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Violence forces the CAT to close Puebla office

September 5, 2012

Faced with ongoing harassment, physical assaults and death threats, MSN's long-time friends and allies at the Worker Support Centre (CAT) in Puebla, Mexico have been forced to close their office and suspend their support work with the state's maquiladora workers.

The decision came after another round of threats and attacks on CAT members. On May 15, José Enrique Morales Montaño was kidnapped by unknown men, held at gunpoint for more than 17 hours, tortured, and threatened with death.

Above: Alejandra Ancheíta, Director of ProDESC, and Javier Hernández Valencia, Mexico Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OCHR) speak at a news conference about the CAT

The kidnapping and death threats were the latest in a series of incidents that have coincided with campaigns in which the CAT has provided advice and support to maquila workers attempting to form independent unions.

In December 2010, unknown persons broke into the CAT office, stole the Centre's computers and scrawled threats on the walls. The break-in took place at a time when the CAT was supporting workers' efforts to organize an independent union at the US-owned Johnson Controls Interiores (JCI) auto parts plant.

In July 2011, after the JCI workers had won the right to be represented by the independent National Union of Mine and Metalworkers (Los Mineros) and negotiated a first collective bargaining agreement, Luis Espinosa, president of the state's manufacturers association (CANACINTRA), publicly labeled the CAT "a danger to Puebla" working to "destabilize companies."

In response to the accusations, International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) president Jyrki Raina accused Espinosa of "generating a climate of terror and violence against the activists of the CAT."

In March 2012, Johnson Controls closed its Interiores plant, thereby ridding itself of the independent union. On April 12, the Puebla state leader of Mexico's largest "official" union, the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM), and President of the Labour and Social Welfare Committee of the Mexican House of Deputies, Leobardo Soto Martínez, publicly stated: "We will not allow [the CAT] to meddle in the union and business life of the state... We will defend businesses where we have collective bargaining agreements no matter what the cost, even if there is violence."

Throughout this difficult ordeal, the CAT has been supported by Mexican and international allies, including ProDESC, National Network of Civil Human Rights Organizations "All Rights for All", PODER, Los Mineros, USLEAP, the IMF (now IndustriALL), the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, US and Canadian unions, Amnesty International, the Clean Clothes Campaign and MSN.

In 2011, ProDESC and the CAT, with the support of their international allies, were successful in convincing the Mexican government to adopt precautionary measures to protect the members of the CAT. However, in April 2012, one month before the kidnapping of Morales, those measures were suspended without explanation. The CAT and ProDESC are working to ensure that those protective measures are restored.

The international campaign has been calling on the Mexican government to investigate all acts of violence against the CAT since 2010, to identify and prosecute those responsible, and to guarantee the safety of human and labour rights defenders as they carry out their essential work to train and support workers seeking to form or join independent unions in Mexico.