Mexican Mine Workers Protest Brutal Beating of 20 Union Leaders and Activists
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 be removed from the city and calling for an end to their repeated human rights violations.
The problems began when PFP officers arrested Mario García Ortiz, a special delegate of the Miners Union and the union’s alternate general secretary. The reason for García Ortiz’s arrest was not clear, though criminal charges have been brought against him in the past.
The Mexican government frequently brings bogus criminal charges against union officials in order to inhibit their union activities. The actual general secretary, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, fled Mexico to avoid criminal charges and has for three years been leading the union from Vancouver, Canada.
Police Beatings Put Workers in Hospital
Press reports differ, but it appears that after police arrested García Ortiz, they took him to the De La Curva Hotel, which has been serving as the base of operations for the PFP. When other Miners Union members learned where García Ortiz was being held, they went to the hotel to investigate in the hope of freeing him.
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, Manuel Hidalgo, Joaquín Jaimez, and Fredy Espino. García Ortiz, who was beaten on his face, is said to be in critical condition and it is feared that he might lose an eye.
After learning of the police attack, the union stopped work at the ArcelorMittal steel mill and called for the protest demonstration.
This is not the first time 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.
Since mid-May the Mine and Metal Workers Union has been in the process of negotiating a new contract. The union was seeking a 25 percent wage increase. The Miners and Metal Workers Union has been the most successful in the country in winning wage increases above the norm.
Part of a Larger Struggle
The most recent attack on the Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union forms part of a larger attack on the union that began with the election of President Felipe Calderón. Calderon’s administration, working closely with Mexico’s largest mining company, Grupo Mexico, has attempted to break the power of this independent-minded and militant union.
Calderón visited President Barack Obama in the White House last week, and Obama promised to continue to support the Mexican President and his war on drugs, which has taken 23,000 lives. Though the AFL-CIO and other unions had called upon the Democratic Party leadership in Congress and on Obama to take up the issue of human rights and labor rights violations in Mexico, the administration provided another $346 million in equipment for the Mexican military and police.