workers in industrial enterprises employing more than twenty-five workers belong to labor unions. Relatively few craft or professional workers are organized. Because almost half of all Mexican workers were either unemployed or underemployed and therefore not organizable, Mexico ranked in the early 1990s as a country with a highly organized labor force. The plant or workplace union is the basic unit of Mexican labor organization. Local units (secciones) are federated either into national unions (sindicatos) or local, regional (intrastate), or state federations. Occasionally these federations join in nationwide confederations. The CTM is the country's largest labor organization. Its secretary general in 1994 was the long-serving Fidel Velásquez. The CTM women's affiliate is the Workers' Federation of Women's Organizations (Federación Obrera de Organizaciones Femininas). Other prominent union federations include the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación Regional de Obreros Mexicanos), the Revolutionary Confederation of Mexican Workers and Peasants (Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos), the National Federation of Independent Unions (Federacíon Nacional de Sindicatos Independientes), and the Federation of Unions of Workers in the Service of the State (Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado). Most of these federations are affiliated with the Congress of Labor (Congreso del Trabajo), which represents 85 percent of all unionized workers.

Most Mexican labor unions have strong ties to the PRI. In the 1930s and 1940s, organized labor became an integral component of the regime. The official unions facilitated Mexico's dramatic postwar economic growth by accepting labor wage increases that did not exceed productivity gains, thus eliminating a major source of inflation. The unions also discouraged industrial conflict, which helped to foster a receptive climate for foreign investment. Unions close to the PRI -- especially the CTM -- used both coercion and bribery to restrain wage demands. The absence of meaningful union democracy made it hard for the union rank and file to press independently for wage increases.

During the 1970s, an increasing number of militant union movements broke away from the control of traditional union bosses, winning considerable autonomy over hiring and firing decisions, internal labor market operations, line speeds, and other working conditions. The government's efforts during the 1980s to promote greater productivity and efficiency in both the public and private sectors led to the reversal of many of these gains. Industrial reorganizations and downsizing resulted in massive layoffs and numerous labor concessions to management regarding work practices.

President Salinas further weakened the traditional unions during his incumbency. In some cases, he forced unions to negotiate at the plant level rather than nationwide. Shortly after taking office, he weakened the official oil workers' union by having its powerful and corrupt chief, Joaquín Hernández Galicia, arrested on corruption and murder charges. Salinas also undercut the 800,000-member official public schoolteachers' union, the National Union of Education Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), by transferring authority over education from the central government to the states. By doing so, he restricted the union's power by forcing it to negotiate separate contracts with each state government. The central government's ongoing privatization program eliminated hundreds of thousands of union jobs, and its 1993 decision to link future wage increases to productivity gains denied the CTM the role of bargaining with the government on wage increases for all workers. Instead, the CTM was limited to advising individual union locals as they negotiated new contracts with plant operators.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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