On Nov. 16 the largest US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, presented its 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM). AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and United Steelworkers (USW) president Leo Gerard made the presentation at ceremony in the federation’s Washington, DC headquarters; Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Machaud (D-ME) also attended. The two US labor leaders both have links to the Mexican miners’ union: Trumka is the former head of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Gerard and the USW have been working closely with the SNTMMSRM, which represents steelworkers as well as miners.
Oralia Casso de Gómez, Gómez Urrutia’s wife, accepted the award. The union leader himself couldn’t attend because of a US refusal to grant him a visa for the ceremony. The US State Department would only say that the reasons were “confidential.” Gómez Urrutia has been living in exile in Vancouver, Canada, since 2006, after the government of former Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) brought corruption charges against him.
The AFL-CIO award is the latest sign that the US labor movement is trying to build stronger links to independent unions in Mexico. Last year the SNTMMSRM and the USW were exploring the possibility of a merger, and currently the AFL-CIO is supporting the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) in a complaint it filed on Oct. 27 against the Mexican government under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), a side agreement negotiated along with the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Current Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa abruptly laid off 44,000 SME members in October 2009, setting off a conflict between the government and the union which has still not been completely resolved. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 17, from correspondent; Huffington Post, Nov. 18; SDPnoticias.com, Mexico, Nov. 14; Canadian Labour Congress press release, Oct. 27, via Market Watch)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20.