By Elsbeth Campbell In Mexico ORDINARILY one would expect a labour union leader and a bishop known as a defender of the workers to be on friendly terms. But that is not the case with Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca and Fidel Velazquez, head of the powerful Mexican Workers' Confederation.
Velazquez has been attacking Bishop Mendez for more than a year. Through ultra-conservative newspapers he has praised traditionalists in the Church and has charged that Bishop Mendez's progressive views have placed him outside the Church.
The feud between Bishop Mendez and Velazquez came to a head recently when the bishop suspended Sunday Masses and banned other religious services to avoid violence between confederation members and other workers in Cuernavaca who are disssatisfied with the labour confederation.
Bishop Mendez had supported a wildcat strike of the local anti-confederation workers. For doing that he was accused of meddling in politics, strictly taboo under Mexico's anti-Church laws, which are still on the books although often ignored in practice.
Government officials, however, are now trying to achieve a reconciliation between the bishop and the labour leader and have been minimising the conflict.
At a recent luncheon with newswomen, President Luis Echeverria said he does not think Bishop Mendez had meddled in politics. He added that there was a role for all Mexicans, including the Church, in efforts to achieve social justice in Mexico.
The president's attitude was seen as undermining Velazquez' attack against Bishop Mendez. It was seen also as a response by high government officials to growing discontent in the ranks of labour with its leadership.
Cuernavaca is becoming an important industrial centre. Most of the local workers, however. feel that Velazquez too often gives in to management demands.
"He is good at collecting dues, not at defending us," said a textile worker.
Bishop Mendez explained : "I have never done anything to influence workers to leave the confederation, but neither have 1 tried to stop them from abandoning the confederation because they find it neglects their rights.
"What I definitely do is to help the worker to be aware of his dignity and of the value of humanising labour relations.
Thus he can s his associa lions and class to effect changes."
Bishop Mendez has admitted that there have been "material gains" in wages, housing and health through labour legislation. He contends, however, that workers have no participation in the decisions made by management and public officials that affect them.
He has also said that Mexican workers feel the impact of adverse policies by foreign investors and subsidiaries of foreign companies. including those from North America.
"Economic prosperity in the United States and other nations means relative prosperity for an elite in Mexico but poverty for most of our people," Bishop Mendez asserted.
He praised efforts to pass legislation limiting foreign profits and regulating technological pdvances in Mexico.
Bishop Mendez has said he hopes Mexico will achieve "a democratic socialist system. with the participation of the people in decisions affecting their lives and their sharing ot the country's wealth and -reseUrces."
And regarding the United States. he said : "I hope for the ideal situalion of a friendly nation 'humanised' by the influence of the Chicano (MexicanAmerican) culture."'