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The News Line: Feature Mexican trade unions confronted by armed police WORKERS attempting to hold a free and democratic unionisation vote at a Mexican silver mine owned by Canadian mining company Excellon Resources were confronted by heavily armed police and goons from a company-controlled union.

As workers at Excellon’s La Platosa Mine in Durango, Mexico, attempted to cast their unionisation votes on the morning of July 5, Excellon allowed four trucks of state police – armed with combat rifles – onto the property, human rights and labour observers reported.

Labour and civil society groups were watching the vote closely, given the history of systematic labour and human rights violations affecting the La Platosa Mine workers and the surrounding community.

‘There must be about two dozen heavily armed state police at the mine site right now,’ reported Ben Davis of the United Steelworkers, one of the observers of the union vote.

After the state police arrived, several dozen men, who appear to be members of a company-controlled union, began intimidating workers.

‘There are now close to 100 of these guys, some carrying sticks, and we just got a report they are blocking the road to keep the second shift of workers from coming in to vote,’ Davis said.

Mexican federal police, also heavily armed, arrived at the mine site shortly before noon (Eastern time), Davis said.

The workers at Excellon’s La Platosa Mine are voting to select a union to represent them and administer a collective bargaining agreement with Excellon subsidiary Servicios Mineros San Pedro S.A. de C.V.

Three unions are on the ballot for today’s vote, including Section 309 of Mexico’s National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers, or Los Mineros. The other two organisations are regarded by labour experts in Canada and the US as company-controlled unions.

Since the mineworkers affiliated to Los Mineros in 2010, they have suffered oppression, intimidation and unfair dismissals intended to stop the organising process and prevent true union representation that would defend their rights.

Section 309 of Los Mineros held a legal work stoppage at the La Platosa Mine on July 23, 2011, to try to force the company to sign a contract.

On August 18, 2011, in the presence of Durango state government officials, Excellon agreed to recognise the existence of the union and to sign a contract. Despite this agreement, the company then signed a contract with the ‘Adolfo Lopez Mateos’ union, regarded as a company union, without the knowledge of mine workers.

North American labour and civil society groups will be watching closely to see if Canadian mining company Excellon Resources allows workers at its silver mine in Mexico to have a free and democratic vote to join a union.

The vote took place within a context of systematic labour and human rights violations affecting the La Platosa Mine workers and the surrounding community.

Since they affiliated to Mexico’s National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers (Los Mineros) in 2010, the workers have suffered oppression, intimidation and unfair dismissals intended to stop the organising process and prevent true union representation that would defend their rights.

The La Platosa workers are supported by Canadian unions, including the United Steelworkers (USW) and the Canadian Labour Congress.

They also are supported by human rights organisations including Mining Watch and the Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC), a Mexican human rights group that has organized an international group of observers to monitor today’s vote.

‘The United Steelworkers called on Excellon to allow a free and fair vote,’ said USW Canadian National Director Ken Neumann.

‘Since Excellon began operations at La Platosa, workers have been denied fair wages, profit sharing and life insurance,’ Neumann said.

‘They have worked in conditions that affect their health and put their lives at risk. Workers who have challenged these abuses have been unlawfully fired. It’s time to put a stop to these abuses.’

Workers and communal landowners from La Platosa travelled to Canada in May, speaking at Excellon’s shareholders’ meeting and filing a complaint against the company with Canadian authorities under the Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

‘Because Excellon is a Canadian company, our government has a special responsibility to ensure that it does not interfere with its workers’ rights to organise and to democratically choose their representatives,’ said Neumann.

Yesterday, the President of the Durango Conciliation and Arbitration Board, which oversaw the election, blocked an effort by one of the company unions to cancel the vote. The Board also rejected an attempt by Excellon to have the vote take place inside the mine.

‘This is the first union election in Mexico since the country’s presidential vote last Sunday,’ noted Ken Neumann.

‘This vote will tell us whether Mexico is moving forward to allow democratic unions or returning to the corruption of the past.’

Section 309 of Los Mineros held a legal work stoppage at the La Platosa Mine on July 23, 2011, to try to force the company to sign a contract.

On August 18, 2011, in the presence of Durango state government officials, Excellon agreed to recognise the existence of the union and to sign a contract.

Despite this agreement, the company then signed a contract with the ‘Adolfo Lopez Mateos’ union, regarded as a company union, without the knowledge of mine workers.

• The result of the election was announced on Friday July 6. Los Mineros lost the election by one vote to the two company-supported unions after intimidation and irregularities.
 
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