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Workers Vanguard No. 886

16 February 2007

Mexico: Tortilla Price Hike Condemns Poor to Starvation

Down With NAFTA! Expropriate the Corn Magnates!

For Socialist Revolution Throughout the Americas!

Up to 100,000 people demonstrated in Mexico City on January 31 to protest massive increases in the price of tortillas, the main staple of the Mexican diet. With nearly half of Mexico’s population already in poverty, including 20 percent without enough to eat, the sudden sharp increase in the price of tortillas, as well as of milk, eggs, and other necessities, threatens widespread starvation. A major factor in the impoverishment of the Mexican masses was the 1994 imposition of the NAFTA “free trade” agreement, which we have always denounced as U.S. imperialism’s “free trade” rape of Mexico. Spurred by NAFTA, the monopolization and manipulation of the corn and tortilla markets by the Mexican company Gruma/Maseca and the U.S. agribusiness giants Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midlands (which is part owner of Gruma/Maseca) were an immediate cause of the recent sharp rise in tortilla prices.

Called by the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT-National Union of Workers) and composed largely of labor and peasant organizations, the march reflected massive popular anger at the new government of Felipe Calderón—an open lackey of U.S. imperialism—and his right-wing National Action Party (PAN). Against the government’s collusion with U.S. and Mexican agribusiness monopolies, many placards read: “We Don’t Want PAN [also meaning bread], We Want Tortilla” and “Without Corn There Is No Country.” The protest also called for an emergency wage increase and opposed the threatened privatization of oil and electric companies. The SME electrical workers union made up almost a third of the march. Many protesters carried portraits of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), leader of the left bourgeois-nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who gave a speech at a separate rally following the initial demonstration.

Mexican society is increasingly volatile. Since coming to office on December 1, Calderón has assumed the role of a strongman, vowing to restore order after a year of stormy class and social struggle: miners and steel workers strikes; clashes between peasants and police in the village of Atenco; a rebellion in Oaxaca centered on the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) that was initiated by a teachers strike; massive protests against electoral fraud in the presidential election last summer, in which Calderón was declared the victor over López Obrador.

Calderón declared that “we will not tolerate anyone who defies the authority of the state.” Warning that this will “cost human lives,” he has made a point of appearing in military garb—the first Mexican president to do so in more than 60 years. He took office as federal troops and police brutally smashed APPO and its supporters through arrests, beatings, torture and “disappearances.” In a show of force aimed at intimidating the entire population, Calderón unleashed 27,000 troops throughout Mexico in “war on drugs” missions and earned high praise from the Bush administration and the American bourgeois press by extraditing 15 “drug war” prisoners to the U.S., a rare act by a Mexican government.

Mexico’s imperialist overlords are pushing the regime in no uncertain terms to crack down on the workers and poor. The Wall Street Journal (6 December 2006) praises Calderón as the “new sheriff in town,” while a special issue of the British Economist (18 November 2006) on Mexico complained that his predecessor, the PAN’s Vicente Fox, “shrank from applying the law where protests went beyond it.”

In calling for more bloody repression, the imperialists have their eyes set particularly on Mexico’s nationalized oil and electrical industries, which the Calderón government has threatened to begin privatizing. The Economist also urged this course as “a better way of taking on the over-mighty unions” in these industries. Moves to privatize oil and electricity could touch off a more generalized social explosion. The nationalization of U.S. and British oil companies in 1938 by the bourgeois regime of Lázaro Cárdenas was an important defensive measure undertaken by semicolonial Mexico against the rapacious imperialists that must be defended by the working class—in Mexico and internationally.

In the U.S., the most powerful and dangerous of the imperialist countries, the proletariat has a particular obligation to oppose the depredations of “its own” ruling class. NAFTA has led to the devastation of the Mexican countryside, which pushed millions of peasants into the cities and led to a huge increase in urban poverty as well as mass emigration to the U.S. Some 10 percent of the Mexican population now lives in the U.S., and the money they send home is Mexico’s second-largest source of foreign revenue.

When NAFTA was first proposed in the early 1990s, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy denounced it from the standpoint of chauvinist protectionism, railing against Mexicans “stealing American jobs.” In contrast, the SL/U.S. issued a joint statement with our Mexican and Canadian comrades that declared: “There is a burning need for an internationalist proletarian opposition which stands with the working class and impoverished peasantry of Mexico against the imperialist assault. The Canadian, U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Communist League are dedicated to building a revolutionary vanguard that can unite the working masses of the continent in common class struggle” (WV No. 530, 5 July 1991). The struggle for workers revolutions in Mexico and the U.S. is intimately linked, including through the agency of the millions of Mexican immigrants who are an important component of the U.S. proletariat. We demand: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!

With a social explosion threatening in Mexico, the role of López Obrador and the PRD is to keep the anger of workers and the poor within the bounds of bourgeois populism. While many leftists look to “independent” unions like the UNT and SME, in fact the leaderships of these unions are politically tied to the PRD, while others, such as the Congress of Labor union federation, have been historically affiliated with the former ruling Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI). The demands of the January 31 demonstration, codified in a nine-point “Declaration of the Zócalo,” reflect the PRD’s populist program. While demanding price limits, emergency wage increases and government policies to create jobs, the declaration called for “reforming,” not ending, NAFTA and appealed for a “great national agreement” and “social unity”—i.e., the false “unity” of the exploited and oppressed with the Mexican bourgeoisie. Similarly, a “National Dialogue” conference held by the SME on February 3-5 raised the class-collaborationist call for a “National Political Pact” to combat austerity and privatizations.

Counterposed to the rest of the Mexican left, which to one degree or another works within the framework of populist nationalism, the Grupo Espartaquista de México fights for the class independence of the proletariat in opposition to all the parties of the class enemy—PAN, PRI and PRD. As the GEM and SL/U.S. wrote in a joint statement last year (“Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!” WV No. 867, 31 March 2006):

“The counterpart to the nationalist myth of ‘we are all Mexicans’ is the idea that there is no class struggle in the U.S. The December strike by largely black and immigrant transit workers in New York, which crippled the world center of finance capital, refuted that notion. The multiracial U.S. working class is potentially the most powerful ally of Mexican workers. The SL/U.S. and the GEM are dedicated to forging revolutionary workers parties on both sides of the border as part of the fight to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.”

We reprint below a 27 January GEM leaflet distributed at the Mexico City demonstration.

* * *

“Yet the slightest attention and thought will suffice to satisfy anyone that the ways of combating catastrophe and famine are available, that the measures required to combat them are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces, and that these measures are not being adopted only because, exclusively because, their realisation would affect the fabulous profits of a handful of landowners and capitalists.”

—V.I. Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, 1917

The capitalists’ pockets get fatter in the same proportion as the poor get thinner. Facing a volatile situation in the country with combative struggles in defense of the basic rights of the population, and after decades of privatizations and the devastation of the countryside under NAFTA, now the bloodsucking corn magnates, in collusion with the right-wing Felipe Calderón government, even want to take tortillas away from the poor. Becoming a luxury item, tortillas are being sold for as much as 30 pesos [$2.73] per kilo (a 400 percent increase!). This crisis is a product of rapacious speculation on the part of magnates like the U.S. company Cargill and the Mexican monopoly Maseca. While the pathetic minimum wage rose just 3.9 percent, Calderón, in an outrageous display of irony, made a pact with these big consortiums for a “price limit” (which is barely observed) of 8.5 pesos [$0.77] per kilo—a 40 percent increase! Calderón and his cronies are condemning the workers, peasants and urban poor to starvation.

To fight against this crisis, workers and peasants must take control of the food that the capitalists are hoarding. Expropriate the corn magnates with no compensation! For labor strikes that demand a subsidy for tortillas so everyone can have them! For the distribution of food for all under control of the trade unions, organizations of poor peasants and the urban poor! The only way to end hunger is to seize the means of production from the capitalists through proletarian revolution and its extension internationally. Capitalism is a system based on the exploitation of labor to produce profits for the capitalists. Speculation, economic crises, misery and repression are endemic to this system and are even more catastrophic in semicolonial countries like Mexico, no matter which of the bosses’ parties rules—the PAN, PRI or PRD. Capitalism cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the workers and the oppressed; it must be overthrown.

The UNT, the CROC [pro-PRI union], the SME and its Mexican Unions’ Front, and the Congress of Labor (CT) had announced that they would all march together this January 31 against the rise in tortilla prices and for an emergency increase in the minimum wage and called on the CTM [PRI-affiliated Mexican Confederation of Labor] to join them. The PRI-dominated CT backed out following the declaration that López Obrador would head up the march, and the CTM argued that Calderón should be “given some time” to see whether his measures “work”! The leaderships of the incorrectly labeled “independent” unions as well as those of the PRI unions are in reality misleaders of the working class who subordinate themselves to one or another wing of the bourgeoisie. For the political independence of the working class! For strike actions against repression and the starvation offensive!

Under the pretext of “alleviating” the crisis, Calderón has given a green light to importing thousands of tons of U.S. corn, putting into effect NAFTA’s most explosive provision, which was supposed to take effect in January 2008. At the same time, Calderón, serving his imperialist masters, is testing the waters to move on to the total privatization of strategic national industries. Down with the privatization of the oil and electric industries!

Given the backwardness of the Mexican countryside and the inability of the peasants to compete with huge U.S. agribusiness, NAFTA has caused the most terrible agricultural crisis. Millions of peasants have been condemned to misery, while millions more try to survive in the U.S. or in the big cities of Mexico, where they join the huge army that makes up the “informal economy.” The large number of Mexican workers on the other side of the border serve as a human bridge to help mobilize the multiracial U.S. working class, which shares the same historic interests, to join the fight against imperialism. Down with NAFTA, treaty for imperialist rape of Mexico! For socialist revolution in all the Americas!

Mexico has seen a series of convulsive social struggles that indicate the extent of the bourgeois regime’s instability. Last year the industrial working class gave a taste of its power: the combative miners and steel workers union strike in Lázaro Cárdenas—the most important outbreak of class struggle in the country in many years—brought the bosses to their knees and gave the bourgeois state a black eye. Millions marched in 2005 and 2006 in defense of their electoral rights and in support of the bourgeois populist López Obrador. There were also combative struggles of the impoverished urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, such as in Oaxaca and Atenco. In the wake of the brutal smashing of APPO, the “tortillazo” could well be the spark that sets off mass labor struggle.

Conscious of the massive discontent with his fraudulent government and the explosive character of his right-wing measures, Calderón has launched unusually fierce repression. He has greatly reinforced all the police forces and military forces and launched massive operations sowing terror from [southern] Guerrero to [northern] Chihuahua states, targeting in particular guerrilla organizations like the EPR [Popular Revolutionary Army]. Calderón surely has his eye on Chiapas and the EZLN [Zapatista Army of National Liberation]. On January 22, Calderón imposed a new virtual state of siege in the Zócalo in downtown Mexico City, mobilizing some 4,000 police to protect his speech on “security” against protesters and to attack PRD supporters. Free all the imprisoned APPO and Atenco activists! Drop all the charges!

We Spartacists are guided by the perspective of permanent revolution formulated by Leon Trotsky and vindicated by the October Revolution of 1917. The working class uniquely has the power, the cohesion and the class interest to put itself at the head of all the oppressed—peasants and indigenous people, the urban poor, women, gays—against this inhumane system of exploitation and oppression. Indeed, only proletarian revolution—destroying capitalism and its state and replacing it with a workers state based on collective ownership of the means of production—can lay the basis for the elimination of misery, bring the peasants out of their ancestral backwardness and obtain elemental democratic rights like education for all or free abortion on demand. Only proletarian revolution, fighting for its extension north of the Río Bravo, can achieve genuine national emancipation from the U.S. imperialists. Only socialist revolution can guarantee political rights for the exploited and oppressed through soviet democracy, in which they will lead the destiny of the country through the soviets, or councils, of workers and poor peasants.

The workers need their own class party—a revolutionary internationalist leadership like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks —to fight for power through socialist revolution. A fundamental part of the struggle for a revolutionary workers party is combatting the ideology of bourgeois nationalism that permeates the working class and is prominently pushed by the PRD. Bourgeois nationalism claims to overcome the fundamental class division in society, pushing the bogus “national unity” of all Mexicans and channeling the genuine aspiration of the masses for national emancipation from the imperialists into support to their lackeys, the Mexican bourgeoisie. Against imperialist rapaciousness and the lies of the Mexican bourgeoisie, revolutionary Marxists counterpose proletarian internationalism. We fight for an international division of labor and an internationally planned economy under working-class rule.

To wage a successful struggle against the constant rightist attacks, it is necessary to shatter the widespread illusions in the PRD. The PRD is a party of capital, whose differences with the PAN are, at bottom, over how to administer capitalist exploitation. In the old style of the PRI, the PRD tries to deactivate the enormous discontent and keep it within the framework of bourgeois politics through concessions to the workers and the poor. The PRD is incapable of breaking with the imperialists, to whom, like the rest of the Mexican bourgeoisie, it is tied by thousands of threads.

In fact, the PRD does not even oppose NAFTA but rather seeks simply to “renegotiate” it. The PRD wants to renegotiate the continued subordination of Mexico to the imperialists, giving it a more “dignified” and “democratic” image. The nature of the PRD can also be seen in its actions. PRD-directed police forces, together with police forces under the PAN and/or the PRI, attacked striking UNAM students in 1999-2000 (in the end breaking the strike) as well as workers in Lázaro Cárdenas, peasants in Atenco and many, many others. Only defeats can come from putting one’s trust in the bourgeoisie. Break with AMLO and the bourgeois PRD!

We Spartacists fight against the capitalists’ policy that tries to make the workers bear the full burden of the crisis, which is caused not by material scarcity but by capitalist greed and exploitation. Open the books! Down with trade secrets! Against chronic and massive unemployment, and to maintain the cohesion of the working class and mobilize the enormous mass of the poor urban street vendors at its side, the working class should fight for an extensive program of public works and a sliding scale of working hours, to divide up all the available work. Against the galloping increase in the cost of living, we call for price-monitoring committees composed of delegates from the factories, unions, cooperatives, peasant organizations and the urban poor. We demand a sliding scale of wages to assure an automatic increase in proportion to the increase in the price of consumer goods. In short, we call for employment and dignified living conditions for all. But such simple and rational demands are counterposed to capitalism—it is necessary to prepare its general overthrow through the construction of a revolutionary workers party.


Workers Vanguard No. 886

WV 886

16 February 2007


Mexico: Tortilla Price Hike Condemns Poor to Starvation

Down With NAFTA! Expropriate the Corn Magnates!

For Socialist Revolution Throughout the Americas!


The Frame-Up of an Innocent Man

Mobilize Labor's Power! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!


Amritsar Massacre: A WV Photo Error



Letters Policy


Marxism and the Nationalization of Oil in Mexico

(Quote of the Week)


Amid World Anti-Porn Witchhunt

Teacher Convicted in Connecticut Computer Porn Case


Immigrant Rights and the Fight for Black Liberation

Part Two

(Black History and the Class Struggle)


Britain: Racism and the Islamic Veil

No to Racist State Bans on Muslim Dress!

For Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Women and Revolution pages)