Mexico: wildcat rocks mines

Tens of thousands of Mexican miners went on strike from March 1 to March 3 at 70 companies in at least eight states–Hidalgo, Coahuila, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Queretaro, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Mexico state–in a wildcat action protesting local conditions and government intervention in the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM).

As many as 250,000 workers may have participated in the strike, one of the largest in Mexico’s recent history, crippling production at mines, metal refineries and steel mills. Silver and copper prices jumped briefly on world exchanges as workers closed the Fresnillo silver mine, owned by the world’s leading refined silver producer, Penoles, and the giant Grupo Mexico’s Cananea and La Caridad copper mines, where the miners charged conditions were unsafe. The wildcat started less than two weeks after 65 coal miners, also members of the SNTMMRM, were killed in an explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine in San Juan de Sabinas in the northern state of Coahuila. (Mexican Labor News and Analysis Special Report, March 8; Reuters, March 2; La Jornada, March 2)

The wildcat followed a Feb. 28 decision by the government of center-right president Vicente Fox Quesada to remove SNTMMRM general secretary Napoleon Gomez Urrutia and replace him with union dissident Elias Morales Hernandez, even though Fox’s government had recognized Gomez Urrutia’s election in 2002. Gomez Urrutia was known as a bureaucrat with ties to management and the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but recently he had been more militant, opposing the Fox government’s labor “reform” package and attempting to replace Victor Flores Morales as head of the PRI-dominated Congress of Labor (CT). After the Pasta de Conchos disaster he accused Grupo Mexico of “industrial homicide.” (MLNA, March 8)

Some 30,000 unionists–principally telephone and electrical workers, miners and Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) employees–marched to the central Zocalo plaza in Mexico City on March 7 to demand that the government “stop intervening in the workers’ movement.” Fox’s National Action Party (PAN) “will pay in the ballot box the bill he owes to the working class,” speakers warned, and raised the possibility of a national strike if the government refuses to fire Labor Secretary Francisco Javier Salazar Saenz. The demonstration was led by the National Workers Union (UNT) and the Mexican Union Front (FSM), two confederations of unions that are independent of the CT. The independent unions’ support for Gomez Urrutia is conditional, however. In an interview on or before Mar. 14, UNT president Francisco Hernandez Juarez called on Gomez Urrutia to give an accounting for a $55 million fund Grupo Mexico gave the SNTMMRM to benefit Mexicana de Cananea employees. The government is currently investigating the union’s use of the fund. (El Diario- La Prensa, March 9; LJ, March 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19

See our last post on Mexico.