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Latin America : Corona Brewery Workers Stick to Guns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Workers at a brewery that makes Corona beer here have vowed to continue their fight for an independent union, as government arbitrators weigh the claims of a union affiliated with Mexico’s major labor federation and those of the rival group.

Gathered late Thursday at the Modelo Brewery, under a 10-story-high, crown-shaped sign that reads “Corona,” workers shouted their support for the rival group, which is leading a sometimes-violent 45-day-old strike.

They hanged in effigy Fidel Valasquez, leader of the Mexican Workers Federation (known as the CTM, its initials in Spanish), and repeatedly chanted the word duro, meaning hard, to express their commitment to a hard line in negotiations.

Many carried sticks and clubs to protect themselves, they said, in case of another attack by police, such as one that broke up a March 17 rally at the plant.

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Police nervously guarded the 16 plant entrances, and patrol cars occasionally passed by with sirens wailing, but there were no confrontations between workers and authorities during the two hours the workers massed outside the brewery.

Meanwhile, company officials said the strike is not expected to interrupt supplies of Corona to the U.S. market. Corona is the No. 2 imported beer in the United States--second only to the Netherlands’ Heineken.

The strike began as a dispute over wages but became a fight over union democracy March 17, after police forced the workers out of the plant. The attack caused widespread outrage in Mexico, especially after the CTM hierarchy turned its back on the leaders of the CTM-affiliated union at the plant and formed another union there with new leaders to continue the negotiations.

The new CTM union reportedly has the support of only about 10% of the brewery’s 5,200 workers. Most of the employees are said to want to form an independent union headed by their old union leaders.

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“We just want the government and the company to recognize the (local) executive committee that the workers elected,” said Jorge Garcia, a union adviser.

Mexican courts have refused to recognize the strike, which legally permits the company to fire the workers and replace them. However, Modelo has not attempted to re-open the plant with other workers.

Union members said that, because they had not expected a lengthy strike, they had no strike fund and are relying on community support.


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