270,000 Mexican miners hold nationwide walkout

16.01.2008

Police and military attack striking Cananea workers fighting for better wages and health and safety improvements.

MEXICO: Members of the Mexican National Miners' and Metalworkers' Union (SNTMMSRM) walked off the job today denouncing the government's recent attack on striking workers at Mexico's largest copper mine, Cananea, in the northern state of Sonora.

On January 11, the Mexican federal labour board (JFCA) ruled that the Cananea strike was illegal, ordering miners back to work within 24 hours or face dismissal. Within hours of the ruling, a reported 700 state and federal security forces were immediately called in to evict the strikers from the mine entrances. Police and army troops opened fire on the workers with tear gas and rubber bullets. Between 20 to 40 miners were injured and several others were detained.

The following day, a court granted the union a provisional injunction against the labour board ruling, allowing striking workers to remain on strike without the threat of being fired while a judge considers the appeal. The SNTMMSRM predicts it could take about six weeks for a judge to reach a decision.

Some 1,500 Cananea workers have been on strike since July 30, 2007, over low wages and horrendous health and safety conditions in the Grupo Mexico-owned mine. The company has failed to correct the dangerous conditions despite two investigations citing more than 70 deadly health and safety hazards.

In October 2007, the International Metalworkers' Federation sent a fact-finding mission to Cananea to interview striking workers and lend solidarity. Miners there reported of poor ventilation, blocked emergency exits, and broken equipment. The workers argued that the Cananea mine was a "Pasta de Conchos waiting to happen," referring to another Grupo Mexico-owned mine where health and safety violations were ignored and 65 miners were killed as a result.

The union is calling on the government to stop its interference in the strike and to remove the 600 police and army personnel still on guard at the mine. Grupo Mexico is offering a 15,000 pesos ($1,375 USD) bonus to workers who leave the picket line and return to the mine within 72 hours.

"The government's use of police and military force to break a strike is in clear conflict with the constitutional rights and international rights of Mexican workers," said Marcello Malentacchi, general secretary of the IMF. "This is just further evidence of the Mexican government's refusal to allow autonomous unions to operate independently and freely in Mexico."