Cananea: A town of strength, solidarity, and inspiration

May 4, 2010

At the top of the town of Cananea, with the afternoon sun beating down, the members, families, children, and supporters of the striking miners union gathered by the  hundreds for a rally and celebration to welcome us.

The reception was nothing short of amazing and humbling. After a three hour drive across the Arizona and Sonoran desert, the striking miners and their families, who have undergone so much hardship, gathered in droves at the mine entrance for a rally and celebration. The welcome was spectacular. Hundreds had already gathered in the beating sun, and with children playing and a stage erected and banners plastered to the walls of the mine’s offices, Los Mineros Section 65 welcomed the delegation with an honour band.

Miners' children played and jockeyed to have photos taken after the ceremony

The members of Los Mineros Section 65 have been on strike at Grupo Mexico’s Cananea Copper Mine for over 1,000 days. The hardscrabble, dusty town in Sonora not  have to deal with such hardship, especially in the face of skyrocketing world demand for copper, escalating copper prices, and workers in other countries being paid far more than these workers make. 

Cananea is the largest copper mine in Mexico, and Grupo Mexico has a lengthy list of abuses, major industrial disasters, and  worker repression. It is Grupo Mexico that committed what Los Mineros President Napoleon Gomez called “industrial homicide” at the Pasta de Conchos mine, and it was Grupo Mexico that subsequently pressured the Calderon government to lay trumped-up charges against Gomez, imprison Juan Linares, and drive Gomez into exile. Now, Grupo Mexico has forced these hard working miners to fight for a decent living and decent working conditions, and Grupo Mexico that is trying to break the union. 

N.Gomez addresses Cananea strikers by phone,held to the mic by USW's Steve Hunt[Above: USW District 3’s Steve Hunt and a members of the Los Mineros Executive hold a cell phone to the microphone so that Napoleon Gomez can speak to the hundreds of miners and their families assembled].

But the workers are very clearly fighting, and their expressions of strength and solidarity are something that Canadians can take hope and inspiration in,

The delegation that travelled today to Cananea included representatives from the USW, MoveUP, the ALF-CIO, and international organizations like the IMF and ILCU. MoveUP President Andy Ross was one of the speakers on stage, brining greetings from workers at COPE and pledging solidarity from workers across BC and Western Canada. Ken Geogetti, Ken Neumann, and Steve Hunt also brought greetings and pledges of solidarity, and Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleon Gomez spoke to the crowd by phone, with a microphone held against the speaker. The crowd broke out in spontaneous chants of support for their exiled leader, and to all appearances their unity, strength, and solidarity remains amazingly resolute.

The ceremony ended with another salute from the honour band and a banquet for the entire crowd. The Canadians were soon surrounded by dozens of children from the community, practicing their few words of English, asking for their pictures to be taken, and following the group and waving them goodbye. 

This visit was yet another highlight, and yet another emotional highlight, to a short visit to Mexico that has been inspirational and extraordinary. To witness the dedication and unity among so many people, and to see how appreciative they were at the mere token of our visit, illustrates concepts of solidarity and sisterhood/brotherhood and dedication to what you believe in, in ways that a trade unionist like me has never seen.

The struggles of workers in Mexico are indeed the same struggle of those of us in Canada and the rest of the world. When you stand beside them and witness their dedication, you see that their fights really are ours, and you see clearly and without doubt, that workers now as always need to stand together. We can learn so much from our sisters and brothers in Mexico and around the world, and their strength and their victories move our own ahead by leaps and bounds. At the same time, their defeats are sure to hurt us all even more.

Andy Ross speaking at the Cananea celebration[Right: MoveUP President Andy Ross speaks at the Cananea welcome and celebration rally. Ross brought greetings and pledges of solidarity from COPE]