On January 8, hundreds of workers at AFX Industries, which manufactures automobile wheels for General Motors Company, and other assemblers (known as maquiladoras) in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, began protesting over an overdue productivity bonus of 3,300 pesos (USD 172; EUR 150) in food vouchers. Two days later, thousands of workers from assembly plants Polytech 1 and 2, Dura 3 and 4, Autoliv and Cedras de México joined the protests. What began as a small walkout by maquiladora workers quickly escalated into a massive protest, affecting operations at more than one-third of Matamoros’ 130 border assembly plants.
Assembly plant workers affiliated with the Union of Laborers and Industrial Workers of the Maquiladora Industry (SJOIIM) and the Union of Maquiladoras Plants and Assemblers of Matamoros (SITPMEM) are demanding a 20 percent salary increase and an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos (USD 1,700; EUR 1,485). The demand arose after Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, announced a plan to double the minimum wage in border communities, a benefit that does not apply to most maquiladora workers in Matamoros, as they already have salaries above the minimum wage.
Timeline of the Maquiladoras Workers’ Strike in Matamoros
As of January 29, 20 companies with a total of 27 assembly plants have agreed to meet the salary and bonus demands, in order to ensure the continuity of production and execution of supply contracts with international companies in the automotive, medical equipment, plastics and electronics sectors. However, the conflict still persists in a large number of companies, and recent reports indicate that clashes between unionized striking employees and non-unionized workers are becoming increasingly violent.
The Matamoros chapter of the Mexican Chamber of Commerce estimates that monthly economic losses associated with the strike action could exceed 120 million pesos (USD 6.3 million; EUR 5.5 million). As a result of the labor uncertainty, some companies have expressed their intentions to shut down operations in the city. Cepillos de Matamoros, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg-based beauty packaging company Albea, announced on January 24 that it is closing its factory in Matamoros. Meanwhile, auto parts companies like Candados Universales and Parker Hannifin have begun removing machinery from their plants in Matamoros in anticipation of a potential plant closure.
Financial markets have also shown signs of concerns over the ongoing strike in Matamoros. For instance, auto suppliers Parker Hannifin and Aptiv saw an impact of 3.5% and 1.3%, respectively, in their stock prices on Friday, January 25 when the strike became legal. As the new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is eager to reassure international corporations that Mexico is still a safe place to invest in, it is likely that the federal government will step in to end the strike in Matamoros. Although it is still possible that the current labor conflict will end in the next few days, more protests are likely to arise in the near future, as workers and companies in Mexico adjust to the new competitive environment established by AMLO’s new economic border strategy. Maquiladora workers in Ciudad Victoria in Tamaulipas and Agua Prieta and Cananea in Sonora have already expressed their willingness to take industrial action if promised salary increases and improved working conditions do not come into fruition.