[Marxism] Fw:MexLaborNews,Miners' Strike in Mexico,Mar 04

Louis R Godena louisgodena at ids.net
Wed Mar 8 14:27:36 MST 2006


Nationwide, Wildcat Miners' Strike in Mexico
by Dan La Botz - Mexican Labor News and Analysis Saturday, Mar 4 2006,
9:25pm
DanLaBotz at cs.com address: 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220 phone:
513-861-8722
north america / mexico / workplace struggles / news report
 
 The First Act
 
 More 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
eight 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 that could
challenge Mexican employers, the corrupt "official" unions, and the
conservative Mexican government. Stay in your seats, the play has only
begun.
 
 The strike resulted from an attempt by the government to remove the
Mexican Miners Union's top officer, general secretary Napleo'n Go'mez
Urrutia, and replace him with Eli'as Morales Herna'ndez, a union dissident
who is reportedly backed by the Grupo Mexico mining company. The coup
d'e'tat in their union led miners to strike insisting that the government
recognize Go'mez 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, an event with few precedents since the
workers insurgency (la insurgencia obrera) late 1960s and early 1970s.
While the strike has ended, at least temporarily, it has shaken the mining
industry, the labor establishment and the government, and it could
reignite and possibly spread to other sectors of the labor movement,
possibly shaking the entire society.

The Union Issue: The Pasta de Conchos Accident
 
 The strike by members of the National Union of Mining and Metallurgical
Workers of Mexico (SNTMMRM) 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 are presumed dead (their bodies have not yet been recovered).
The Miners Union leader, Go'mez 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 ordinary people criticized the
mining company. The 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 death of their brothers
and complained of health and safety conditions in their own mines, there
was no official or wildcat strike in the immediate aftermath of the
accident.
 
 The Political Issue: The Ousting of Go'mez Urrutia
 
 Then, on February 28 the Mexican Secretary of Labor announced that Go'mez
Urrutia was not actually the head of the union, but that the real general
secretary was Eli'as Morales Herna'ndez. The government's action was based
on part of Mexican labor law known as "taking note" (toma de nota), a
process by which the government recognizes the legally elected officers of
labor unions. Six years earlier Morales Herna'ndez 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 by
Morales Herna'ndez and in 2002 Secretary of Labor Carlos Abascal Carranza
recognized Go'mez 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.
 
The Official Labor Movement in Crisis
 
 In mid-February 2006 Miners Union leader Go'mez Urrutia joined together
with Isai'as Gonza'lez, head of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers
and Peasants (CROC), to challenge the election of Victor Flores Morales,
head of the Mexican Railroad Workers Union (STFRM), for control of the
Congress of Labor. Go'mez Urrutia was trying to position himself to become
the top leader of the numerically most important Mexican labor
organization.
 
 His ambitions troubled many. The Congress of Labor (CT), 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 the PRI's candidates, supported the
PRI's policies, and served in the Mexican Congress as PRI senators and
congressmen. More recently the CT had worked out a modus viviendi with
Mexican president Vicente Fox, collaborating with his National Action
Party (PAN). Napoleo'n Go'mez Urrutia's attempt to take over the CT, not
only challenged Railroad Workers Union leader Victor Florez, it all
worried the PRI and PAN.

Rival Leaders
 
Victor Flores had been the ideal labor union leader of both PRI and PAN
governments. He had worked closely with the government to carry out the
privatization of the Mexican railroads, leading to their sale to the Union
Pacific and the Kansas City railroads. When rank-and-file railroad workers
had protested, Victor Flores had cooperated with the government to have
them fired easy enough with some 100,000 railroad workers losing their
jobs in the privatization and if that did not work he had sent his thugs
to beat them and threaten them with murder. While somewhat volatile as a
PRI Congressman Victor Flores had once tried to strangle another
representative who was loyal to the government's program of neoliberalism.
 
 Napoleo'n Go'mez Urrutia, on the other hand, seemed, from the government's
point of view, to be becoming a loose canon. In some ways this was odd.
Go'mez Urrutia had inherited the leadership of the mine from his father
Napoleo'n Go'mez Sada, and both had been typical charros, that is, union
bureaucrats absolutely loyal to the PRI. They had turned out the vote for
the party, collaborated with the employers, and had 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.
 
 The Miners Union in Struggle
 
 Lately, however Go'mez Urrutia had begun to challenge both the employers
and the Congress of Labor/PRI leadership. In June 2005, Mexican miners
joined their compa~eros 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 (USWA) in the United States, the Federation of
Metal Workers of Peru (FETIMAP), and the National union of Miners and
Metal Workers (SNTMM) of Mexico. The international solidarity against the
Mexican mining company was backed by the International Metalworkers
Federation (IMF).
 
 Then in September 2005, Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union won a
46-day strike against two steel companies in La'zaro Ca'rdenas, Michoacan,
in what may be one of the most important strikes in Mexico a decade. The
local union and its 2,400 members succeeded in winning an 8 percent wage
gain, 34 percent in new benefits, and a 7,250 peso one-time only bonus.
 
The Mexican Miners Union also indicated the ability to impact domestic
politics. The Miners Union played a critical role in helping to lead 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 governmental labor authorities, the employers, and
the "official" unions of the CT collude to channel and suppress workers.
Then in February Go'mez Urrutia made a bid to take over the CT, raising the
prospect that he would lead labor struggles at a national level. Clearly
at that point 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 Larger Context
 
 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 Caldero'n and the Institutional Revolutionary Party's
candidate Roberto Madrazo are being challenged by Andre's Manuel Lo'pez
Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution. Lo'pez
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...

...The drama is not yet over. The Miners Union's nationwide wildcat strike
showed Mexican industrial workers' taking center stage for the first time
in decades. 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 in the Democratic Tendency carried out a national strike.
Both of those strikes were crushed by the Mexican government the PRI's
one-party-state using the army, police and massive firings.
 
 The Mexican government of that era, the era of the PRI, had the political
and social power to carry out such military and police actions to put down
a national labor walkout. The 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 Lo'pez Obrador
and the Party of the Democratic Revolution, Subcomandante Marcos and the
Zapatistas, and Go'mez Urrutia and the Miners Union appear to be aligning
in ways that could turn Mexico upside down.
 
 The Next Act
 
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; 3)
whether or not workers, feeling and seeing their strength, move to build
their own independent force. Stay in your seats, the curtain is rising.
 ______________
> *Dan La Botz is the author of several books on Mexican labor unions,
> social movements and politics. He also edits Mexican Labor News and
> Analysis, a publication of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) and
> the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), at: http://www.ueinternational.org/






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