The giant Buenavista del Cobre copper mine in Cananea, near the US border in the northwestern state of Sonora, is in full operation again, a little more than three years after a police assault ended a 2007-2010 strike over health and safety conditions by Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM, “Los Mineros”). The mine produced earnings of $288.69 million for its owner, Grupo México (GM), in the second quarter of this year, according to an article in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada. But the town itself hasn’t prospered. The article reports that the past 10 years have brought an increase in “organized crime, unemployment, shortages of drinkable water, a growing incidence of different types of cancer and acute respiratory diseases, ecological deterioration, alcoholism, and, because of a large transient population, problems with housing and urban infrastructure.”
The town’s residents say only about 20% of the workers at Buenavista del Cobre and the other two Cananea mines, Industrias Peñoles‘ Minera María and Minera Frisco‘s Minera Milpillas, are local people. According to residents, Grupo México has followed a strategy of refusing to hire former Section 65 members and other local workers with union experience. Thousands of workers have come from other states, many of them employed by third-party contractors rather than directly by the mine. The influx of outsiders has overwhelmed Cananea’s limited housing resources. Many of the new workers are housed in eight warehouses that have been outfitted with bunks, bathrooms and improvised cafeterias. (LJ, Sept. 25)
The strike against Grupo México was part of a major struggle by the SNTMMSRM against efforts by mining companies and the federal government to break the union. In 2006 the government pressed corruption charges against SNTMMSRM president Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who has been living in exile in Vancouver ever since. A judge quashed the arrest warrant for Gómez Urrutia in the spring of 2012, and the union leader’s lawyer predicted at the time that his client would soon return to Mexico. But legal actions continued, and Gómez Urrutia stayed in Canada. Leaders of two international labor federations, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the IndustriALL Global Union, now see no major impediment to Gómez Urrutia’s return. They held a meeting on Aug. 23 with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who they say assured them that he recognized Gómez Urrutia as the head of the union and that he didn’t intend to carry out political persecutions of independent labor leaders. (Proceso, Mexico, Sept. 3)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 29.