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Wildcat Miners’ Strike In Mexico
M ore than a quarter of a million miners and steelworkers walked off the job between March 1-3 in wildcat strikes at 70 companies in at least 8 states from central to northern Mexico, virtually paralyzing the mining industry. While the strike has ended, there are reasons to believe that this could be the first act in an unfolding drama to challenge Mexican employers, corrupt “official” unions, and the conservative Mexican government.
The strike resulted from an attempt by the government to remove the union’s General Secretary Napleón Gómez Urrutia and replace him with Elías Morales Hernández, who was reportedly backed by the Grupo Mexico mining company. This coup d’état led miners to strike, insisting that the government recognize Gómez Urrutia. In many mining towns and cities they also marched and rallied, demanding not only the restitution of their leader but also safer conditions. The wildcat strike erupted little more than a week after a mining accident on February 19 in San Juan de las Sabinas that left 65 dead. The miners’ wildcat strike represents one of the largest industrial actions in recent Mexican history.
The strike by members of the National Union of Mining and Metallurgical Workers of Mexico resulted from both labor union issues and political causes. The explosion and cave-in at the Pasta de Conchos mine in San Juan de Las Sabinas, Coahuila in northern Mexico trapped 65 miners, all of whom died. Miners’ Union leader Gómez Urrutia blamed the employer, Grupo Mexico, calling the deaths “industrial homicide.” The Pasta de Conchos cave-in set off a storm:
- Throughout Mexico politicians, academics, intellectuals, and citizens criticized the mining company
- Grupo Mexico stock fell; copper and other commodity prices rose
- The Mexican Catholic Bishops Conference criticized the employer’s negligence and called for an international investigation, expressing their lack of confidence in the Mexican government
While miners throughout the country mourned the deaths and complained of health and safety conditions, there was no official or wildcat strike in the immediate aftermath of the accident.
On February 28 the Mexican secretary of labor announced that Gómez Urrutia was not actually the head of the union, but that the real general secretary was Elías Morales Hernández. The government’s action was based on part of Mexican labor law known as “taking note,” a process by which the government recognizes the legally elected officers of labor unions. Six years earlier Morales Hernández had appealed to the Secretary of Labor, arguing that he had actually been elected and should be the new head of the union. The government had rejected the appeal and in 2002 Secretary of Labor Carlos Abascal Carranza recognized Gómez Urrutia as the general secretary.
Why had the Mexican government suddenly opted to overturn its own earlier decision, recognize the dissident, and bring him out of retirement to assume leadership of the Miners Union? The answer has partly to do with the Miners Union and the recent accident, but just as much to do with the Congress of Labor (CT), the umbrella organization that brings together most of the largest Mexican labor federations and industrial unions.
In mid-February 2006 Miners Union leader Gómez Urrutia joined together with Isaías González, head of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, to challenge the election of Victor Flores Morales, head of the Mexican Railroad Workers Union, for control of the Congress of Labor. Gómez Urrutia was trying to position himself to become the top leader of the numerically most important Mex- ican labor organization.
His ambitions troubled many. The Congress of Labor, which brings together most of the “official” unions of Mexico, historically formed part of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the ruling party of Mexico. The CT had historically backed PRI’s candidates and policies. More recently the CT had worked out a modus viviendi with Mexican president Vicente Fox, collaborating with his National Action Party (PAN). Napoleón Gómez Urrutia’s attempt to take over the CT not only challenged Railroad Workers Union leader Victor Florez, but it also worried the PRI and PAN.
Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, on the other hand, seemed, from the government’s point of view, to be a loose cannon. In some ways this was odd as Gómez Urrutia had inherited the leadership of the mine from his father Napoleón Gómez Sada and both had been typical charros, that is, union bureaucrats loyal to the PRI. They had turned out the vote for the party, collaborated with the employers, and expelled union activists or leaders who opposed them or supported other political parties. Doing all of those things, they enjoyed the wealth, power, and privilege to which their loyalty entitled them.
Lately, however, Gómez Urrutia had begun to challenge both the employers and the Congress of Labor/PRI leadership. In June 2005 Mexican miners joined their compañeros in Peru and the United States as more than 10,000 miners carried out a simultaneous protest against Grupo Mexico to demand that the company stop violating workers’ rights. The three unions accused Grupo Mexico of having a policy of repression, exploitation and unwanted involvement in union affairs. The protest was organized by the United Steel Workers of America, the Federation of Metal Workers of Peru, and the National union of Miners and Metal Workers of Mexico. The international solidarity against the Mexican mining company was backed by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF).
In September 2005 the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union won a 46-day strike against 2 steel companies, in what may be one of the most important strikes in Mexico in a decade. The local union and its 2,400 members succeeded in winning an 8 percent wage gain, a 34 percent gain in new benefits, and a 7,250 peso one-time-only bonus.
T he Mexican Miners Union played a critical role in the union bloc that opposed the Fox administration’s labor law reform package. All of these actions threatened to upset the Mexican system of labor control by which the government’s labor authorities, the employers and the “official” unions of the CT collude to channel and suppress workers. When in February Gómez Urrutia made a bid to take over the CT, raising the prospect that he would lead labor struggles at a national level, the Fox government must have already been looking for a way to get rid of him. Then his remarks on Grupo Mexico’s “industrial homicide” made him persona non grata not only with the PRI, but also with the employers.
The struggle over the Congress of Labor and now over the Miners Union takes place at a crucial time. Mexico is in the midst of a national election campaign in which the conservative National Action Party’s candidate Felipe Calderón and the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate Roberto Madrazo are being challenged by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution. López Obrador is running on a populist platform calling for putting “the poor first.” He is leading in the polls and, while international bankers and Mexican industrialists have said they can live with him, some fear the poor make take his slogan seriously.
At the same time, Subcomandante Marcos, of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), has left the Lacandon Forest in Chiapas to organize the “other campaign”—an effort to organize anti-capitalist forces into a social movement with the power to overturn the government, call a constituent assembly, and write a new constitution for an egalitarian and (though Marcos hardly ever uses the word) a socialist Mexico.
Marcos has recently gone out of his way to speak to Mexican workers and union members, blue collar laborers in private industry, and white collar workers in government agencies, suggesting that they turn against their union leaders, bosses, and politicians. Most of the people Marcos speaks to—the poor, Indian communities, the unemployed— don’t have much economic leverage. Now the miners’ strike has shown what real economic power and political power could be.
The drama is not yet over. The Miners Union’s wildcat strike showed Mexican industrial workers taking center stage. Twice in the past there have been such strikes against the Mexican government: first in 1959 when the Mexican Railroad Workers Union called a nationwide strike and again in 1976 when Electrical Workers and their allies carried out a national strike. Both of those strikes were crushed by the Mexican government—the PRI’s previous one- party-state —using the army, police, and massive firings.
The Mexican government of that era had the power to carry out such military and police actions to put down a national labor walkout. The current Fox government, as demonstrated by six years of political failure, economic doldrums, and social disintegration, does not have the force to face down the labor movement, should it act. A number of movements with different political leaderships and goals—López Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution, Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, and Gómez Urrutia and the Miners Union—are aligning in ways that could turn Mexico upside down.
Whether that happens depends on three things: (1) whether or not the government continues to make mistakes that inadvertently advantage and encourage its enemies; (2) whether or not the leaders of these movements prove willing to and capable of setting broader forces in motion; and (3) whether or not workers, feeling and seeing their strength, move to build their own independent force.
Dan La Botz is author of several books on Mexican labor unions, movements, and politics. He edits Mexican Labor News and Analysi s, a publication of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) and the Authentic Labor Front (FAT).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.