Rage against The Machine that Changed the World - 25 years after the 1992 labour conflict at VW Mexico

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Frido Wenten


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


This paper takes the 25th anniversary of a major labour conflict at VW Mexico as an opportunity to explore its long-term impact on changes in the production process; industrial relations; and corporate strategy. I argue that the effects of the 1992 strike and lockout – during which the entire workforce was fired; new contracts imposed; and the union structure altered – extend beyond the introduction of meritocratic remuneration; teamwork; and outsourcing in its immediate aftermath. I mainly focus on three aspects: Firstly, the trauma for the labour movement at VW Mexico implied a shift towards more subtle and clandestine forms of worker activism – a “state of inconformity”, which will be explored for implications for the day-to-day operations of the plant. Secondly, the union began use the fear of a 1992 replay as justification for wage reductions and other concessions to the enterprise. And thirdly, the institutionalised reduction of union range to the single plant in Puebla was significant to the opening of the two newer production sites of the VW group in Mexico. The overarching point of the paper is to underline the significance of the power balance between union, workers and management not only for employment relations proper, but also for the operations and strategy of the company more broadly.
The paper is based on fieldwork and interviews conducted in 2013 and 2016, as well as communication with relevant stakeholders thereafter.

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