Electricity, the SME and Mexico City

electricity 02Mexico City yesterday was treated to the spectacle of a multitudinous protest march organized by the SME, the labor union associated with Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC), the city’s power utility.  The state-owned company was dissolved October 11 by Presidential decree, citing its well documented unprofitability, deficient service and infrastructure, and rife corruption.  Services formerly the responsibility of LFC will be taken over by the Federal Electricity Commission, the larger nationwide power monopoly.

The union and its supporters have every right to protest, and surely they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a member of the union-supporting political party PRD, even took the disgraceful decision of evicting the International Book Fair from the city’s central Zócalo plaza in order to turn it over to the union for their protest.  This outrageously partisan political act by the mayor is particularly contemptible considering that Mexico’s low educational level is likely the single most debilitating obstacle to the country’s development.

We feel that the president’s decision to dissolve LFC was a difficult but very necessary measure.  Those opposing the move are raising a range of furious arguments in seeking to block and annul the decree, however none of these arguments is related to the actual provision of electricity to Mexico City.  Opponents argue that the government is exercising unacceptable interference in an autonomous union; that it is putting workers out of a job in the midst of an economic crisis; that the move will lead to privatization of the energy supply; that it is a manifestation of the oppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie; and other hoary canards used regularly here to justify corrupt unions and incompetent state-owned industries.  No one, not even opposition icon Andrés Manuel López Obrador, disputes that LFC is riddled with corruption, requires taxpayer subsidies of over US$2 billion annually and is one of the most infrastructurally backward electricity providers in the Western Hemisphere.

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world, the capital of an OECD-member country.  If we had efficient electricity service at competitive rates provided by a profitable and proficient public utility, we would be happy to support the union in opposing undue intervention by the federal government.  But what we have is constant interruptions to the electricity supply, electrical workers demanding bribes for the simplest of services, onerous electricity rates and extremely damaging unstable electric current, all provided by a company operating at billion dollar losses run by a crooked union.  Such a system does not serve the interests of the community, The People, or the country.

In response to those who argue that President Calderón unfairly targeted the electricity workers union while ignoring other notoriously corrupt unions such as the SNTE teachers union or the STPRM oil workers union: we couldn’t agree more.  It’s time to go after them as well.

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