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Mexican mine workers denied fair union election

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10 July, 2012IndustriALL pledges support for Los Mineros in its efforts to defend the interests of workers at the La Platosa mine in Mexico after it lost by one vote a ballot conducted in extremely intimidating circumstances. Last week’s union election at the La Platosa mine in Durango shows how employers in Mexico hold all the cards when workers try to organize to defend their interests.

On July 5, workers at the Canadian-owned Excellon mine voted in a three-way ballot to determine their bargaining representatives. Branch 309 of IndustriALL-affiliated SNTMMSSRM (‘Los Mineros’), the union which had demanded the election, lost by one vote in a ‘recuento’ whose outcome had no doubt been decided before the polls opened. Lawyers representing Los Mineros have challenged the results. 

Despite the fact the silver mine currently employs only 200 workers, La Platosa represents a landmark in efforts to hold the government and multinational companies accountable for their actions. The struggle has been waged jointly by communal landowners over a long-simmering land conflict and by Los Mineros, whose General Secretary Napoleon Gomez has been brutally persecuted by the government for six years for his defense of mining workers. 

An international observer team organized by the Solidarity Center and including a representative of IndustriALL Global Unionwas present throughout the voting in a bid to reduce the risk of violence, harassment and other irregularities that have typically marred Mexican union elections.

While noting that the election appeared to have been free of blatant vote-rigging, the observers nevertheless concluded that the process had been far from free and fair. Workers arriving to cast their votes on company premises had to make their way past large numbers of heavily-armed municipal, state and federal police, who were outnumbered only by a large contingent from the Frente Minero Nacional (SNMMDNGS), a rogue union supported by management. The one hundred or so members of the Frente bused in from different parts of the state occupied the highway and brandished sticks at workers arriving to vote until they were dispersed by the police. They also attempted to crowd out the observers at the gates of the compound. 

In the two-year struggle by workers to organize and bargain collectively, Excellon’s ‘no holds barred’ approach has included intimidation, the arbitrary dismissals of union leaders, interference in trade union affairs, the creation of parallel subsidiaries to disguise the employment relationship and the signing of ‘protection contracts’ with two puppet unions. Workers also reported that in the lead-up to the election they had been bribed and threatened to prevent them from voting for Los Mineros.

The dangerous working conditions at the mine which prompted the organizing effort were reflected in the fact that of the twenty-five or so workers interviewed by observers, one was missing an arm, two were on crutches, and two had their arms in plaster. 

Of a total of 123 votes cast in the election, El Frente secured 46 votes, Los Mineros obtained 45 votes and the Adolfo López Mateos union won 32 votes.

IndustriALL has pledged its continued support to the Los Mineros union in its efforts to defend the interests of workers at La Platosa.