THE United Steelworkers (USW) union has called on the Canadian government to intervene after violence flared last Saturday in a labour dispute at a Guerrero, Mexico, mine, leaving two striking workers dead.
Armed civilians calling themselves the Tonalapa community police killed the workers, who are among about 800 employees of the Canadian-owned El Limón-Guajes mine who went on strike three weeks ago.
The workers are affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) as a result of a deal with the mine’s owner, Torex Gold Resources. But they are demanding the right to join the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers, known as Los Mineros. Their demands also include improved working conditions and an annual bonus.
The strike and last Saturday’s murders have drawn international attention, particularly from the United Steelworkers (USW), which said the killings underscore the repression of labour rights in Mexico – even when the employer is Canadian, the United Steelworkers (USW) said.
‘On Saturday, November 18 – four days after the Canadian government was warned of the potential for such violence – an armed group murdered two striking workers from the Canadian-owned Media Luna gold mine in the state of Guerrero,’ said Ken Neumann, the USW’s National Director for Canada.
‘The root of these brutal murders is the widespread repression of labour rights in Mexico – including by Canadian companies,’ Neumann said. We are once again urging the Canadian government to intervene with Mexican authorities and the company to recognise the basic rights of Mexican workers and prevent further violence. The Mexican government and this Canadian company must ensure this conflict is resolved without further bloodshed.’
The Media Luna mine is owned by Canada’s Torex Gold Resources. The company’s President, CEO and founder is Fred Stanford, a longtime Canadian mining executive and former president of nickel miner Vale’s Ontario operations.
USW said: ‘Like many foreign companies operating in Mexico, Torex reached a deal with one of Mexico’s notorious “protection unions” that don’t legitimately represent workers. It is common for foreign companies to sign agreements with Mexican protection unions – even before the company begins operating – without the input or knowledge of affected workers.
‘Even long after they’ve been hired, workers often have no idea they actually belong to a union.
‘Such employer protection contracts are illegal in Canada and the US because they violate the most basic rights of citizens. But they remain common in Mexico despite a recent reform of the Mexican Constitution that is supposed to outlaw such corrupt practices.
‘In the case of Torex Gold’s Media Luna mine, the company struck a deal with Mexico’s largest confederation of protection unions, the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM). However, in early November workers at the mine went on strike to demand their rights to join a legitimate, democratic union that will defend their interests.
‘They demanded the right to a vote to join a legitimate, democratic union – the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic, known as Los Mineros, led by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. The striking Media Luna miners are supported by local communities, which also have raised troubling issues regarding the impact of the Torex operations.
‘On November 13, scores of armed police forces arrived at the mine, taking over the site. The prospect of violence prompted a telephone conversation three days later between Stanford, the Torex CEO, and Gomez, the Los Mineros union leader. Stanford made a commitment to resolve the conflict peacefully, Los Mineros officials say.
‘But on the night of November 18, an armed group affiliated with the CTM attacked the Media Luna strikers at a roadblock the workers had set up near the mine. Two brothers, Víctor and Marcelino Sahuanitla Peña, were killed. Los Mineros issued a news release stating that it “holds responsible for this perverse and cowardly aggression the company, the CTM,” as well as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his government.
‘The striking workers reported that Mexican armed forces briefly detained the attackers, but released them shortly afterwards, Los Mineros says. The union also alleges that the armed attackers are linked to the same group responsible for the kidnapping and murders of 43 university students in Guerrero state in 2014.’
‘The United Steelworkers supports the workers of the Media Lune mine in their struggle against the violent repression of their most basic rights,’ Neumann said. Mexican authorities must conduct an aggressive and authentic investigation of the murders of these two workers and prosecute all those responsible,’ he said.
‘The Mexican and Canadian governments must intervene to ensure the security of the striking miners at this Canadian-owned mine. In view of the violence, the Mexican authorities and the company must immediately recognise Los Mineros as the legitimate bargaining agent and representative of these workers.’
Neumann cited the Canadian government’s claims that it wants to see labour standards in a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that improve wages and working conditions for Mexican workers. As NAFTA renegotiations shift to Mexico this week, this is an opportune moment for the Canadian government to back up its words with meaningful action,’ he said.
Governor Héctor Astudillo has expressed his concern over the strike and its impact on the state’s economy. While lamenting the workers’ situation, he said there are more than just 800 people affected because ‘over 10,000 people’ have an indirect economic relationship with the mine and its activities.
A conflict such as this chases away investment, the governor said. Since the conflict is labour-related it is outside the jurisdiction of his administration, he said, but nonetheless, ‘it is doing too much damage.’ The El Limón-Guajes mine is located near the town of Real de Limón and is part of Torex’s Morelos Gold Property, in the Guerrero Gold Belt.