An Emotional Welcome at Los Mineros Convention, Mexico City
Personal Blog: MoveUP Communications Director Mike Bruce
MoveUP President Andy Ross and Communications Director Mike Bruce joined an international delegation on stage at the 36th General Convention of the Mexican mineworkers union Los Mineros today.
Treated as honoured guests, the delegation was welcomed on the main stage of the convention to a chorus of cheers, chants, and slogans from the membership. The standing-room only crowd was joined not only by the Canadian delegation, but by Mexican politicians, labour leaders from other independent Mexican unions, representatives of unions throughout Latin America, the AFL-CIO, USW, ICEM, and international labour organizations.
Also in attendance were observers from the US and Canadian embassies. Members chanted with enthusiasm not often seen at Canadian union conventions, sometimes for minutes on end. Everything from “The workers, together, will never be defeated” to “The miners are with you,” pledges of solidarity to the SME, to raucously enthusiastic greetings to Napoleon Gomez and his wife Oreillia via video link, with hundreds of fists raised in the air.
Los Mineros has been under siege for several years, ever since their president Napoleon Gomez called a tragic accident at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine “industrial homicide” when over seventy workers were killed. Grupo Mexico, the mining company with ties deep within the right-wing administration of President Calderon, then worked closely with the Fox and Calderon governments to move against Napoleon and Los Mineros. Gomez was accused of embezzlement and stealing millions of dollars from Los Mineros, and the union’s assets were seized.
Faced with scurrilous charges and numerous death threats, Napoleon was forced to flee to the US and later to Canada as it was feared the government of George W Bush might extradite him. He continues to live in Vancouver and run Los Mineros from exile with the support and protection of the United Steelworkers, and solidarity from many other unions. Several of the charges against Gomez have been thrown out, while the claims of embezzling funds have been shown to be lies after an independent audit demonstrated no abnormalities with the union’s finances. However, Gomez remains unable to return to Mexico, to see his children, or to travel outside of Canada as several federal charges remain, despite being dismissed at lower levels. In addition, Gomez continues to receive death threats in Vancouver, and has been followed. Accordingly, Napoleon and his wife have often required police protection.
As for Los Metallos, the government has attempted to appoint an alternate puppet president of a parallel union. However, Napoleon has been re-elected unanimously six times by his membership, and support in Los Mineros is widespread. This was clearly on display at the Convention today, where his appearance on video screens was met with exuberant chants of “Napo! Napo!” and the delegates sat at rapt attention when he gave his address, despite the stiflingly hot, airless atmosphere inside the union hall.
Delegates also heard from CLC President Ken Georgetti who brought greeting of solidarity from Canadian workers and also noted that the actions taken by Canadians, workers, and unions could escalate to exert more pressure on the Mexican government if conditions didn’t soon improve. This could include calling for a union boycott of Mexican products or a tourism boycott by workers. USW Canadian Chair Ken Neumann also addressed the crowd, pledging further support and solidarity, and the continuation of standing shoulder to shoulder with Los Mineros.
Several other speeches were made by both international guests and Los Mineros members, with the constant interruption of spontaneous chants of solidarity, strength and unity by the members.
For me personally, this was a day of immense pride and emotion. The opportunity to join these struggling workers who have to fight just for the right to be in their union, was both sobering and inspirational. To be ushered on stage and introduced by the Chair, and to have the opportunity to stand at the front of hundreds of men and women and raise my fist in solidarity, was an emotional experience that I will never forget.
Similarly, to have Napoleon Gomez, who is nothing short of a hero, greet Andy and I personally via his video link from Vancouver and call us his companero and his friends also brought feelings of immense pride and honour. It was an absolute honour just to be present and stand shoulder to shoulder with these workers who have to struggle so much more than their sisters and brothers in Canada. Beyond this, to see just how much individuals appreciated our solidarity and our presence, to shake so many hands that simply said “gracias” and to hug so many burly, hardened miners who were so happy just to know the extent of solidarity and support that they have in places as far away as Canada, was truly humbling. I felt that simply attending and showing support was such a small gesture, but it very clearly meant so very much to the workers, and I hope that myself, my brothers and sisters in MoveUP and the USW, will continue to voice this solidarity, back it with action, and make sure that these workers and all others will one day be able to work, organize, and bargain in Mexico without the threats of violence or dismissal. Similarly, the hope that one day these workers and their families, neighbours, and companieros will be able to go to work without having to fear for their health and safety is something that all workers across the world should support and strive for.
As I type this, Andy Ross is with Steve Hunt, Georgetti, Neuman, and several others en route to the prison where Los Mineros activist Juan Lineras (read about the 2009 visit to Lineras here) is being held, in spite of numerous orders to release him. The delegation plans to visit Lineras in the prison and remind him that many of us in Canada, the US, and Mexico are continuing to fight for his release and absolution from all charges.
An update on the prison visit will be posted once our delegation returns.