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10 July 2018updated 04 Aug 2021 10:33am

What the British left can learn from Mexico’s political revolution

“Brexit is a wall which will block Britons in and pitch worker against worker.” 

By Manuel Cortes

Britain is in political turmoil. The winds of Brexit chaos are now hitting our political establishment with hurricane force. David Davis and Boris Johnson have tumbled. Theresa May’s hands may be gripping the helm but her ship is falling apart beneath her. Donald Trump’s arrival in Britain at the end of this week will bring no bail-out rescue package. In anticipation of the huge demonstrations against his visit across the country, our major centres have been declared “no-go for Trump” zones. The US president is sidelined in Windsor, while the demonstrators occupy central London in protest against him.

The revulsion towards the baby-cager-in-chief that will emanate from our streets is something Britain should be proud of. Campaigners have dropped their small differences to lead a display of resistance to a US president even more divisive than the warmonger George W. Bush. They deserve credit for their political leadership. In the battle of the people versus this president, the British people have already won.

Those of us looking for a way out of the Tory’s Brexit mess would do well to celebrate the anti-Trump demonstrations alongside the huge and historic mandate given by the Mexican people to Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo) and his Movement of National Regeneration (Morena) party last week. For our demonstrations this week are part of an international movement rising up to demand change from the neo-liberal austerity agenda.

I was in Mexico as part of a British International Election Observer mission to the country, to oversee the biggest electoral contest in its history. On everything from electing the country’s president, to local councils and both houses of parliament, the people of Mexico were called to have their say. Mexico has a history of electoral corruption and the immediate background to these elections was particularly bloody – nearly 150 candidates were murdered during the course of the campaign itself. Hence fears there would be significant attempts to cheat and deter voters from going to polling stations seemed well-founded.

Yet nothing could have been further from the truth. Out of over 156,00 polling stations only ten did not open because of violence. In previous elections, the number of polling stations closed by violence has been as high as ten per cent. The peaceful polling isn’t just a symbol of the robustness of electoral procedure, but an expression of the widespread popular desire for change. Our delegation’s biggest complaint was that many polling stations opened for voting later than their 8am start time. But from my vantage point, I saw voters turning out in record numbers and waiting patiently for their moment to vote. López Obrador’s candidacy and Corbynesque pledge to deliver a new political system for the many not the few gave the Mexican masses a real stake in this election, and they took it. Indeed, there was so much voter enthusiasm that within 40 minutes of polls closing, both major rivals for the presidency had conceded Amlo’s landslide victory. 

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In the presidential poll, López Obrador won more than 50 per cent of the popular vote, with his nearest rival trailing him by more than 20 percentage points. He won in 31 out of 32 Mexican states. His coalition will also have majorities in both houses of parliament and they also now hold countless state governorships. Game, set and match for Morena.

As news of López Obrador’s victory spread, thousands upon thousands poured onto the streets of Mexico City. He addressed a vast crowd in Zocalo Square. The audience danced, cried, cheered, and hugged. They were enjoying a moment of bliss at the start of their new political dawn. Expectations are sky high. López Obrador has promised to end endemic corruption and the obscene levels of poverty (which I witnessed in far too many places whilst touring polling stations). He also has endemic violence to contend with. Last year alone, Mexico saw almost 30,000 murders, making it the most violent peacetime society in our world. López Obrador has pledged to tackle this too. Another promise is to stand up to Trump, whose racist policies are making life very difficult for millions of Mexicans who have made their homes in the US.

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The challenges facing López Obrador are great, but the people’s appetite for change is greater. Their hope is rooted in realism. Mexico is a not poor country – far from it. It’s the 15th largest economy on our planet and the second largest after Brazil in Latin America. It has a powerful industrial base serving a market that includes the most powerful economy in our globe, the US. Yet the country has been scarred for too long by a failure to distribute wealth equally. Mexico is home to one of the richest men on our planet, Carlos Slim, (net worth $65bn), who lives in Mexico City where millions are also trying to make ends meet on next to nothimg. 

López Obrador’s message of building an economy for the many has had enormous resonance. Just like Jeremy Corbyn over here, he has given his people hope that they can and will rebuild a fairer country. Benito Bahena, general secretary of TSSA sister union, Alianza de Tranviarios de Mexico, told me: “His record is consistent against cuts, attacks on workers’ rights, falling living standards and privatisation.”

We may be an ocean apart, but the issues facing working people in Latin America and Europe world in the neoliberal age are the same. Brexit is not a tool of British workers’ liberation. I may have been monitoring the elections in his country, but Bahena had an observational warning of his own to socialists in Britain: “Brexit is a wall which will block Britons in and pitch worker against worker.” He thinks our best option is to bin it.

The repercussions of the Mexican political shock will be immense. A left wing government in country sharing a huge border with the US is now a reality. Socialism in Latin America has a huge new spring in its step. In the looming presidential contest in Brazil this autumn, anything is possible. Lula de Silva may be in jail but his popularity hasn’t waned. If the governments of the two biggest economies in Latin America both tack left, Trump will look like Canute in face of the turning tide. 

The hope López Obrador’s landslide victory is unleashing will profoundly change the politics of the whole of North and Latin America. But it gives us heart here too. There is a growing demand for international regeneration against the neoliberal policies that have so deeply entrenched inequality. In Britain, it is Corbyn who heads up this regeneration movement. 

Last week was a moment of historic triumph for the Mexican people. This week, the hand of history is on Britain. How the Labour Party goes forward will be more significant than any football result. Expect yet more Tories to be prised from their Brexit perches by the winds of change they thought they could harness. Expect that Trump will finally get the message never to return to our shores. By delivering that message from the streets, the UK’s Stop Trump Coalition will demonstrate to whichever Tory MPs are still left on the welcoming committee that, in the case of people versus neo-liberalism, there is no longer anything inevitable about bringing Brexit home. A general election looks like a possibility once more. If Labour proclaims it will not let the working class of Britain be squeezed by the Brexit juicers, Jeremy Corbyn will lead home a regenerating Labour government for our people. Viva Britain as well as Mexico!

Manuel Cortes is the general secretary of the transport union TSSA.