MAC: Mines and Communities

Grupo Mexico: Workers' campaign crosses borders

Published by MAC on 2009-08-03

One of the world's longest-enduring strike actions is becoming increasingly "internationalised".

Trade unionists from many countries are now backing workers betrayed by Mexico's largest mining company, Grupo Mexico, and condemning its targeting of their exiled leader, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia. See:

The United Steel Workers of America (USW) has also deplored the attempt by Grupo Mexico to re-take control of Asarco, the debt-laden US copper miner which faces numerous environmental and asbestos-related compensation cases.

Currently Grupo Mexico is vying with Vedanta Resources in this particular battle, and the USW is backing the latter.

However, the union's contention that this UK-listed company would better serve workers' interests is manifestly belied by Vedanta's appalling record in India and Zambia.

[Comment by Nostromo Research]


Mexican government must cease attacks on mineworkers

Anita Gardner -

13 July 2009

MEXICO/GLOBAL: Parliamentary and trade union leaders from 13 countries, including Jyrki Raina and Manfred Warda, General Secretaries of the IMF and ICEM, joined Mexican union leaders and legislators in Mexico City to call for an end to the persecution of the Mexican mine and metalworkers' union and its leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia.

Jack Layton, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, raised the delegation's concerns in a meeting with Mexico's Labor Secretary Javier Lozano. "We made it clear that the government's interference in union governance, its jailing of union leaders and freezing union bank accounts, declaring strikes illegal and failing to prosecute the killers of union leaders, are serious and unacceptable violations of basic human rights," he stated.

Layton, Australian Labor MP Graham Perrett, and a group of union leaders including Raina and Warda also met with Marcelo Ebrard, the Governor of the Federal District of Mexico City. The delegation visited Juan Linares, one of the leaders of the union, in the prison where he has been held for several months without charges.

Members of the delegation held meetings with the Embassies of Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United States to inform them about the Mexican government's actions. The delegation's message, according to United Steelworkers District 7 Director Jim Robinson, was that, "when NAFTA was passed, we were told that it would raise wages for Mexican workers. Now the Mexican government and Grupo Mexico are trying to destroy the Mineworkers because they are doing just that."

On Sunday, the delegation joined 6,000 workers to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Los Mineros union, marching loudly through the industrial city of Lázaro Cárdenas. "The IMF and ICEM with their 45 million members worldwide, will never let you down. Your struggle is ours. Workers fighting for free, democratic and independent trade unionism in Mexico will never be defeated," IMF General Secretary Jyrki Raina told jubilant union members, clad in red shirts to demonstrate unity and support for their leadership.

Mexican Miners' Strike Enters Second Year, as Cross-Border Solidarity Continues

In these Times

18 July 2009

Swine flu and escalating brutal drug violence have dominated headlines about Mexico in the past six months. Drug-related atrocities are not unusual in the border region surrounding Cananea, the copper mining town that was the site of a strike often credited with sparking the Mexican revolution a century ago.

But even as it becomes increasingly clear that President Felipe Calderon and his U.S. allies have no hope of winning the drug war, another fight is still raging in Cananea, a fight with tendrils spreading throughout Mexico: a miners strike, which, like the drug trade, is also characterized by trans-border connections, violence and political intrigue.

The strike, by members of Mexico's Miners and Metallurgical Workers Union, not only affects one of the world's largest and most lucrative copper mines, but also stands as a national symbol of the age-old struggle between unions and workers, and the government and corporations.

The Cananea strike currently has extra significance to U.S. unions because of industry giant Grupo Mexico's bid to take over Asarco, a bankrupt U.S. mining company that Grupo previously controlled as a subsidiary.

Because of Grupo's dismal labor relations at Cananea and other mines, the AFL-CIO is backing its competitor, an Indian company called Sterlite Industries. The United Steel Workers of America (USW), who represent Asarco employees, has threatened to strike if Grupo takes over the company without a contract in place. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed Grupo Mexico's attempt to reclaim Asarco.

Arizona, Texas and California-based members of the USW have had close contact with Cananea miners since they went on strike in July 2007, and began the flagship struggle of a national conflict between the Mexican presidential administration and the powerful union led by Napoleon Gomez Urrutia.

Gomez fled to Canada after being charged by the federal government of embezzling $55 million from the union, charges his supporters say are politically motivated and fabricated. He was re-elected by the union in abstentia this April.

During a March 2008 visit to Cananea, while reporting for In These Times, I was struck by the eerie feelings of tension and suspicion and also the electric sense of resistance that were literally palpable in the air-along with reddish dust from the huge open pit copper mine.

The town is sharply divided between union members and anti-union contractors, who have been keeping operations going on a limited scale. Beatings, broken windows, burned cars, death threats and other acts of violence and intimidation are a daily occurrence. Calderon's administration has been squarely in Grupo's corner, declaring the strike illegal, allowing impunity in attacks on union miners, arresting union leaders and pushing for Gomez's extradition from Canada.

In early July, an international delegation of politicians and labor leaders visited Cananea, organized by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), the United Steelworkers and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

In years past, labor leaders, doctors and human rights workers have also visited the mine to document dangerous conditions - conditions union miners allege the company intentionally created to try to break the union.

President Calderon is currently being squeezed by many factors and players, including the drug cartels and their corrupt government allies; U.S. officials displeased by his failure to fight trafficking; human rights groups' increasingly high-profile reports of military torture; the economic crisis, which has curbed remittances from the U.S.; and the significant number of Mexicans who still believe Calderon stole the last election.

In April, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO), the leftist candidate who for months refused to concede the election, visited Cananea with 17 leftist legislators to support the union. The same day, Grupo offered the union a compensation offer to end the strike, which they promptly refused.

In this climate there is very little chance the government will reverse its campaign against the miners' union or its staunch support for Grupo. The miners I spent time with last year seemed to have taken on the strike as a way of life; they didn't seem to envision a return to mining in the near future.

After struggling for so long, and viewing themselves as part of a century-old archetypal battle against exploitative owners and colonizers, there is even less chance they will agree to anything less than a solid victory.

As union leader Jose Verdugo drove his yellow jeep through tapped-out areas of the mine, reminiscing about his childhood playing baseball there and walking wistfully through a ramshackle graveyard on a brambly hillside overlooking the copper pit, it was clear that even this torn-asunder desert landscape inspires a spirit of pride and resistance in miners, who Verdugo said, will fight ceaselessly for their vision of rights and dignity.

It is a fight that will continue, as Grupo and Calderon appear equally staunch in their positions and another brutally searing summer slides by.

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