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Interview: Napoleón Gómez Urrutia’s return to Mexico a triumph for freedom of association

11 September, 2018After 12 years of self-imposed exile in Canada, the leader of the Los Mineros union, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, has finally returned to Mexico, where he will take on a new role as senator for the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party led by President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

Do you see your return as a victory for independent trade unions in their fight for democracy, and a positive step for union rights? 

Yes, absolutely. It's a real triumph for us in our fight for democracy. And it's not just a victory for the workers at Los Mineros – it's a victory for the working class across Mexico, Latin America and the entire world. 

We've managed to withstand 12 years of political persecution and cowardly attacks and fight back with dignity. We're very proud of that. 

Now we have to work hard to restore workers' rights, which have been bulldozed by corrupt corporations, businesses and governments, undermining both our freedom of association and our democracy.

As senator-elect, what will you do to restore workers' rights?

From the moment I'm sworn in, I'll be fighting to change the country's labour policies. They are behind much of the exploitation of workers because they put the interests of domestic companies and multinationals first. 

We are going to reform the Employment Act and draw up a new national labour policy to make sure that workers receive fair pay, that they can do their jobs with dignity and that their rights are respected.

We have to put an end to illegitimate collective bargaining agreements. That will be included in the reforms we put forward to make the labour market more democratic, freer and fairer.

We also want to take steps to ensure that the North American Free Trade Agreement recognizes and protects the employment rights of workers across the United States, Canada and Mexico. We are looking to make real changes that will help to build a future in which the wellbeing of the working class is ensured.

Do you think you can get the Government of Mexico to ratify the International Labour Organization's Convention No. 176 concerning Safety and Health in Mines?

It's one of my aims, and my responsibility as senator to do so. I'm going to put pressure on the Government to sign the agreement, because we have to make changes from within. 

It’s really important – mining companies still make their employees work in truly unbearable conditions. Workers in our country shouldn't have to put their lives and their health at risk, no matter what they do and where they work.

In the press conference you said that you would seek to get the investigation into the fatal blast at the Pasta de Conchos mine reopened. Do you think you can obtain justice for that terrible tragedy?

I'm been saying that Grupo Mexico committed industrial homicide from the very beginning. Our three demands are: for the bodies of the workers who lost their lives during the explosion to be recovered; for the families to receive decent and fair compensation; and for the investigation to be reopened in order to determine the cause of the tragedy and bring those who committed such negligence to justice. I think Andrés Manuel López Obrador's new government will support these demands.

For the first time, women now make up 50 per cent of Mexico's cabinet. Do you think that's an important step? And what about 31-year-old Luisa María Alcalde as the new Minister of Labour and Social Welfare?

I think it's really great. I've always tried to support and defend women's participation in manufacturing, politics and union work. My wife, Oralia, has been an amazing colleague in that regard, and together we have created groups like the "Women of Steel" in Mexico. My colleagues at Los Mineros are also very happy about these developments. 

Alcalde is very smart and well prepared. I'm sure that she will play a key role as Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, communicate effectively with us and build a respectful dialogue in support of our initiatives, which can be advanced by both the Government and those of us in Congress. 

I'm confident that we'll succeed. We hope that we'll be able to move forward together to forge a new society that will enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of both the working class and the broader population.