February 2008   

Police Takeover Fails – Miners Resist

  • For a National Strike Against Calderón's Starvation Programs!
  • Down with the PRI, PAN and PRD, Parties of the Bourgeoisie!
  • Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!

The following is a translation of a leaflet distributed in the northern Mexican mining center of Cananea, Sonora on February 2 along with the accompanying article, “Cananea: A Century of Internationalist Class Struggle.”  (Title photo: Guillermo Arías/AP)
En español:
México: ¡Cananea no debe estar sola! (1° de febrero de 2008)

FEBRUARY 1 – Once again the Mexican government of Felipe Calderón has run aground on the firm and determined resistance of the battle-hardened miners of Cananea. Some 1,000 federal and state police, the latter dispatched by Sonora governor Eduardo Bours, couldn’t handle the 1,300 workers who have shut down the largest copper mine in Latin America since last July 30. The advertised hundreds of scabs went up in smoke, and the few who offered to help break the strike quickly abandoned the empty mine. Felipe had better watch out or he could end up shipwrecked on the high desert of Sonora!

Shortly before noon on January 11, Mexico’s Federal Mediation and Arbitration Board (JFCyA, by its initials in Spanish) declared the six-month-old strike of the Sonoran copper miners “non-existent.” Hours earlier, an occupation army arrived in town on board a caravan of 80 vehicles. Within minutes of the announcement of the Board ruling, the repressive forces flooded the streets of Cananea, heading for the mine occupied by the strikers for the last 165 days. In the ensuing skirmishing, at least 50 people were injured, including strikers’ wives and children.

Cananea miners at special meting, January 12, shout their defiance of labor board order declaring their strike “non-existent.” (Photo: Guillermo Arias/AP Photo)

Even faced with this assault troop, the miners did not surrender and instead of giving up they put up a stubborn resistance. In an article from Cananea, journalists Felipe Larios and Fernando Gutiérrez reported in the Hermosillo, Sonora daily Dossier Político (14 January) that “About 600 out of the 1,287 evicted strikers managed to regroup and attacked the police officers guarding the mine, peppering them with metal pellets and Molotov cocktails [bottles filled with gasoline], as well as burning several vehicles and damaging company facilities, later gathering in front of the mayor’s office to demand that the police withdraw from the mine.”

The next day, January 12, hundreds of miners held a special assembly in the mine where they shouted their determination to keep on fighting. They heard from Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the exiled leader of the mineworker organization, speaking by videoconference from Canada, who called for an end to the repression and “urged the workers’ ranks to take back the facilities and once again raise the red-and-black flag” [that traditionally announces a strike in Mexico].

The assembly also received a call from an emergency picket outside the Mexican consulate in New York, organized by the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. Some 20 demonstrators shouted, “Army out, police out, long live the miners strike!” and “Workers struggle knows no borders.” The protest included trade-unionists from the UFT (public school teachers), PSC (City University faculty) and Teamsters.

Speaking with Sergio Tolano, head of the mine workers Local 65, one of the demonstrators commented: “Here in New York, after the brutal police attack in Oaxaca in 2006, we pay close attention to the repressive actions of the Mexican government.” An organizer of the protest added, “The Cananea strike of 1906 was a joint action of Mexican and American workers. Today we are again urging the U.S. labor movement to show active workers solidarity in support of the Cananea miners.”

The protesters also called for citizenship rights for immigrant workers in the face of the raids by the immigration police. At the same time as the Cananea miners were facing cops armed for war, on the other side of the border, Latin American immigrants in Arizona are targeted by a new law against undocumented workers while the hooded fascists of the Ku Klux Klan openly parade in the streets.

Reports of the NYC protest were published in an article with a photo in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa, that was picked up by El Imparcial in Hermosillo, the state capital of Sonora. A news report was also printed in Dossier Político, and a photo of the New York picket line was prominently featured in La Jornada in Mexico City.

Struggle Against Attacks by the Bosses and Their Government

Sonora state police occupying Cananea copper mine in January.

(Photo: Dossier Político [Hermosillo])

The miners are fighting against the terrible safety conditions in the mines and crushing plant. The facilities have sharply deteriorated since the mine was privatized in 1990. Delegations of American unionists, particularly Steel Workers from Arizona, have visited the mine, as they did during previous strikes.

The Mexican government has repeatedly used the corporatist labor laws, modeled on the labor code of Mussolini’s fascist Italy, in order to outlaw the miners’ strike. Even though the courts have issued injunctions against the rulings of the JFCyA, the state and federal governments have decided in favor of the iron fist of repression.

Conditions in the Cananea plant are so notorious that an international team of doctors and industrial safety experts which visited the struck plant in October reported they found a “clear picture of a work-place being ‘deliberately run into the ground’.” The mine is part of the Grupo México, owned by billionaire Germán Larrea, who also owns the coal mine at Pasta de Conchos, where 65 miners were buried alive in February 2006.

Another grounds for the strike is to resist the attempts by the Calderón government to impose a company union, both locally and nationally. But this attempt has run up against the militancy of the Cananea miners, who have gone on strike almost every year since 1999, even when they have been stabbed in the back by their national mineworker organization.

Cananea miners faced the full force of militarized state and federal police armed for war. (Photo: El Imparcial/Hermosillo)

In December, a delegation of the Union of Workers of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (SITUAM) traveled from Mexico City to show their solidarity with the Cananea miners. They brought with them a symbolic donation of $500 in food and an enormous banner announcing their “fraternal greetings” to the “worthy strike of the miners of Cananea.”

In a declaration implementing a resolution of the 39th Special General Congress of the SITUAM, they proclaimed: “We recognize that the Cananea strike needs immediate and unconditional support in order to resist the attacks of the murderous bosses of Grupo México.” The declaration called on the organized workers movement “to join together to show their solidarity with this important miners strike, as well as the felt demand for the recovery of the bodies of the miners who were murdered in Pasta de Conchos last year” (Dossier Político, 19 December 2007).

Inside SITUAM, supporters of the Proletarian Struggle Committee (CLP), linked to the Grupo Internacionalista/Mexico, have been working since August to mobilize the union in support of the miners strike. At this moment, the union at the Metropolitan University is deciding whether to go on strike over its own contract [SITUAM went out on strike on the afternoon of February 1], as contracts in various unions in and around Mexico City are up this month. The CLP is calling for a joint strike by all university workers unions in the region, as well as for a national strike mobilization against the Calderón government.

Forge a Class-Struggle, Revolutionary Leadership

For now, an injunction granted by a federal court has annulled the second declaration of “non-existence” of the Cananea strike by the federal Labor Secretariat. But behind this ruling stands the will to struggle of the miners, who wouldn’t let themselves be intimidated during five months of supposed non-existence of their strike. Their strike has such a forceful existence  that the owner, Grupo México, complains of losing $3.5 million a day due to the stopped production.

Still, there is an indisputable fact: the Cananea miners are fighting almost entirely on their own. On strike together with Local 65 of the Union of Mineworkers, Metalworkers and Allied Trades (SNTMMSRM, by its initials in Spanish) are only Local 201 in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, and the silver miners of Local 17 in Taxco, Guerrero (where the bosses have recently threatened to close the mine). On January 15, there was an eight-hour strike by something over 20,000 miners protesting the police assault in Cananea. But much more is needed in order to land a solid blow against the bosses and their government which are acting in tandem against the miners.

A big national strike of the entire Mexican mining industry is urgently needed, extending to steel production and all parts of the Grupo México conglomerate, including railroads. At the same time, since the government/management attack on the miners is the lead of a general assault on the Mexican working class, both at the legal level (the threatened “reform” of the Federal Labor Law) and economically (the brutal price hikes for basic products due to the gasolinazo [the sharp increase in gasoline prices that went into effect January 6] and other anti-worker measures), a national strike against the starvation and repression policies of the government is needed.

Nevertheless, and despite the attacks of the Labor Secretariat against STMMSRM chief Gómez Urrutia, the leadership of the corporatist labor organization has scrupulously followed Mexico’s corporatist labor laws. For their part, the reputedly “independent” unions of the National Workers Union (UNT) and Mexican Labor Front (FSM) have not lifted a finger to solidarize in action with the Cananea strikers. In 2006 as well, the UNT and FSM let the teachers, workers and Indians of Oaxaca go it alone for more than six months against the government of the murderer Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

The “unions” of the CT, CTM, CROC, CROM and other corporatist federations embedded in the state apparatus acted for long decades as labor police for the state-party regime of the PRI-government (Institutional Revolutionary Party), in order to head off the formation of genuine workers unions. Today they continue their “institutional” support for the PAN. The “independents,” on the other hand, are politically tied to the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), a bourgeois populist-nationalist party. While the latter denounce “neo-liberalism,” they obey the rules of capitalism. And all these capitalist parties (along with their satellites) are co-responsible for the massacres of workers, teachers, peasants and students in recent years.

In Oaxaca, Atenco, Lázaro Cárdenas and now again in Cananea, the workers have put up a tenacious resistance against the deadly ruling-class attack. However, it has not gone beyond this. They’re stuck in endless resistance when there should be a struggle for power. For that, what’s needed is a class-struggle leadership of the unions that has broken all ties to the bourgeois state and parties, and the building of a revolutionary workers party armed with an internationalist program.

See also: New York Picket Protests Repression Against Mexican Miners  (11 January 2008)
Mexican Miners Strike for Safety  (15 December 2007)
               Cananea: A Century of Internationalist Class Struggle (December 2008)

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com