Union maintains standoff with federal forces at Mexican mine


International labour movement takes action as tensions remain high at Mexico's Cananea mine where 1,300 miners have occupied a Grupo Mexico copper mine defending their right to strike for health and safety standards on the job.

MEXICO: Striking members of the National Miners' and Metalworkers' Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM) at the Cananea copper mine in Sonora, Mexico, blocked the federal highway between Cananea and Agua Prieta on March 16 and 17 demanding that the government step in to help broker a peaceful resolution.

The miners have been on strike since July 2007 over massive health and safety violations in the notoriously dangerous Grupo Mexico-owned mine.

Following a February 11 federal court decision giving Grupo Mexico permission to fire the striking workers and terminate the labor agreement, effectively eliminating the right to strike in Mexico, some 1,200 workers occupied the mine. The Mexican government has threatened to use armed force to gain control of Cananea, one of Grupo Mexico's largest mines. Reports from Mexico indicate wives and children of the miners are also participating in the occupation.

News of the court decision and subsequent standoff has sparked international action on the part of the global labour movement. The International Metalworkers' Federation and members of the United Steelworkers' (USW) joined SNTMMSRM members at the mine in the days following the initial occupation and escalating tensions.

The IMF put out a call to action and affiliates from Indonesia to Brazil, and from all over Europe to Africa contacted their respective embassies urging the Mexican government to remove armed troops from the mine and seek a peaceful resolution to the struggle.  Meanwhile, affiliates also sent urgent appeals to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington DC, requesting the Commission to immediately grant precautionary measures to block the removal of union members from the mine and prohibit the occupation of the mine by Mexican armed forces. Unfortunately, these requests were not granted.

The SNTMMSRM has filed a complaint with the Commission documenting human rights violations and political persecution union members face at the hands of the Mexican government and Grupo Mexico. In January 2009, representatives from the IMF, International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), United Auto Workers (UAW), USW, AFL-CIO, and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-ITUC) met with members of the Commission urging immediate action on the complaint submitted by the SNTMMSRM.

Recently, the ITUC released a statement blasting the Mexican government for failing to uphold internationally recognized human and labour rights and called on President Calderon to withdraw troops from Cananea and assist in reaching a peaceful resolution.

Government interference in union affairs and gross labour rights abuses against SNTMMSRM members is the subject of an ongoing complaint submitted to the International Labour Organisation by the IMF in March 2006. This month members of the Committee on Freedom of Association discussed the complaint and will release their findings soon.

Join the effort to support Cananea miners and their families, click here.