NEW YORK – The United Steelworkers union is upping pressure on the Mexican government to put an end to a nearly year-long strike at Grupo Mexico SA de CV’s Cananea copper mine in the Mexican state of Sonora.
USW officials have pledged political and financial support to the striking workers in Mexico and have lodged a complaint with the International Labour Standards’ Committee on Freedom of Association, which reviews allegations of labor rights violations by member states.
The Union is also drafting a health and safety complaint to be filed with the Commission for Labor Cooperation, which was setup up as part of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC.)
The USW has also raised around $40,000 to help support the families of the striking workers at Cananea.
It comes as Mexican union leaders this week appealed a decision by the nation’s Labor Ministry not to recognize the re-election of Napoleón Góomez Urrutia as head of the Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalurgicos y Similares de la Republica Mexicana (SNTMM) union, which represents workers at Cananea.
“We consider the situation at Cananea a travesty. It’s not about Napoleón Gómez; it’s about the government trying to crush independent unions,” Jerry Fernandez, assistant to USW president Leo Gerard said.
“The government and Grupo Mexico are working hand-in-hand. All the evidence is there. So we’re playing an active role to pressure the government because the only person who can end this now is (Mexican President Felipe Calderon.)”
Gómez was elected to a six-year term as general secretary in early May, even though he is living in Canada following allegations of fraud by Mexican authorities.
Labor Minister Javier Lozano was reported as saying that Gómez’s status as a fugitive denied him the right to lead the union.
Fernandez branded the decision by the Mexican Labor Minister not to recognize the re-election of Gómez as “absurd,” and said the government did not want him to return to Mexico.
“A key point is that if they have all this evidence, why haven’t they ever tried to extradite (Gómez)? But the reason for this is that they don’t want him back in Mexico and they also know that they wouldn’t be able to prove the case in a Canadian court. Their charade would be exposed,” he said.
A source close to the SNTMM said that the labor minister was now surveying union membership reaction to the rejection of the election vote.
“It’s strange that the officials from the labor ministry are more concerned on being popular than applying the law,” he said.
Around 1,300 Cananea workers downed tools July 30 to protest the lack of a contract and alleged unsafe working conditions. But the dispute between Gómez and the Mexico City-based mining conglomerate has also been one of the major sticking points.
Grupo Mexico said last month that about 200 workers at Cananea had accepted a severance package offered at the end of April. It is said to include a payment of about $46,000 per person.
Meanwhile, Gómez accused the government of abusing its power following the rejection of his re-election and called the situation “one of the worst political persecutions.”
“We cannot allow these criminals to win the war against the unions. It’s not only repression against our union and members. It’s repression against all unionism,” he said at the USW convention in Las Vegas last week by video linkup.
A Grupo Mexico spokesman was not immediately available for comment.