Miners Protest Brutal Beatings

Against the Current, No. 147, July/August 2010

Dan La Botz

[The following report is abridged from the May/June 2010 issue of Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE). Editor Dan La Botz can be contacted at DanLaBotz@gmail.com. Sign up for a free emailed subscription at http://four.pairlist.net/mailman/listinfo/ue_international-update.].

FIVE THOUSAND MEMBERS of the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union and their families and other unions and social movements marched five kilometers May 24 to protest the brutal police beating of more than 20 union leaders and activists. The march ended at the port which serves the local steel mills in Lázaro Cárdenas, a steel mill city in the state of Michoacan, blocking it for two hours or more.

Miners are demanding that the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) be removed from the city, and calling for an end to their repeated human rights violations. The problems began May 23 when PFP officers arrested Mario García Ortiz, a special delegate of the Miners Union and the union’s alternate general secretary.

The reason for the arrest was not clear, although the Mexican government frequently brings criminal charges to inhibit union activities. The actual union secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia fled Mexico to avoid such charges and for three years has been leading the union from Vancouver, Canada.

The United Steel Workers and AFL-CIO have denounced the Mexican government’s four-year campaign to destroy the independent mineworkers’ union known as Los Mineros. Members of the union, who have been on strike since July 2007 at the Cananea mine in northern Mexico over health and safety, received a Troublemakers Award at the April Labor Notes conference. They are resolved to continue occupying the mine until a fair agreement is reached, but the government has threatened to use armed force to gain control of Cananea.

ATC 147, July-August 2010

Press reports differ, but it appears that after the police arrested García Ortiz, they took him to the De La Curva hotel, which has been serving as base of operations for the PFP. When other union members learned where García Ortiz was being held, they went to the hotel. The PFP reportedly released García Ortiz to the Miners Union delegation, but then began firing guns over their heads and at their feet.

When the miners threw themselves to the ground, the police waded in and began beating them. Police claim the workers threw projectiles at them, a charge the union denies. Police brutally beat 20 miners, leading to the hospitalization of García Ortiz and three others, Manual Hidalgo, Joaquin Jaimez and Fredy Espino. Beaten on the face, García Ortiz was said to be in critical condition and it was feared he might lose an eye.

This is not the first time the police have attacked and harmed Mexican Mine and Metal Workers Union members. On April 20, 2006 in an attempt to break a strike at the SICARTSA steel mill in Lázaro Cárdenas, police shot and killed two workers, gravely injuring five and wounding over 40 others.

The Miners and Metal Workers Union has been the most successful in the country in winning wage increases above the norm. The most recent attack forms part of a larger attack on the union that began with the election of president Felipe Calderón, whose administration, working closely with Mexico’s largest mining company Grupo Mexico, has attempted to break the power of the independent-minded and militant union. The Obama administration, despite U.S. trade union appeals to take up the issues of human rights and labor violations in Mexico, has provided another $346 million in equipment for the Mexican military and police.