Corruption is everywhere. It is a disease that can affect everyone and every organization worldwide including trade unions. Poor and working people suffer most from widespread corruption. That makes corruption within the trade union movement particularly tragic.
Tuesday 26th of February Elba Esther Gordillo, head of the Mexican teachers' union SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion) , was arrested because she would have embezzled about 120 million Euros of the trade union. This was announced by the Mexican Ministry of Justice. She is considered as one of the most powerfull persons in the country. She could convince the 1,5 million members of the SNTE to vote as one block in favor or against a politician.
The 68 year old trade union leader, also known as 'La Maestra' (the teacher), has been active in politics since the eighties and had a lot of influence in the administration. But earlier in the week, the educational system in Mexico has been reformed, allowing abuses such as buying a job as teacher should disappear. The Ministry of Finance conducted an investigation into transactions with trade union funds and found that more than 2 billion pesos (about 120 million €) had been transferred to personal accounts of Gordillo. She was arrested at the airport of Toluca. Three other persons, that would have stolen money from the trade union, were also arrested .
Former employee Professor Noe Rivera declared that Gordillo is a person without morals and has turned the trade union into an election machine. That gave her a lot of power. “It's an unscrupulous woman, who spies those whom she wants to buy, to join or to destroy," said Rivera. He told that the Citizen Association of Teachers since 2006 investigated the diversion of funds and found that in 18 years Gordillo handled more than 104 billion pesos. The greatest gift made by Elba Esther was a house in Zihuatanejo "to a well-known journalist."
Unfortunately this is not the first time that Mexican union leaders are accused of corruption. In the seventies, a group of trade unionists of the PEMEX union, camped on the Zocalo in Mexico City protesting against corruption in their union. They told that the union leadership sold jobs for such high prices, that workers had to ask for a loan from the union. The result was that many workers for the rest of their lives had to pay to their own union. You could call this a modern form of slavery. The corruption had penetrated also deep into the company involving many employees. It was generally believed that this was the main reason PEMEX was not profitable enough as otherwise would have been.
This is a very sad situation especially because trade unionism is one of the main instruments of workers to promote more fair wages and working conditions as well as a more equal distribution of wealth based on transparancy. Corrupt trade unions act therefore always against the interests of the workers and especially the poor. Therefore trade unions should declare corruption on whatever level as their first enemy. International trade unions and the ILO must fight against trade union corruption without hesitation and with all means they have at their disposal.