Mexico: General strike hitting retail transnationals today

Retail giant Walmart cut its “profit sharing” bonus for already low-paid staff by up to 80% this year despite record and growing profits — so today it and linked firms are facing a rebellion that’s gone nationwide.

What has been described by local radicals as the “beginning of a new movement” first picked up on Sunday, when workers from Walmart, Sam’s Club, Suburbia, Bodega Aurrera and FEMSA walked out over derisory annual “bonuses” (in fact wages held hostage to fortune and used as a threat by bosses in the US to push for harsher working norms) of between 180 and 400 pesos (£7.59-16.87) — last year it was a little over 1,000 (£42).

The workers have threatened to file a formal complaint with to the Federal Attorney for the Defence of Labour (Profedet) and intend to occupy workplaces across the country today, with one recommendation being that they all walk in, register with the automatic system so pay isn’t docked, then simply lock the doors, “with or without the assistance of the opening assistant manager. Don’t so any work, stop it from the inside.” They are also calling for supporters to boycott affected firms.

On Sunday protests were recorded in Tamaulipas, Morelos, Coahuila, Puebla and Zacatecas, with full strikes in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacán. 

Panicked bosses have insisted that “we fulfilled payments within the law on May 19th. In previous years the company paid an extraordinary bonus, this year the bonus was not paid because in March the company’s associates received a historic bonus.”

Workers were unimpressed by corporate pretensions of generous pay however. Talking to activists with World Revolution, they reported fortnightly wages of 1,500 pesos (£63), described as “true misery and an insult to the economic situation in the country.”

In a statement, the group urged: “Organise yourself comrades, do not be alone! Fight until your bosses never dream of taking away a single cent! While we work day in and day out to survive, a few become millionaires and end up with the planet!”

Walmart is, technically, within the law at such levels. — the Mexican minimum wage adds up to around 1,115 pesos (£47) a fortnight — but this is widely regarded as covering less than half the actual cost of living. Living wage calculations produced by theconversation in November suggest that a more realistic baseline figure (everything needed to survive but lacking luxuries) would be 2,492 pesos (£105) per fortnight, far above the pittance being offered to the strikers.

One local newspaper estimated that around 1,000 employees were shorted on bonuses this year.

In 2016 Walmart increased its turnover by 11.9% to 433,025 mdp (millions of pesos) (£18.26 billion) in Mexico. Net profits reached 33,352 mdp (£1.4bn) last year, a 26.5% increase compared to 2015. In the first quarter of this year profits were up by another 7%.

The workers’ demands

  • A dignified deal for workers and respect for the eight-hour day
  • Freedom for labour and union organisation, always autonomous, horizontal, inclusive and without the interference of employers and their threats to disrupt any organisational attempt
  • Decent salary increases and compliance with established rest time rules.

Some initial reporting by the Rupture Collective.