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It’s deja vu, all over again

8 June 2010

Another military strike against a dissident, independent union, carried out in the dead of night, with the government claiming it was a peaceful operation, and the union telling a different story:

The Interior Secretariat informed public opinion that on Sunday public security forces peacefully took over the Cananea mine in Sonora, to put an end to a miners strike that had been going on since July 2007, and which the Labor Secretariat had declared illegal in January 2008… The secretariat said that no one was hurt in the operation and that it was legally backed, by the Federal and State Public Prosecutor’s Offices.

++ But miners had another story to tell. A spokesman for the miners, Antonio Navarrete, said that the federal police raid at the Cananea mine left two miners wounded with bullet wounds, two miners went missing and children and women were also hurt in the melee.

SDPNoticias reports that outside thugs (“porros”) were also brought in to attack the dissident miners.

The Cananea strike is a bit complicated, having gone on for such a long time (the strike issues, being — as they were in the 1906 Cananea strike — miner health and safety concerns).  In January 2008, the arbitration board (JFCyA for its initials in Spanish) declared the strike “non-existent” as a caravan of scab replacement workers were brought in, with a thousand state and federal police officers as protection.

The Union General Secretary, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, not atypical for a contemporary Mexican union leader, was never a worker, but inherited his job from his father. Gómez Urritia is an Oxford educated economist, whose tenure was marked by several strikes (there were few strikes under his father’s long reign) did not endear him to management, nor to the present administration. Indicted for supposedly pocketing management contributions to the union funds, Gómez Urrutia fled to Canada and sought political asylum. The government has been trying to force the union to accept a new election, which the Cananea miners rejected, along with proposed settlements.

In April, the Supreme Court declared the strike illegal, and sided with the owner, Southern Copper Company and Grupo Mexico.

The same claims of union corruption and economic disruption were made when the SME (the electrical workers’ union) was dissolved following the forced merger  (at bayonet-point) of Luz y Fuerza del Centro (the union-managed Mexico City area electric company) with the CFE (the state run electrical provider). While in both cases, a good argument can be made that operational inefficiencies and union corruption existed, the counter-argument, that such problems also exist in pro-government unions (such as SNTE, the main teachers’ union), but are less subject to be put down by armed intervention.

While largely out of sight, out of mind, in the Sonoran desert, Cananea looms large in Mexican history. The 1906 strike, which was put down with U.S. imported “Arizona Rangers” brought in to massacre strikers and their families after a riot in the mining town, is credited with turning the northern workers and much of the elites against the Diáz government, and towards considering a revolutionary solution to the problem of foreign ownership in the extractive industries.

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