MAC: Mines and Communities

No sign of an end to the Cananea conflict

Published by MAC on 2010-09-20
Source: Reuters, Arizona Daily Star

Further violence reported at Mexico's largest copper mine

Grupo Mexico, the Central American state's biggest mining company, has been in conflict with its unionised Cananea mine workforce over several years.

It's a battle that shows no sign of ending. A fortnight ago one of the men, sub-contracted by Grupo Mexico to run the mine, died in a clash with trade unionists.

Since the company took over US copper miner, Asarco, last year, the company has had to contend with additional opposition from North America's powerful United Steelworkers union.

Previous article: Grupo Mexico Enters Cananea After Police Break Rally


One dead in clashes at Mexico's Cananea copper mine

By Mica Rosenberg


8 September 2010

MEXICO CITY - One worker died on Wednesday in clashes between union workers and company contractors at the massive Cananea copper mine in northern Mexico, the local government said.

The mine, owned by major copper producer Grupo Mexico, has been the site of tension after a three-year strike ended earlier this year. The striking miners were removed from the premises by federal police but have continued to protest outside the mine gates.

Grupo Mexico, which operates mines in Mexico, Peru and the United States, began hiring contract workers to repair damages to the mine but have faced resistance from dismissed union workers. Federal police now help guard the facilities.

A two-day scuffle left one 40-year-old company contractor dead and three others seriously hurt from bullet wounds, Cananea's government said in a statement.

Six more workers were injured in the clash and 26 people were arrested, the statement said.

Cananea, near the border with Arizona, is the largest copper mine in Mexico but has not been producing since the labor dispute began in 2007. The mine has the capacity to produce 180,000 tonnes of copper annually but the company has an ambitious expansion plan there.

Grupo Mexico says it may have some copper output at Cananea by the end of this year but most analysts estimate it will take longer for production to restart.

Blame Game

The union said the contract workers sparked clashes, while the company blamed union members.

"We are informing and denouncing the aggression of the union .. for attacking contract workers with rocks and bullets who work at the mine," Grupo Mexico said in a statement.

The union's leader Napoleon Gomez is living in Canada to avoid arrest on corruption charges in Mexico, which he denies, saying he has been unfairly targeted for his labor activism.

"They have been trying to destroy our organization and confronted with this aggression (the miners) are defending themselves," Sergio Tolano, the president Cananea's union section, told Reuters.

Tolano said clashes, which began on Tuesday, had died down by Wednesday afternoon.

A state court granted workers an appeal to reverse their eviction in June from Cananea, but the company and Mexico's Labor Ministry says the appeal has no bearing on the mine's operations.

A separate conflict erupted recently at another Grupo Mexico facility in Sonora state after a group of miners were fired for supporting the national mining union, the United States Steelworkers said in a statement. The U.S.-labor group supports the Mexican miners union.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

Unrest hits 2 Sonora mining towns

By Tim Steller

Arizona Daily Star

10 September 2010

Clashes broke out this week in one Sonoran mining town while a tense police standoff slowed copper production in another.

Both cases pitted Grupo Mexico, the parent company of Tucson-based Asarco LLC, against Mexico's National Miners Union, which is allied with the United Steelworkers.

In Cananea, Sonora, about 40 miles south of the Arizona border, violence broke out Tuesday and Wednesday between members of the hard-line union local, known as Sección 65, and workers brought in by Grupo Mexico to replace them.

Gunfire occurred in Wednesday's clash, and three people were injured, one seriously, Sonoran Gov. Guillermo Padrés said Thursday.

Sonoran police arrested 26 members of the union, one of whom is a woman accused of firing the shots, a Sonoran government official said.

Luis Sánchez Zuñiga, a member of the National Miners Union's executive committee, blamed the replacement workers for provoking the union members and said the police have been consistently siding with their opposition.

Between state and federal police, more than 1,000 officers are in Cananea, he said.

Padrés pointed the finger of blame at Sección 65 in a written statement: "Let's hope that a movement that began legally doesn't become so ugly that it turns into a criminal force."

Farther southeast, near Nacozari, Sonora, hundreds more mine workers and police officers are involved in a similar conflict.

Last month, workers at the refinery and smelter in Esqueda, Sonora, voted to rejoin the National Miners Union, which they had left three years ago in favor of a more company-friendly union.

On Aug. 31, the company fired numerous union leaders, and the federal government sent in a huge police force.

"They've demanded that workers abandon their leaders," Sánchez Zuñiga said.

Grupo Mexico's subsidiary that runs the Mexican mines, Southern Copper, acknowledged the resulting slowdown in a filling Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The copper refinery is operating at reduced capacity using Mexcobre's employees and a reduced number of unionized workers," the company said, referring to the subsidiary that operates the refinery.

Grupo Mexico traces the troubles in both places back to followers of Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the leader of the National Miners Union, who has been living in exile in Canada.

Gómez Urrutia took a hard-line stance against Grupo Mexico after a methane-gas explosion killed 65 miners in Coahuila state in 2006. That year, the government charged him with embezzling $55 million, and he fled to Vancouver, British Columbia.

But analysts and company officials say he still runs the National Miners Union from afar.

In its filing, Southern Copper said, "As of Sept. 2, 2010, a group of followers of the fugitive Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, a former leader of the Mexican Mining Union, were impeding through violent actions and other forms of intimidation, the ability of a majority of Mexcobre's workers to enter its smelter and refinery complex."

The United Steelworkers, which represents more than 1,000 Asarco workers, supports Gómez Urrutia and the National Miners Union.

Arizona-based Steelworkers official Manny Armenta was heading back down to Cananea Thursday. He blamed government officials and the company, saying, "It's a big mess."

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