Mexico: fighting breaks out at Cananea mine

At least three people suffered serious injuries and 26 were arrested when fighting broke out between striking miners and others at the giant Cananea copper mine in the northern Mexican state of Sonora on Sept. 8. One of the injured, apparently a strikebreaker, was shot in the head but survived, despite initial reports that he had died.

Members of Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM) have been on strike at the mine for three years. The owner, the powerful Grupo México corporation, regained control of the mine from the strikers after hundreds of police agents stormed the facility on June 6. (As is traditional in Mexico, the strikers had been sitting in at the site.) The company then contracted workers from outside to get the mine back in operation. However, the union won a temporary court order on Aug. 12 allowing strikers to picket at the facility.

According to the state government’s account of the Sept. 8 events, strikers assaulted the contract workers and one striker, identified by the authorities as Jesús Gallegos Cabrera (“El Güero”), fired a gun at the strikebreakers, causing the worst injuries. Section 65 has become “a subversive, criminal group,” Sonora governor Guillermo Padrés Elías, of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), charged on Sept. 11, adding that he would no longer negotiate with the strikers: “I have nothing to talk about with them.” The state had released four of the 26 arrested union members, the governor said, but had detained another, so that 23 were in detention as of Sept. 11.

The union and its supporters gave a different story. According to an alert from the nongovernmental Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PRODESC) and the US-based United Steelworkers (USW) union, a group of about 300 people in civilian clothes used stones and clubs to attack picketers at the mine’s Gate 2 on the afternoon of Sept. 7. The strikers retreated to Section 65’s union hall. The bloody Sept. 8 confrontation started when some 600 people attacked the strikers at the union hall at about 5:30am, according to this account. At a press conference shortly after the confrontation, Section 65 leaders charged that federal and state police dressed as civilians had joined strikebreakers, including workers from Central America, to attack the strikers. The leaders denied that a unionist could have fired the shots, since Section 65 workers, according to a union press release, “never go armed, following a union line, while the police and paramilitaries are armed.” (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 12; United Eletrical Workers urgent action, Sept. 9; Section 65 press releases Sept. 8, Sept. 12)

Representatives from a number of independent unions met at the headquarters of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) in Mexico City on Sept. 9 to discuss plans to form a broad front “against the aggressions, murders and acts of repression.” The unions also called for a number of demonstrations and caravans on Sept. 14 and 15, as Mexicans mark the bicentennial of the start of the War of Independence from Spain on Sept. 15-16. (LJ 9/10/10) The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) asked for letters to President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa ( ), Governance Secretary José Francisco Blake Mora ( ), Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez ( ) and others to demand protection for the striking miners and a thorough investigation of the Sept. 7-8 incidents. (UE urgent action Sept. 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 12.

See our last posts on Mexico and the labor struggle.