Mexico: The Struggle of the Women Cleaning Workers at IEMS

Interview with the Agrupación de Lucha Socialista (ALS, Mexico) by the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), March 2016, and




Question: Could you please describe the background of the struggle of women cleaning workers at IEMS (Mexico City)?


First, on a general level, the struggle of the cleaning workers at IEMS is a consequence of labor and educational reforms which have been introduced. The first legalized outsourcing and eliminated job security, while the second have undermined the educational model of IEMS, a project which was initiated by the communities of Iztapalapa and Tlalpan and which demanded that the government of Federal District [Mexico City] create high schools for their children. This model was adopted by the government of the Federal District during the administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and it included flexible mechanisms for the acceptance and maintenance of students. The introduced educational reforms aim at eliminating this model, and the cleaning workers were the first obstacle in doing so.


Second, the Trade Union of Workers in IEMS (SUTIEMS) was originally founded as an independent union of teachers and administrative workers who, in the course of various strikes, won the rights they currently have. The cleaning workers were SUTIEMS’s main source of support at its defenders. Therefore, their dismissal constitutes a political attack on the part of the IEMS and the outsourcing company against the union in that role.


Third, as part of the irregularities under which the outsourcing is allowed to operate, workers were hired by an oral agreement, without any written contract. As a result, whenever a new tender was issued and accepted, the company which won the tender (it was, in fact, always the same company, but under a different commercial name), would fire the workers and, then, as the cleaning workers had the support of SUTIEMS, they were rehired, as the 59 dismissed workers would sue the company and the IEMS for their reinstatement.


Finally, in December 2015, when the outsourcing tender of the company ROC-MAN, by which the cleaning workers employed, came to an end, and the new tender was won by an outsourcing company named JOAD (its owners were the same as those of ROC-MAN), this time the workers were not rehired, nor compensated.


Question: What are the workers’ main demands?


To be rehired and given tenure at their original place of work.


Question: Has their protest had any success up until now?


Through their demonstrations, the workers have succeeded in achieving roundtable discussions with government institutions dealing in labor matters. However, the authorities of the IEMS are firm in their refusal to conduct any dialogue with them. The very most the outsourcing company has offered the workers is to employ them at other locations.


This is due to the attitude of isolation that most of the IEMS community has exhibited towards the workers.


Question: What has been the attitude of other employees of the IEMS to the demands of the cleaning workers?


There are students and teachers who have expressed their solidarity on an individual and voluntary basis. Unfortunately, however, this solidarity has not become organized and ongoing: they are absent from the demonstrations and have become close to the new cleaning staff which has been working on their campuses for nearly a month and a half. Some of the teachers are more concerned about their own employment situation on campus.


Question: What has the trade union said about this?


SUTIEMS has verbally supported the women cleaning workers in a very evasive way, and until now such “support” has not been translated into the inclusion of the cleaning workers in their own struggle. Instead, SUTIEMS keeps postponing declaring their own strike, apparently in order to prevent turning the struggles of the workers who are members of SUTIEMS from becoming one with the struggle of the cleaning workers. Clearly this is no true support for the cleaning workers’ struggle.


Question: Has there been solidarity among other sectors of the population with the cleaning workers?


No. The only exception has been at the Tlalpan I campus, where the neighbors support the cleaning workers because the latter live nearby the campus, and these are working class neighborhoods which were created on the initiative of the people themselves, but this support is limited to the strictly local level.


Question: What have been the main demands and slogans of the ALS?


We adopted the demands for the rehiring and tenure of the workers, but have added to these the need for independent unions, since this is what can keep them united and organized and give them a better chance to fight for job security and better working conditions. This includes strengthening of their own union throughout the sector that brings together cleaning workers and other government workers of Mexico City. We have also called for a meeting of all dismissed workers and those in danger of being so, in which the women cleaning workers would participate and out of which the different workers’ struggles could become unified.


Question: Could you tell us about the practical work of the ALS in this struggle?


We, as members of the ALS, have accompanied the workers in partial boycotts conducted at their campuses, in demonstrations, and in carrying on discussions and giving tactical advice. We have also conducted agitation in the subway and on the workers’ campuses. We have made efforts to link them with other groups in order to overcome their isolation including with the workers of INVI and of Lexmark, with whom we have previously had contact.


Question: Have you established close connections with the women workers?


Yes, of the five campuses involved in the resistance, we have become involved in two, GAM II and Coyoacan, as we are only a very small group. However, at these two campuses we have established close connections with the workers and as a result we have gained a certain presence in the movement in general.


Question: Have you succeeded in engaging the workers in political discussions? Do you think you will be able to make closer political contacts with the cleaning workers?


This has been more difficult. The dismissed workers are completely immersed in their immediate economic plight. However, it is certainly among our priorities, and we aim to make time for it.


Question: What have been the most important lessons and experiences for you from this struggle?


The most important is the need to link the different struggles that are taking place, especially of the unemployed and those struggling for labor rights. Therefore, we are agitating to achieve a meeting of dismissed workers and those whose positions are threatened, to wage a campaign against outsourcing, for employment tenure, and for independent and democratic unions.