This website was created on occasion of the 110th anniversary of the strike of the copper miners in Cananea - Mexico
The Cradle of the Mexican Revolution !
Long live the solidarity with the copper miners all over the world !
Miners of ther world - unite in the
Red International of the Labour Unions!
Long live the socialist world revolution !
The Cananea Massacre:
1906 - 2016
200 Miners killed !
the American mine owner Greene himself estimated that 'about twenty Mexicans were killed for each white man.'
Cananea : the term was created by the Apaches and means: "horse meat"
The Cananea strike took place in the Mexican mining town of Cananea, Sonora, in June 1906. The lumber yard in particular was a scene of violence in which both Mexican strikers and American employees were killed.
Colonel Greene, from his automobile, addresses the strikers in front of the Company store in Cananea, Mexico on June 3, 1906. Armed deputized American Company employees and Arizona Rangers are in the background. Governor Rafael Yzabel, the Governor of Sonora, is seated behind Greene to his left.
27 March 2015
The pipes have gone silent. Gone is the hum of water flowing through them to the world’s second-largest copper mine, just south of the U.S. border. Instead, in the normally empty desert here, tents and buses line the highway. Dust and smoke from cooking fires fill the air while hundreds of people listen to speeches and discuss the day’s events.
This plantón, or occupation, which began on March 18, has shut down most operations at the Cananea mine, which consumes huge quantities of water pumped from 49 wells across the desert in order to extract copper concentrate from crushed ore.
Many of the people involved in the plantón are miners who have been on strike since 2008, when they walked out because of dangerous working conditions. Two years later, the government brought in 3,000 federal police, drove miners from the gates and occupied the town. Since then Cananea has been operated by contracted laborers recruited from distant parts of the country. But the strike has continued, as miners struggle to survive in this small mountain town where the mine is virtually the only source of work.
Now, for the first time in five years, the mine is again paralyzed. This time, strikers didn’t stop its operation by themselves. Half the people with them are farmers — residents of the Rio Sonora Valley, angry over a toxic spill that upended their lives last August, causing health problems and economic devastation.
People in the towns along the river used to have little involvement with the miners, but the spill gave them common ground. This alliance between miners and angry farmers also includes a U.S. union, the United Steel Workers. Together they are challenging the Mexican government’s fundamental rule for economic growth — that workers’ rights and environmental protections must be subordinate to the needs of corporate investors.
Sergio Tolano, general secretary of Cananea’s Local 65 of the miners’ union, says, “In Mexico you’re supposed to respect the law. But what’s the truth? There’s no protection for the lives of the workers or of the communities affected by pollution.”
Beginning on Aug. 6 of last year, 10.5 million gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid and heavy metals escaped from a holding pond at the mine. The toxic mix flowed into the headwaters of the Sonora River, affecting 24,000 people who live in 45 towns along its banks.
the protesters outflanked the cops and roared down the highway to the lightly guarded pumping station. Facing hundreds of angry miners and farmers, the operators shut down the pumps and fled. And as the pumps fell quiet, so did 80 percent of the operations at the mine.
Schoolchildren all over this country learn that the first battle of the Mexican Revolution was fought here in Cananea, when a miners’ insurrection challenged the operation’s U.S. owner, Col. William Greene, in 1906. In the years since, the mine has belonged to U.S. corporations and then the Mexican government. In 1990 the mine was sold to Grupo México, a corporation headed by Mexican mining tycoon German Larrea, for $475 million, about a quarter of its market value.
Grupo México produces two-thirds of Mexico’s copper and says it has the largest copper reserves in the world. It bought the U.S. mining corporation American Smelting and Refining Co., or ASARCO, in 1999 and now owns mines in Arizona. It operates the world’s fifth-largest copper mine in Peru and is negotiating to buy others in Spain.
In 1998, miners struck in Cananea to stop reductions in the workforce, meant to cut labor costs. After Grupo México asked the government to call in troops to break the strike, approximately 800 miners were laid off. Union leaders were blacklisted. According to Carlos Navarette, one of the organizers of the plantón, “The company blacklisted us throughout the whole country.” In one job interview, he says, “The person interviewing me asked me where I was from, and I told him from the south. But then he saw my name on his computer. He said, ‘There’s no work for you here.’”
The current strike began in 2008 over health and safety concerns. Miners charged the company disconnected the huge pipes that extract dust from the buildings where ore is crushed. Dust buildup can permanently damage miners’ lungs. A study by a team of U.S. and Mexican health experts found “a significant percentage of this population may have radiologic silicosis.”
In addition to her children’s medical problems, Valenzuela’s family business, which made sweets and cheese, folded when customers in the state capital, hearing of the spill, didn’t want to buy any products from the river towns. Valenzuela went to the mine to ask for money to take her children to Phoenix, Arizona, where hospitals can perform more sophisticated blood tests for chemical exposure.
“The miners helped us and gave us a place to stay,” she recalls, but when they went to the mine’s director, José Julián Chavira, “they wouldn’t even talk with us.” She became one of the first participants in the plantón.
Laura Gutierrez is still outraged about the spill. “Our town, San Rafael, is made up of farmers,” she says. “We plant corn and peanuts, and we didn’t harvest anything last year. … Now we have nothing to live on.” Farmers in the area aren’t even planting this spring, because they fear the water is contaminated.
“This was an extremely toxic brew that went into the river,” according to Garrett Brown, director of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network and a former inspector for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Lead causes serious and permanent damage to children. Cadmium is a known carcinogen.” The spill deposited heavy metals along hundreds of miles of riverbanks and into the aquifer.
After the spill, the authorities closed down 300 wells in the river towns. Grupo México’s website says the company distributed 164 million liters of water for free and installed 58 tanks of 5,500 gallons each in schools. The company also set up a $150 million fund to pay damages to residents and paid a fine of $2 million.
But some residents say they haven’t received any money, while others charge that after the drinking water supplied by Grupo México ran out they had to buy their own. “Right now we’re paying 25 pesos for a gallon of water,” Gutierrez says. “People who don’t have the money can’t buy it. We haven’t received a peso from the fund. No one I work with has.”
“You could smell the tear gas all over,”, “It was like a military occupation.” At the march to the pumping station, Armenta spoke to the crowd. “The government and Grupo México are making history,” he said, “but backwards, taking away the right to strike and the right to industrial safety.”
Trade union activists, including members of the miners' union, Los Mineros, protest in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, on September 1, 2011. The protest, called the Day of the Indignant, was organized by unions to demand jobs, labor rights and an end to the repression of political dissidents.
closed in 1999
Tear Gas in Cananea
When the Mexican government moved to bust the three-year miners’ strike in Cananea on June 6, it brought 2,000 Federal Police into the tiny mountain town in the state of Sonora—two cops for every striker. As darkness fell and helicopters clattered overhead, they charged the gate with riot shields and batons, filling the streets with tear gas. Miners retreated to the union hall with their families, and the police followed, barricading the doors and lobbing more tear gas inside.
The union’s leaders were already in hiding, since the police had arrest warrants for them all. Manny Armenta, an organizer for the United Steel Workers who’s probably spent more time in Cananea than at home in Arizona, helped lead women and children down fire escapes and through the basement to safety.
The same day, police moved on the widows of sixty-five miners who had died in an explosion four years ago at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Coahuila. Women were forcibly removed from the mine gates where they’d been camping, asking for their husbands’ bodies. Grupo Mexico, the mining and railroad giant that owns both facilities, is closing the mine for good without recovering the men’s remains.
Both the Cananea strike and the widows’ protests highlight extremely unsafe conditions in Mexican mines. At Cananea, silicosis-causing dust from crushed copper ore rises to miners’ knees inside the buildings. Grupo Mexico disconnected the dust extractors several years ago, in retaliation for earlier protests. At Pasta de Conchos, dozens of uncorrected violations for dangerous methane buildup preceded the 2006 explosion.
But the Cananea strike goes beyond health and safety issues. For three years the Mexican Union of Mine, Metal and Allied Workers, commonly known as the Mineros, has challenged the National Action Party (PAN), which has governed Mexico since 2000, and its corporate backers, especially Grupo Mexico and its owners, the Larrea family. In turn, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has systematically sought to destroy the Mineros, as well as other unions that defy him. Last fall he fired 44,000 members of the left-wing Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) and dissolved their state-owned employer, the Power and Light Company of Central Mexico. Progressive unions believe that destroying the SME would remove another union challenge while preparing the way for privatizing electrical power generation. SME members fasted in protest and were beaten this spring at the gates to the power plants.
In the face of these attacks, the Obama administration has been silent. Armenta believes the attack on Cananea’s miners is the consequence not just of Calderón’s antilabor policies but also of tacit US support for them. "Our government continues to give the Mexican government millions and millions of dollars, saying it will be used to fight drugs," says Armenta. "But we see here clearly that this money is going to fight workers and progressive people."
On May 19 Calderón was feted at a state dinner at the White House. Leaders of the Steel Workers union met with administration officials, asking them to tell Calderón they wouldn’t tolerate an attack on the miners. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti wrote to Washington and Ottawa with the same demand. According to Armenta, officials "assured us they were not turning their heads away. That was totally false." Eighteen days after the banquet, police attacked the Cananea miners.
The Mineros used to be a loyal ally of the old Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for seventy years. But Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who took over the union in 2001 from his father, a PRI stalwart, had much more militant and democratic ideas. He quickly forced employers, including Grupo Mexico, to concede much higher wage increases than those mandated by then-President Vicente Fox. Gómez helped defeat Fox’s reform of Mexico’s labor laws, a proposal recommended by the World Bank that would have eliminated the right to strike and other protections and social benefits for workers. After the Pasta de Conchos explosion, he accused Grupo Mexico of "industrial homicide."
The government reacted violently. It accused Gómez of corruption, forcing him to flee to Canada to avoid arrest, where he has lived ever since. A government-backed effort to install a pro-company union leader was twice rejected by the workers, who re-elected Gómez in exile. All the legal actions against him led to his exoneration, but the government still threatens to jail him if he returns to Mexico.
In June 2007 the Mineros struck the Cananea mine over safety conditions. The following January, after police beat dozens of workers in an attempt to break the strike, 25,000 Mineros members struck in protest at ten mines and at the huge steel mill in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas. Two workers were shot and killed there, where the turmoil continues. This year twenty more were beaten when they shut the mill down again and marched in the streets.
Government-dominated courts and labor boards have repeatedly declared the strike at Cananea legally "nonexistent," a decision allowing Grupo Mexico to fire the strikers and install a company union. After Calderón won election in 2006, with major contributions from the Larrea family, the labor board gave legal status to a new, company union, or charro. A rump election and the firing of 1,500 workers at a neighboring copper mine in Nacozari led to recognition there of the company union, followed by similar moves at several other mines.
According to the Mineros, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano recently held meetings with mine owners, offering government recognition of the charro union in order to get out of contracts with the Mineros. Calderón himself was recently the guest of honor at a Mexico City bash hosted by the Chamber of Mines. "The government and the Larreas are making history, but backwards," the union responded after the occupation of Cananea, "trying to return to an era when we had no right to strike or right to industrial safety."
Smashing the Cananea strike will lead to the same massive firings that followed an earlier lost strike in 1998, and the destruction of the union in Nacozari in 2006. When that happened, waves of desperate miners, unable to find other employment, crossed the border into the United States as undocumented workers.
"Especially here in Arizona with the new law, all we hear about is illegal immigrants," Armenta says. "But our own government is creating this problem. I condemn the Mexican government, and Grupo Mexico. But I also condemn the US government for allowing this to happen, for not taking any action. What do they think will happen here? Where do they think all the miners will have to go?"
By 1906, the Nogales-based Cananea Consolidated Copper Company had some 5,360 Mexican workers employed at its Cananea copper mines, earning three and a half pesos per day while the 2,200 American workers there were earning five pesos for the same job. Conditions in which the Mexican employees worked were deplorable. During the celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican employees made public their complaints while the local authority applied martial law to avoid further conflicts.
On June 1, most of the Mexican miners went on strike. Led by Juan José Ríos, Manuel Macario Diéguez and Esteban Baca Calderón, their demands were the removal of one foreman named Luis, the pay of five pesos for eight hours' work, the employment quotas ensuring seventy-five percent of the jobs for Mexicans and twenty-five percent for foreigners, the deployment of responsible and respectful men to operate the cages and that all Mexican workers to be entitled to promotions, in accordance with their skills.
The company executives rejected all of the petitions and the workers decided to march and gather people from other towns in the municipality. The population supported the workers and the crowd numbered more than 3,000 people. While they were marching in front of the wood shop of the company, the American employees in charge of that department, the Metcalf brothers, threw water at them and then fired shots, killing three people. The angry mob detained the brothers and lynched them by setting them on fire. When they approached the government building of the municipal president they were received by a 275 man American posse led by Arizona Rangers. Other workers were killed while the strike leaders were sent to prison. Contemporary news reports in the New York Times on June 3, 1906 reported that on June 1, strikers destroyed a lumber mill and killed two brothers who were defending the mine. Eleven casualties were reported among the Mexican "rioters". Responding to a telegraphed plea from Colonel William Cornell Greene of the Greene Consolidated Copper Company, a posse of 275 volunteers from Bisbee, Douglas and Naco, Arizona, commanded by Captain Thomas H. Rynning of the Arizona Rangers, entered Mexico against the orders of Joseph Henry Kibbey, Governor of Arizona Territory, and at the invitation of Rafael Izabal, the Governor of Sonora, reinforced the Sonoran Rurales (mounted police) under Colonel Emilio Kosterlitsky. Mexican troops were reported en route to the city. Four troops of the 5th Cavalry en route from Fort Huachuca were held at Naco, Arizona, on the border on the orders of President William Howard Taft. According to Colonel Green the "trouble was incited by a Socialistic organization that has been formed by malcontents opposed to the Díaz government."
Mexican Miners Fight Privatization in Revolutionary Cananea
by David Bacon
CANANEA, SONORA (6/15/99) -- In the mile-high mountains of the Sonora desert, just 25 miles south of the border between Arizona and Mexico, over two thousand miners have been locked in a bitter industrial war since mid-November. Here Grupo Mexico operates North America's oldest, and one of the world's largest copper mines -- Cananea -- in a town which has been a symbol of anti-government insurrection for almost 100 years.
On November 19, the Cananea mine was paralyzed by a strike over its owner's plans to eliminate the jobs of 700 of its 2070 blue-collar employees. Pushing the cuts in employment is a government policy of privatizing Mexican industry, downsizing its workforce in an effort to increase investment incentives. The strike in Cananea directly challenged this policy, defying Mexico's government and one of its wealthiest financial backers.
In mid-February, government threats of armed intervention forced workers back to their jobs. In the strike's wake, one of Mexico's oldest unions -- Section 65 of the Miners and Metallurgical Workers Union of the Mexican Republic -- may have been broken, and its leaders blacklisted.
On February 13, miners went to their job sites in the vast pit, to hold them against the threat of possible replacements. Meanwhile, four convoys of Mexican soldiers began moving toward the town. Over 300 heavily-armed members of the state Judicial police took over the streets.
With violent confrontation in the air, local union president Manuel Romero, Cananea mayor Francisco Garcia and police and army officers, entered the mine. They walked from installation to installation, appealing to the miners to leave. Fearing the prospect of armed battle, the workers finally gave up their occupation and ended the strike.
In the days that followed, however, over 120 strike leaders were turned away at the mine gates, as they tried to report back to their old jobs. Hundreds more were permanently laid off and their jobs eliminated.
The spark which provoked the recent strike was a company announcement that it would lay off 435 workers permanently, closing four mine departments. Grupo Mexico's copper mines account for over ninety percent of production in Mexico, which is one of the world's ten largest producers. When the company took over the Cananea mine in 1991, in partnership with the American Smelting and Refining Co., its workforce numbered over 3300. In six years, the mine workforce was reduced by 1300 jobs. Meanwhile, production increased dramatically, from 30,000 tons of ore per day in 1979 to 80,000 tons last year.
Striker Javier Canizares says that these job cuts were accomplished when the company subcontracted construction and maintenence operations. "Instead of performing those jobs with its own workers, two U.S. companies, Road Machinery and Allison Parks, have brought in hundreds of workers under temporary 28-day contracts from southern Mexico," he explained.
Subcontracting undermined the union and undercut wages. Section 65, the Cananea miners' union, has a militant reputation, and their wages have averaged among the highest of the country's industrial workers -- between $8-12 an hour.
Gabino Paez Gonzalez, a Grupo Mexico executive in Mexico City, confirmed that subcontractors now perform many operations with contract employees. Under Mexican law, workers don't achieve permanent employment status and union rights until they have been on the job for 30 days. At Cananea, their wages are only a fraction of the permanent employees they replaced.
While Cananea is just a small, dusty border community of 30,000 residents, it occupies an almost mythic place in the iconography of the Mexican Revolution. Copper has been mined continuously here since the days of the Spanish viceroys in the late 1600s.
In 1906, the mine's US owners paid a lower salary to Mexican miners than they paid to white supervisors brought down from the north, the so-called "Mexican Wage." Cananea miners went on strike, demanding 5 pesos for an 8-hour day, and an end to the lower salary. After they were attacked by Arizona vigilantes, workers took up arms and were bloodily put down by then-dictator Porfirio Diaz.
In Mexican public schools, children learn of Cananea as the opening gun of what became the Mexican Revolution.
For years after the 1906 conflict, the Cananea mine belonged to the US-based Anaconda Copper Company. In 1971 the mine was nationalized. Two decades later, after the Mexican government began adopting economic reforms bent on attracting investment, Cananea was sold to Grupo Mexico, one of the country's largest industrial corporations. Jorge Larrea, its main shareholder, heads one of the country's wealthiest families.
Larrea's industrial empire grew rapidly through his close friendship with past-President Carlos Salinas, who signed the NAFTA treaty in 1994. Under Salinas, the Mexican government sold Larrea the Cananea and other copper mines, as well as railroads and other heavy industrial enterprises, often at a fraction of their book value. He is presently negotiating the concession to operate the Pacific coast port of Guaymas.
Thirteen Mexican financiers became billionaires during the Salinas administration. Larrea was one of them.
The enterprises acquired by Grupo Mexico have been rocked by conflict over demands for drastic job cuts. In 1997, Larrea bought the 6,521-kilometer Pacific North railroad, in partnership with Pennsylvania-based Union Pacific. Last summer, workers throughout northern Mexico mounted a series of rolling wildcat strikes over plans to reduce its workforce of 13,000 by more than half.
Gema Lopez Limon, professor at the University of Baja California in nearby Mexicali, concluded that "our government and corporations are using privatization to do away with unions entirely, as they've sought to do with the railroad workers, and now the miners here in Cananea. For unions to survive here, they will have to be much better organized, and seek greater international support."
Her conclusions reflect the worsening conditions of Mexican workers under the impact of two decades of neoliberal economic reforms. During that time, the income of workers has lost 76% of its purchasing power, and the number of Mexicans living in poverty has risen from 20 to 30 million. While the government estimates unemployment at less than 6 %, Mexico's new independent union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), puts it at over 9 million people, or a quarter of the workforce.
Despite the existence of a national health care system, almost half of the country's workers are not covered by it, due to the growth of "illegal" jobs. Companies which, despite the law, pay less than minimum wage, with no taxes, health insurance or retirement benefits, are now estimated to employ over half the workers in Mexico. Meanwhile, inflation continues to rage at 20% last year, while the government offered only a 14% increase in the minimum wage to compensate for it.
Over the last decade, the number of national enterprises sold off to private investors has grown tremendously, and their job reductions have added to this problem. Cananea and the railroads are only a few among many leaner, privatized concerns, including airlines, banks, railroads, mines and extractive industries, and many industrial enterprises.
As privatization moves from industry to industry, unions have been gutted. While three-quarters of the workforce in Mexico belonged to unions three decades ago, that percentage is now less than 30. In the the state-owned oil company, PEMEX, union membership still hovers at 72%. But when the collateral petrochemical industry was privatized over the last decade-and-a-half, the unionization rate fell to 7%. New private owners like Larrea reduced the membership of the railway workers union from 90,000 workers to 36,000 in the same period.
The section of the Mexican economy which has grown, of course, has been the maquiladora sector, still concentrated along the Mexico/U.S. border, but spreading to zones throughout the country. Almost a million workers are now employed in over 2000 factories, owned by foreign investors interested in low wages and unenforced protections for workers and the environment.
In Tijuana, the average maquiladora daily wage is about 50 pesos, while a gallon of milk in the supermarket costs about 20. In other words, a worker has to work almost half her shift for just the milk needed by her children. Under the impact of price decontrol, the prices of all basic necessities, including gasoline, electricity, buses and taxicabs, tortillas and milk are rising drastically.
But poverty along the border doesn't go unchallenged. From Matamoros on the Atlantic to Tijuana on the Pacific, labor unrest is increasing. One of the highpoints has been the two-year battle by workers at Tijuana's Han Young factory, who have challenged the system of low-wage, protection contracts operated by an alliance of government-affiliated unions and the maquiladora owners associations. They launched the first legal strike by an independent maquiladora union last May 14.
Since then, government authorities have been unrelenting in their efforts to declare the strike illegal, remove the bargaining authority of the October 6 Union for Industry and Commerce, and have repeatedly arrested its general secretary Enrique Hernandez and its lawyer Jose Peñaflor Barron. On May 3, following a decision by Baja California's highest court upholding its legality, the strike flared up again and has been raging since.
Despite efforts by city authorities to keep the independent union effort from spreading, workers at other Tijuana factories have begun to join it. Increased labor turmoil is also changing the city's political landscape, benefiting primarily the leftwing opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
"The arrest and harassment of Hernandez and Peñaflor indicates that the Tijuana labor board, the association of maquiladora owners, and Mexican state and federal authorities fear the labor and political situation are getting out of their control," explained Mary Tong, director of San Diego's Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers.
Last summer, in the midst of growing labor strife, PRD candidates in Tijuana's municipal elections campaigned seriously for the votes of maquiladora workers. Thousands of party flyers were distributed calling for raising factory wages, for child care for the mostly-female workforce, and for free transportation to and from work. These work-related issues were linked to demands for basic city services in the barrios, including housing, water, electricity, paved streets and sewers. The party's mayoral candidate, Jesus Ruiz Barraza, rector of the University of Tijuana, spent $300,000 on the campaign.
PRD support increased dramatically. While the party won only 10,000 votes in Tijuana in 1992 and 1995, on June 28 it received 25,800, or 9.5% of the total votes cast. While the PRD was nevertheless denied any of the city council's 14 seats by a last minute electoral "reform," it did succeed in capturing municipal positions in other border cities nearby. The party went on to capture the governorship of Baja California Sur, just to the south of Baja California Norte, in which Tijuana is located.
Of Mexico's 10 million permanently-employed workers, one million work in the border factories, and 200,000 in Tijuana alone. Increased voter participation by maquiladora workers could prove crucial in Mexico's national elections in the year 2000. "Last June we just had a temporary plan," says Hernandez, who used to head the party's state organization in Baja California. "But if the movement among maquiladora workers grows, by 2000 we could win tens, or even hundreds of thousands of new votes."
The close relationship between border authorities and the maquiladora managers was further challenged this fall when Mexico's new independent UNT labor federation organized a chapter in Baja California. The new federation has begun to challenge fundamental government economic policies. When Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo offered workers a 14% increase in salaries to compensate for inflation, the UNT demanded 22%.
At the beginning of June, the October 6 union and others affiliated to the UNT conducted a plebescite for Tijuana maquiladora workers over wages and working conditions. In balloting in the neighborhoods surrounding the plants, workers were asked if they would favor a new minimum wage of 100 pesos daily, and if they would stop work to get it. Despite heavy police presence in the areas surrounding the makeshift polls, over 5000 workers voted in Tijuana, Tecate, Ensenada and Rosarito, approving the proposal almost unanimously.
These developments threaten increased labor costs for U.S.- and other foreign-owned factories along the border, and are viewed with alarm by Mexican authorities. "We are rejecting government policies which use low wages to attract foreign investment," Hernandez declared.
Some 2,100 members of National Miners Union Local 65 struck Grupo Mexico's copper mine in Cananea, Mexico, November 19. Above, strikers picket the mine, the second largest in the Spanish-speaking Americas, in January. They are fighting company attempts to cut benefits and wages, now at $8-12 a day. Other issues include job cuts, production quotas, and safety. The company won a court ruling declaring the strike illegal, and threatened to fire up to 198 union members they accused of vandalism. Union officials announced an agreement February 11, brokered by the Mexican government, that would close three departments of the mine and cut 700 jobs. The next day hundreds of miners protested the contract and vowed to continue the strike. Open since the mid-1600s, the mine was the site of a general strike in 1906 that sparked the Mexican revolution. The miners last strike there was in 1989, after which the Mexican government sold the mine to Grupo Mexico.
Strike in Cananea
A strike at the Cananea copper mine in northern Mexico's Sonora state ended Thursday, owner Grupo Mexico (BMV: MEXICOB) confirmed.
The strike at the 150,000t/y mine was over salary and bonus payments and began January 21 when some 3,000 workers downed tools.
The company said the mine facilitates were returned to it Wednesday night and workers went back to their posts Thursday.
Cananea has been hit by several strikes in recent years, the previous ones being in March and June 2002.
The latest strike was seen as one factor behind a recent rise in copper prices. The company had described the action as illegal and had threatened to close the mine completely
On February 19th 2006 a methane gas explosion occurred in number 8 shaft of the Pasta de Conchos mine owned by Grupo Mexico in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. 65 miners were buried in that blast and the government of Mexico and the mine owner chose to seal the mine and not undertaken a recovery of the dead and what many of the miners union leaders believe, the recovery of those that were alive.
Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman reports that from that time on the union and its leadership have been in a herculean struggle against the combined efforts of the government and mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico. It is estimated that the cost of the dispute with the mine closure to this point is $3 billion USD. "But to the purist economic flat earther, the reduction of terms and conditions and limited OH&S application over the life of a 40 year mine, the $3bn is well worth the effort" says Mick.
The leadership of the Mexican mineworkers union have been threatened with violence and its leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia forced into exile.
Mexico City - Mexico's mining union called on Monday for a nationwide industry walkout on Jan. 16 to back workers striking for more than five months at Grupo Mexico's huge Cananea copper pit.
The one-day action, part of the union's effort to fight a labor board ruling on Friday that declared the Cananea strike is illegal, would affect miners and metalworkers working on morning shifts, the union said in a statement.
The ruling was the latest chapter in months of back-and-forth between courts over the strike, which mining company Grupo Mexico estimates has cost it $2.8 million per day in lost sales since it began at the end of July.
The union is angry that several striking workers were hurt on Friday outside Cananea, in the northwestern state of Sonora, when police firing tear gas briefly clashed with them after the labor board decision.
Earlier on Monday, Grupo Mexico said it was back in control at Cananea and could resume normal copper production levels at the pit in three months or so. Spokesman Juan Rebolledo said scores of workers were inside Cananea and specialist inspectors from two companies were examining idle machinery for damage.
However, the mining union is appealing the return-to-work order and won a court suspension order on Saturday allowing striking workers to stay off the job without being fired while a judge decides.
"The situation is calm," Rebolledo told Reuters. "The judge's order means those workers who want to work can do so and the company can keep operating. (But) they can also not go to work and they will not be fired."
Union spokesman Carlos Pavon disputed Grupo Mexico's assertion that some 400 miners had returned to Cananea, saying many more were outside on picket lines than were inside.
Pavon said it could take around six weeks for a judge to decide on the appeal. Meanwhile, those who wanted to keep striking would not lose their jobs.
"They have rights that are in the constitution and we are going to exercise them to the very end," Pavon told Reuters.
The strike by some 1,300 Cananea workers has lost Grupo Mexico an estimated 80,000 tonnes of copper output.
Rebolledo said the company hoped to have a detailed report in two weeks' time on the state of the mine and its equipment.
Cananea miners walked off the job in a spat that began with health and safety conditions and was complicated by a power struggle between the company and union leader Napoleon Gomez, who is living in Canada to avoid corruption charges in Mexico.
The labor board declared the strike illegal last year, but a judge backed appeals by the union.
Copper has been mined at Cananea for more than 100 years. The mine has been the stage for frequent worker disputes ever since Mexico's first miners' strike exploded there in 1906 in an anarchist-inspired precursor to the Mexican Revolution.
Shares in Grupo Mexico closed up 1.84 percent at 67.65 pesos, standing out from a weaker overall market.
The labor unrest in Mexico, and at mines elsewhere in Latin America, has kept copper bullish in recent months. Copper prices are up nearly 10 percent this year.
Mexico is a major producer of copper and has the world's largest silver mine. Next week's strike could also affect smaller mines and smelters producing gold, lead and zinc.
Once again the Mexican government of Felipe Calderón has run aground on the firm and determined resistance of the battle-hardened miners of Cananea. Some 1,000 federal and state police, the latter dispatched by Sonora governor Eduardo Bours, couldn’t handle the 1,300 workers who have shut down the largest copper mine in Latin America since last July 30. The advertised hundreds of scabs went up in smoke, and the few who offered to help break the strike quickly abandoned the empty mine. Felipe had better watch out or he could end up shipwrecked on the high desert of Sonora!
Shortly before noon on January 11, Mexico’s Federal Mediation and Arbitration Board (JFCyA, by its initials in Spanish) declared the six-month-old strike of the Sonoran copper miners “non-existent.” Hours earlier, an occupation army arrived in town on board a caravan of 80 vehicles. Within minutes of the announcement of the Board ruling, the repressive forces flooded the streets of Cananea, heading for the mine occupied by the strikers for the last 165 days. In the ensuing skirmishing, at least 50 people were injured, including strikers’ wives and children.
Right to Strike Imperiled in Cananea
The Mexican city of Cananea, site of one of the world’s largest copper mines, is moving toward a virtual state of siege after fighting swept through the streets between police and strikers more than a week ago. The attack on the Mexican miners’ union, followed by a massive police occupation of the mine and surrounding town, has sparked a growing uproar among the country’s workers and unions. More than 25,000 miners across Mexico walked off the job for a day on January 16 in protest. Six days later, 1,500 teachers, electrical and telephone workers, and farmers marched on the Mexico City office of Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcon to demand that the government withdraw police from the struck mine.
Francisco Hernandez Juarez, head of the National Union of Workers (UNT), Mexico’s independent union federation, not only condemned government moves to break the miners’ strike but accused the administration of President Felipe Calderón of unilaterally implementing its proposals for labor law reform, which would effectively eliminate the right to strike. A statement by the Authentic Labor Front, which belongs to the UNT, said, “The government is trying to intimidate us into accepting its labor law reform.” Deputies from the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party also denounced the government plan.
Meanwhile, on January 18, more than 600 women began blockading Cananea’s forty schools, picketing in below-zero weather, to protest the police occupation of the mine and the town. Almost all students and teachers supported the action, and even the Sonora state secretary of education admitted that the schools had been closed.
Cananea is a tiny town in the Sonora mountains, just fifty miles south of the US border. Since June 30 of last year, the union there, Section 65 of the Mexican Union of Mine, Metal and Allied Workers, has been on strike over extreme health and safety dangers. On January 11 the federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JNCA) declared the mine strike illegal. Under current Mexican law, if a strike is legal, the company may not make any effort to operate the mine or make reprisals against the strikers. If the strike is declared illegal, however, the company can begin operations and fire any striker who refuses to return to work.
As the JNCA was announcing its decision, 700 agents of the Sonora state police and the Federal Preventative Police entered the mine and took control of the premises. Cananea erupted into street fighting between miners and police, in which twenty people were injured–several seriously–and five strikers were reported missing. “They dropped tear gas bombs on us from helicopters,” said Jesus Verdugo, chair of the union’s strike committee. “Dozens of us were beaten.”
Grupo Mexico, the mine’s owner, then claimed that 410 workers went to work the following day, out of about 1,300 strikers. Verdugo and union spokesperson Carlos Pavon Campos deny this. “They brought about twenty people in from outside and kept them locked up inside the mine,” Pavon told Mexican reporters. “They’re seeking to provoke a confrontation between the workers.” According to union lawyer Juan Rivero Legorreta, however, the company has begun sending notices to workers saying they will be fired if they don’t go back to work.
The board’s move was the latest of many similar efforts by the federal government to force strikers back to work, and it had ruled the strike illegal from the very beginning. Those moves had been blocked by injunctions obtained by the union in Mexican federal court. After the JNCA announced its latest declaration January 11, the union again went before a judge in Mexico City the following day. Maximo Ariel Torres Quevedo, Sixth District Judge for Labor Matters, again barred the JNCA from declaring the strike illegal. But in a highly unusual decision he went on to declare that Grupo Mexico could restart operations anyway, using either strikebreakers or strikers who “voluntarily” returned to work.
Labor Secretary Alarcon, who oversees the Mexican labor board, immediately greeted the second part of the judge’s decision. “The Cananea mine can keep its doors open to any worker who wants to go back to work,” he said. The decision “makes the normal operation of the mine possible.” On January 22 Judge Torres reiterated the same decision.
Allowing a company to operate during a strike and recruit strikebreakers under police protection would be a drastic change in the labor law that has governed Mexico since the 1930s. It would make Mexican law much more like that in the United States, where companies legally recruit strikebreakers under police protection and operate during strikes. Adopting the US model is part of labor law reform proposals made by the past administration of conservative President Vicente Fox on the recommendation of the World Bank. Calderón, Fox’s successor, has vowed to move those proposals forward, although neither president has been able to win the votes for adoption in the federal Chamber of Deputies. If the judge’s decision stands, the government and the right-wing National Action Party will have accomplished by legal fiat what they have been unable to win legislatively.
The JNCA action seeks to end the longest-running defiance of government labor policy in Mexico in decades. Grupo Mexico, one of the largest mining corporations in the world, is owned by the wealthy family of German Larrea, who was one of the largest contributors to President Calderón’s 2006 election campaign.
Breaking the strike in Cananea would have economic and political repercussions, not just in Mexico but in the United States as well. In two previous strikes at Cananea and its sister mine in Nacozari, in 1998 and 2005 respectively, more than 2,000 miners lost their jobs. Most of them, unable to find other work in the tiny mining communities of northern Sonora, crossed the border into the United States as undocumented workers in order to survive.
Grupo Mexico has extensive ties with US corporations. It became owner of two mines and a smelter in Arizona when it bought the bankrupt American Smelting and Refining Company. The union in those US mines, the United Steelworkers of America, has actively supported the Cananea strikers. Grupo Mexico’s chief financial officer, J. Eduardo Gonzalez, is a former executive of Kimberley Clark de Mexico, the Mexican subsidiary of the US-based paper corporation Kimberley Clark. That company was founded by the family of Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner, one of the most vociferous opponents of Mexican immigration to the United States. Grupo Mexico’s board of directors also shared a member, Tellez Kuenzler, with the board of the Carlyle Group (which included former President George H.W. Bush); Kuenzler resigned to become Secretary of Communications and Transport in the Calderón administration after the 2006 election.
Grupo Mexico has been at war with the Mexican miners’ union for more than three years. In 2001 Napoleon Gomez Urrutia was elected the union’s president; he soon became a high-profile opponent of government economic policy, fighting its effort to weaken labor law and privatize the national pension system. Taking advantage of high world copper prices, Gomez negotiated wage increases much higher than the limits the government sought to impose in its effort to attract foreign investment.
On February 19, 2005, sixty-five miners died in a huge explosion in the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in the northern state of Coahuila. That mine belonged to Grupo Mexico’s subsidiary, Industrial Minera Mexico (IMMSA). The union found that workers on the second shift had complained of high concentrations of explosive methane gas in the shafts before the accident. “They told us that welding was still going on, even after the failure of some electrical equipment,” Gomez charged.
Two days after the explosion, Gomez accused the secretary of labor and Grupo Mexico of “industrial homicide.” Then-President Vicente Fox filed corruption charges against Gomez less than a week later, and then-Labor Secretary Francisco Xavier Salazar Saenz appointed Elias Morales to replace Gomez as union president. Morales had been expelled from the union for his close relationship with the company. Gomez fled to Canada to avoid arrest, where the United Steelworkers gave him sanctuary, and where he remains. While in exile, he was twice re-elected president of the union, although Grupo Mexico and the government refused to recognize him.
A July 2006 report by the National Human Rights Commission found that the local office of the federal labor ministry responsible for inspecting Pasta de Conchos had “clear knowledge” before the accident of the conditions that would set off the explosion. In 2004 labor safety inspectors had found forty-eight health and safety violations in the mine, including oil and gas leaks, missing safety devices and broken lighting. Although Grupo Mexico was given an order to fix the illegal conditions, no compliance inspection was carried out until February 7, twelve days before the explosion.
Only two bodies were ever recovered, and Grupo Mexico abandoned recovery efforts last year. The widows of the dead miners have launched a high-profile national campaign demanding that the government cancel the company’s mining concession. Elvira Martinez, one of the campaign’s leaders, called IMMSA “a socially irresponsible enterprise and a danger to Mexico.”
The Cananea strikers say conditions in their mine also threaten their lives and health. Rock dust in the enclosed part of the huge complex, called the concentrator, is so deep that it rises up over workers’ boots. “When the mine is running,” says Victoriano Carrillo, a member of the mine’s health and safety commission, “you can’t even see more than a few feet in front of you.”
Mine dust is more than just uncomfortable or inconvenient. It’s deadly. Superfine particles lodge in the lungs, and miners who breathe rock dust year after year suffer a variety of lung diseases, including silicosis. “We know what’s safe and what’s not,” one miner charged, “but they never want us to spend time fixing problems–just get the production out. If we tried to stop the line for safety problems, we would lose our jobs.”
Cananea miners charge that the vacuum apparatus that is supposed to suck dust from the complex has been disconnected and inoperable for two years. In an effort to weaken the union, they say, Grupo Mexico eliminated the jobs of workers who were in charge of maintaining it, and brought in a private, nonunion contractor to do the work. When the union objected, the company disconnected the dust collectors.
In October a delegation of health and safety experts from Mexico and the United States visited the Cananea mine and did preliminary health screening on sixty-eight of the 1,300 strikers. “We documented appalling working conditions in the open-pit mine and processing plants where workers are exposed to high levels of airborne silica, which can cause fatal diseases like silicosis and lung cancer,” according to Garrett Brown, a California health and safety inspector and director of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Network. “Ironically, the Mexican Labor Department’s own safety inspectors found the same hazards in an April 2007 inspection of the facility and issued a laundry list of seventy-two ‘corrective actions,’ including fixing the cranes’ brakes and reassembling the dust collectors. None of the mandated corrections, many of which had also been identified in previous inspections, had been completed by the time the workers went on strike over health and safety issues on July 29.”
According to Grupo Mexico, the strikers are supporters of Gomez and are striking to pressure the company and government into reinstating him. But breaking the strike in Cananea would allow the company and government to install a company union at the mine, as they have at many others over the past two years. In November 2006 the JNCA, under the control of Calderón and the National Action Party, gave legal status to a new miners’ union, the National Union of Workers in the Exploration, Exploitation and Benefit of Mines.
The new union is headed by Francisco Gamez, a former contractor for Grupo Mexico who once worked at Cananea. The federal labor board set up elections to allow it to take over representation rights in eight mines. The Center for Labor Action and Reflection (CEREAL), a human rights organization based in Mexico City, claims the election process was manipulated to get rid of the old miners’ union. Fifteen workers were fired before one vote at a San Luis Potosi mine, CEREAL says. In Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, miners on the first and second shifts were locked inside the coal mine for a day before balloting began, while 300 federal, state and municipal police surrounded the mine entrance.
At Nacozari, where 1,500 workers were fired for striking in 2006, more than 900 were denied voting rights. Workers brought in to replace the fired miners were told they would be fired themselves, evicted from company housing and sent back to southern Mexico if the company union didn’t win the vote there. Rita Marcela Robles Benitez, an analyst with CEREAL, charges that Grupo Mexico “changed the working hours from 8 to 12 per day, which has resulted in more accidents because of the lack of safety protection and training.” The new union approved the change.
The government and Grupo Mexico have been prevented from holding a similar election at Cananea because of the strike. If the strike is smashed, however, authorities will probably hold one there to eliminate the miners’ union and allow Grupo Mexico to deal with the company union instead.
When the miners’ union lost its strike in Cananea in 1998, in which it tried to stop the elimination of hundreds of jobs, blacklisted strikers poured into Arizona in the months that followed. If the current strike is put down, the union broken and its leaders and activists terminated, they too will likely find themselves in Phoenix, Tucson or Los Angeles, hungry and desperate for work.
The ICEM, United Steelworkers (USW) of the US, and the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) are coordinating a trade union and parliamentary/ congressional delegation to Mexico in support of the National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union (SNTMMSRM) and their fight for free and independent unionism in the Latin country.
The delegation, rescheduled due to the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, will go ahead July 8–12 and the destination is Mexico City. The delegation will meet with the Congressional Commission on Cananea, with ambassadors of delegation countries, hold an International Solidarity Conference, and a Solidarity visit to Juan Linares, a political prisoner in Reclusorio Norte prison. Delegates will then hold a public meeting to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Los Mineros in Lázaro Cárdenas. On 13 July, delegates will visit the Pasta de Conchos mine site in Sabinas, to pay tribute to the victims, widows, and families of the deadly 2006 mine explosion in which 65 miners perished.
Participating unions in the solidarity mission will come from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, India, Peru, South Africa, Sweden, UK, and the US, alongside leaders of the ICEM and IMF.
Participating members’ of parliaments and members of congresses that are expected to join the delegation are from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Peru, South Africa, and UK.
The Mexican government has been largely successful in reaching its goal of destroying trade unionism in Mexico. Los Mineros is one of the very few unions in the country to resist government control and to continue fighting for improved wages and labour laws. Following the union’s denouncement of the multinational mining corporation Grupo Mexico, as well as the national government, over the explosion at Pasta de Conchos, the government cooperated with Grupo Mexico in efforts to destroy the union.
Mexican security forces have repeatedly been involved in beatings, death threats, and illegal arrests in the union busting campaign. Last week, a striking worker was killed by police. The courageous strike at major Grupo Mexico locations has been in place for 22 months, even though Grupo Mexico gained a decree halting it.
Hundreds of state and federal police forces stormed the grounds to end the nearly three-year strike, which began because of health and safety issues.
The battle between the government, Grupo Mexico and the workers union began with a mine explosion in northern Mexico that left 63 miners dead.
Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, the Mexican union leader was forced to flee Mexico to escape federal criminal charges. Today he is in hiding in Canada.
“This is the latest act of repression from the Mexican government against the democratic and independent union,” said Urrutia.
He continued, “We have been on a strike for almost three years in Cananea for better safety conditions, and health conditions and also for better wages and benefits for workers and their families.”
The Mexican government sent almost 2,000 federal police to break the strike, using physical violence and tear gas.
Urrutia said that incidents like this are not isolated and that the government and corporate relationships with workers’ unions in Mexico is dismal.
“It is a continuous policy of repression from the Mexican government backing the company Grupo Mexico, which is a multi-national company, the owner of these Cananea corporate mines, the biggest corporate mine in Mexico. We have been on a struggle for three years and on a strike not only in Cananea but in another two mines of the same company,” said Urrutia.
The government sets policy to support the companies and work against the independent unions, said Urrutia.
“It’s a repression policy, anti-labor policy from the Mexican government who is backing these kinds of companies against worker’s rights and human rights in Mexico,” said Urrutia.
Urrutia accredits the length and earlier success of the strike to the arrogance of Grupo Mexico, which never opted to attempt a negotiation. The continued legal battle and system of appeals also lengthened the strike.
Urrutia has accused Grupo Mexico of “Industrial homicide” and even pointed the finger at the Mexican labor secretary, calling him an accomplice.
Mexican Police Attack Cananea Mine, Beating and Arresting Striking Miners
June 7, 2010
As many as 2,000 Mexican Federal Police and Sonora State Police, supported by helicopters, invaded the Cananea copper mine Sunday night around 10 p.m., firing tear gas and attacking and beating miners who were defending the mine, according to news reports.
With the police having cleared the mine, managers from Grupo Mexico, the mine owner, took control of the facilities. The company reported that it had 2,000 “contractors” ready to go to work as soon as it was safe to do so.
A small fire broke out in a building on company property. The government says there were no injuries. An eyewitness report states that police fired guns and that one member of Local 65 of the Mexican miners union was wounded. No miners had any weapons, according to the report. The eyewitness adds that after the police took the mine, a meeting of the local union was immediately called, during which a Steelworkers member was speaking when police entered, breaking windows and firing tear gas without regard to the men, women, and children present. The USW, a U.S. and Canadian union, has supported the Cananea struggle for years.
The Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM) has had control of the mine since it went on strike three years ago over health and safety issues. A Mexican court ruled in February that the strike was over and that miners had to leave the mine, but for four months they have refused to do so.
Police had reportedly went to the mine to execute arrest warrants against union leaders, among them Sergio Tolano Lizarraga, general secretary of Local 65, and Juan Gutierrez Ballesteros, delegate to the National Executive Committee of the union.
The strike at the Cananea mine, which once produced 40 percent of Mexico’s copper, has reportedly cost the company $1.35 billion. The strike forms part of a larger struggle between the independent-minded and militant Mexican Mine Workers Union on the one hand and Grupo Mexico and the Mexican government on the other.
The corporate betrayal of Cananea
June 25, 2010
CANANEA, SONORA, MEXICO
Mine union members Ysedro Rios and Julian Arredondo on strike guard duty.
“It’s treason; Grupo Mexico has betrayed us,” Arredondo said quietly. “Grupo Mexico is waging a union-busting effort. They want to get rid of our union.”
Twenty years working in the Mexicana de Cananea mine as an electrician, this day Arredondo was part of a different routine. He was standing guard on the 7 to 3 shift with more than a dozen fellow members of Seccion 65 of the Mexican Union of Mine, Metal and Allied Workers, “Los Mineros,” making sure the mine remained in control of the workers. Los Mineros legally occupied the sprawling facility since striking against the multi-national corporation, Grupo Mexico, in July 2007.
“They want to get rid of our collective bargaining agreement,” Arredondo added. “If they get what they want, this town will end.”
Now, a month later, the building is a blackened ruin from a fire that raged the night 3,500 federal and state police assaulted the city and the union and handed the mine back to Grupo Mexico. The strike is over. So is the collective bargaining agreement and Los Mineros’ representation at the mine. Just as Arredondo said. A new company union, or “sindicatos blancos” now represents the miners.
Cananea still exists of course, but its way of life lies shattered and uncertain.
Mexican federal police are confronted by Cananeans after breaking the miner\'s strike.
This outcome was made possible by Grupo Mexico’s powerful reach into the current Mexican government of President Felipe Calderon. “Of course PAN, which is the party of the president, wants nothing to do with [a settlement],” Cananea Mayor Reginaldo Moreno said in an interview. “They are completely in the hands of the corporations.”
Grupo Mexico’s huge open-pit mine and processing facilities are the heart of the economy of Cananea, a small city 30 miles south of the Arizona border. The city, the mine and the miners have a long and famous history.
“A hundred and four years ago in the Mexican State of Sonora copper miners for American-owned Cananea Consolidated Copper Company went on strike,” writes Judy Ancel, a labor educator at the University of Missouri,
Kansas City. “The Cananea strike gets the credit in Mexico for starting the Mexican Revolution of 1910.”
In May, Ancel organized a delegation of labor educators and others who spent three days gathering testimony, information and the background to the current strike. I videotaped the entire three days. We were able to tour the enormous open pit mine and its facilities.
Cananeans, many with family ties to the original strike, are proud of their history. “My grandfather was a striker in 1906 and then went off to fight in the Mexican Revolution,” said Arturo Rodriguez, the town historian. “Then he came back to work in the mine.”
Los Mineros union strike flag hung for almost three years on the main gate to the mine.
Los Mineros was a strong and militant presence in the mine for much of the 20th century. U.S. based Anaconda ran the facility until the \'70s when it was nationalized by the Mexican government; throughout this time the union and the company maintained a sort of social contract that benefited all parties, including the city of Cananea.
“When U.S. corporations owned the mine, things were a little different because they actually provided free water to the people of Cananea. They paid a percentage for their employees of the cost of electricity and gas,” Mayor Morena told us.
“When the North Americans left, the government took over and administered. And they too supplied various kinds of facilities and support for the workers, especially through the collective bargaining agreement, that benefited the workers and the town. But once the government decided to privatize and sell the company to individual capitalists, then everything changed.”
That privatization happened in 1991 when Mexican President Carlos Salinas aligned himself with the structural adjustment regime of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and began “selling off” state-owned businesses. Under the new “neoliberal” rules of capitalism, the Cananea mine was sold for pennies on the dollar to Grupo Mexico. Owner German Larrea is now one of the richest men in Mexico.
The up-to-date Clinica Obrero withers away after being closed by Grupo Mexico in 1999.
The current battle continues the fight that began with that transfer of wealth and ownership. Grupo Mexico has played its part, imposing the new rules of the global economy with a vengeance. In a succession of acts that included the closing of a worker’s clinic and refusal to share water with the city, Grupo Mexico shredded the longstanding social contract between the mine operation and the city and people of Cananea. After they closed down the up-to-date Clinica Obrera, the Workers Clinic, that operated as part of the company-union agreement, they then tried to close the hospital that served as its alternative.
“On May 11, 2008, we arrived at work and we saw the notice that the hospital was closed. There had been no previous notice at all,” Dr. Alfredo Parra Ybarra, director of the Hospital Ronquillo, recounted. “The Grupo Mexico people actually were there inside the hospital blocking our way in.” Dr. Ybarra led resistance to the closing, working without pay for months, and the hospital remains open. However it suffers from severe lack of funds and shortages of medicines and other supplies.
Toxic dust from mine "tailings" rises high in the air, day after day.
Requirements set forth in the original agreement with the federal government also obligated Grupo Mexico to protect the community from the carcinogenic “tailings” that are a byproduct of the processing operations. They have not complied. Spread out like a huge white scar on the desert floor bounding the city, the mudlike brew of toxic waste dries in the sun to form a fine dust that gets picked up by the winds and air currents. White plumes of this dust reach high into the sky, day after day. The cloud of lead and other materials blows over the entire state of Sonora and into Arizona.
Meanwhile, in the mine, routine maintenance and the safety of the workers deteriorated under Grupos’ leadership. “The company began to demand that we spend much less or no time on preventative maintenance and all of the work we did was corrective after the problem occurred,” explained Gabriel Cosa Lopez, a striking maintenance worker. “And as they pushed more pressure on the way maintenance was done, there was a real decline not only in the quality of the machinery, but it took an enormous toll on the workers in terms of health and safety.”
“We lost a lot of protection,” said Rigoberto Quiada, a miner for 36 years. “The company was demanding more of people. I was at the very top of my trade. The intensification of work was a problem. They always wanted more production.”
According to the union, none of the dust collectors has functioned since the company shut them down in 1999. In October 2007 a binational group of occupational and health experts from the Maquila Health and Safety Support Network conducted an inspection of the mine. They documented severe health and safety violations. The report paints “a clear picture of a workplace being deliberately run into the ground. A serious lack of preventive maintenance, failure to repair equipment and correct visible safety hazards . . .”
Los Mineros went on strike in July 2007 because of the life-threatening safety violations in the mine and because of additional constant and serious violations of their contract agreement. Linked to this fight is the union’s response to an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine that killed 65 miners in 2006. That facility is also operated by Grupo Mexico. The Cananea strike has been strongly supported by Leo Girard and the United Steelworkers.
But something about Cananea makes plain the larger fight against the values and ideas of the new capitalism. Perhaps it is the clarity of the way of life and standard of living provided by the mine for nearly a century, a way of life under major assault; perhaps it is Grupo’s stark disinterest in anything but profit and exploitation; perhaps it is the proud history of Cananea and an earlier generation of miners who sparked the Mexican Revolution in 1906 with the first strike there, or perhaps it is the articulate militancy of the miners themselves.
Copper processing facility at the Mexican de Cananea mine.
“They view us as just another piece of machinery,” stated Sergio Tolano Lizarraga, Seccion 65 Secretary General, when we interviewed him in May. “It’s shameful how our government allows companies like this one to do these things. With our hands we have made them rich, Larrea is the third richest person in Mexico, and yet what he does is use this money we made for him to destroy us. There is not one community where Grupo Mexico has entered that the infrastructure and life and culture of the community is not destroyed. Their goal is to subordinate and repress us as if we were puppets. And we hate this.” A warrant is now out for Tolano Lizarraga \'s arrest in the wake of the police siege.
On guard at the gate back in May, Rigoberto Quiada put it quite simply: “This means well-being, means my house, my standard of living.”
The miners say they will fight on. The outcome of the struggle being waged by Los Mineros is considered central to the future of labor relations in Mexico, with significant ramifications for labor, human and environmental rights there and throughout the hemisphere. And already the collusion of big business and big politics has pushed back a strong, militant and proud union.
An Action Alert sent out by the Cross-Border Network for Justice and Solidarity is calling for letters to Mexican President Calderon, as well as President Obama and other U.S. officials. According to the Alert, “Congress\'s Appropriations Committee, Foreign Operations subcommittee is currently considering another $310 million in funding for Plan Mexico or Plan Merida which has already sent $1.4 billion to Mexico for training and equipment of security forces over the last three years.” Some of that money was used to break the miner’s strike in Cananea.
The mine workers are protesting the notoriously dangerous safety conditions at the mine (the largest open pit copper mine in the world) and smelter. The facilities have greatly deteriorated since the mine was privatized in 1990. Delegations of trade unionists from the U.S., particularly Steel Workers from Arizona, have visited the mine, as they have during previous strikes. The arbitration board ruling also affects striking miners in the state of Zacatecas, and in the silver mining town of Taxco.
The federal government has repeatedly used Mexico’s corporatist labor laws, modeled on the labor code of Mussolini's fascist Italy, to outlaw the miners’ strike. Although courts have issued injunctions against the JFCyA rulings, the state and federal governments have proceeded with their heavy-handed repression.
Safety conditions at the Cananea plant are so notorious that an international team of doctors and health professionals which visited the struck plant in October stated that they found a “clear picture of a work-place being ‘deliberately run into the ground’.” The mine is part of the Grupo México, owned by the billionaire Germán Larrea, who also owns the coal mine at Pasta de Conchos, where 65 miners were buried alive in February 2006.
Conflict Between Factions in Miners Union Leaves One Dead
One miner was killed, four seriously injured, and many others wounded in a struggle between factions in the Mexican Mine and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM). The union’s majority, led by Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, sent miners from several other union locals to the mine at Fresnillo, Zacatecas to force that mine to strike and to confront the pro-company minority loyal Carlos Pavón, a former union officer. The union’s militant confrontation with its disloyal minority proved to be a serious and deadly tactical mistake.
The Gómez loyalists found themselves outnumbered by member of Local 62, headed by David Navarro Rodríguez, a follower of Pavón. Armed with clubs, Local 62’s members badly beat Gómez supporters. Killed in the fight was Joventino Flores Salas, four others suffered serious head injuries, and many more were wounded. Some Local 62 loyalists reportedly carried AK-47 automatic weapons, rifles, and high caliber pistols. The buses that had brought in Gómez followers were destroyed or damaged in the melee.
Carlos Pavon, leader of the union’s minority faction, is a creation of Grupo Mexico and the Mexican government. According to the Mine Workers Union, Pavón had been jailed in Monclova, Coahuila after attempting to shake down Carlos Ancira, owner of Altos Hornos de Mexico (AHMSA), a steel company. The Mine Workers Union had paid a bond of US$600,000 for Pavón’s release. After being jailed, Pavón apparently went over to Grupo Mexico and the government, agreeing to organize a faction in the union. Pavón has had some success, in particular in AHMSA plants and in the Peñoles mine.
Explosion - 2010
16 Marzo 2015
Juan Linares trae mensaje de Napoleón Gómez U. a Cananea, invita a no claudicar en el movimiento de protesta, el Objetivo recuperar contrato colectivo dice. Soycobre.com
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The New York Times
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Urbana Daily Courier, June 4, 1906
EIGHT MEN EXECUTED
Mexican Rurales Shoot Down the Ringleaders at Cananea . RIOTING HAS BEEN RENEWED WITH A VIGOR Martial Law is Expected to Have Effect of Quieting DisturbancesNaco , Ariz ., June 4 . ”Eight leader * of the anarchists who Incited the riot and strike against the Green Consolidated Copper Mining company at Cananea were , executed by rura . es under command of Col . Kosterlitsky near Kenquillo Sunday . The anarchists were lined up In front of a stone wall . Viva le Mexico ! So perish all traitors ! shouted Kosterlitsky . To hâ€”1 with government ! Away with Mexico ! was the reply . A volley came from the rurales and the leaders of the riot of Friday dropped dead . The execution followed closely upon a dramatic scene in Ronquillo Sunday morning . Col . Greene had returned to the company offices from the mines . With him was Gov . Ysabel and his staff and bodyguard-. . They occupied two automobiles . Iu the public square af Ronquillo was an angry mob . The day before tht bearer of a red flag had fallen with 16 bullet holes in his body . Bearing down upon this mob . Col . Greene waved his right hand aloft and in a loud voice cried : Viva la Cananea ! Vive Mexico . ! Snarl at Mexico . Instantly Viva la Cananea ! Viva la Greene ! came from a thousand lips , but the men on sighting the governor marled a vitlous . Away with Mexico . Tohâ€”I with -the -government . Gov . Ysabel sprang to his feet . No , n Â» , my friends , he crie . d . The government is good and Col . Greene is your friend . Two young men pressed forward , the butts of their revolvers visible . Xo , no , they cried . They were fierce in their interruption . Freak Masoov Col . Greene s nephew , raised his rifle . Eight young Alexieans were seized and the execution followed . Although renewed rioting broke out in Cananea Saturday night there is no doubt but that the execution of the ringleaders will have a marked effect . The latest trouble in Cananea was between Mexicans of Col . Greene s mines and smelter and the rurales under Kosterlitsky . Five Mexican strikers were killed and 13 injured . A rurale also was shot , but not seriously . The clash came shortly before the arrival of 200 Mexican troops from Hermosillo . Col . Kosterlitsky had declared the town under martial law and proceeded to disperse the bands of Mexicans at eitBer end of the town . The Mexicans resisted and were fired upon by the soldiers . Fire on Americans . When taking to the mountains Mexicans fired on the American residences of the town through the night , and many windows were broken , but little other damage was done . The Americans were In no manner connected with the second outbreak . All of the American women of the town and many of the women of the higher class of Mexicans are quartered with their children in Col . Greene's house for protection . The first Mexican soldiers to reach | he scene , with the exception of Kosterlitsky s men , arrived about daylight Sunday morning . TKeyTiumoered 200 and-came from Hermosillo upon the order of Gov . Ysabel . Joining the forces of Col . Kosterlitsky the troops were given orders to shoot to kill all persons who gave the slightest resistance to orders . The situation is grave and more trouble Is expected . Government la Slow . As the result of the extremely slow methods of the Mexican government In trying to protect foreigners In the republic , Americana in Sonora are Incensed and there Is open talk of concerted action among the Americana looking toward a forced change In present conditions . The company of troops now In Juarez Is held In Instant readiness for movement in case the Mexican government should decide to send them to Cananea . One disturbing feature of the situation the alleged discovery , that under the guise of socialism , the Mexicans seem to have a strong organization of anarchists in Sonora and perhaps throughout the republic . Of . great . Importance I * the precedent set by Gov . Ysabel in permitting 800 armed American to crow the International line In a body .
saved so long as Kosterlitsky and his men remain , but the treachery of the people does not extend this grace an hour beyond an overpowering guard . Three red flags were hoisted in Friday s battle .
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