AFL-CIO Executive Council statement
Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, the democratically elected president of Mexico’s National Miners, Metallurgical and Steelworkers Union, known as Los Mineros, and a leader of the independent union movement for workers’ rights in Mexico, was illegally ousted from office by the Mexican government in 2005, in violation of the union’s constitution and without filing court charges against him for any alleged violation of law.
Concerned with his security—and with that of his family—Mr. Gomez has been living in exile ever since, first in the U.S. and subsequently in Canada, with support from the United Steelworkers.
Under Napoleon Gomez’s leadership, Los Mineros opposed so-called labor “reforms” pushed by the administration of former Mexican president Vicente Fox. He and his union’s members not only refused to support these measures, they led the fight to defeat such reactionary steps as eliminating the right to strike, exonerating company owners of responsibility for firing employees and imposing flexibility in working hours that would have promoted more temporary work.
His successful leadership in defense of workers’ rights won Mr. Gomez the enduring enmity of the Fox administration and its corporate allies. The establishment’s fierce antagonism toward his success was gravely exacerbated when a mine disaster in which 65 miners that Mr. Gomez represented were killed at Pasta de Concha, a mine owned by Grupo Mexico. When the Mexican government decided to seal the mine and end recovery efforts after only six days, Mr. Gomez called his members out on strike in protest. He further accused the company of criminal homicide and the Mexican government of negligence. He also called for a federal investigation and removal of the Minister of Labor.
Mr. Gomez had earlier enraged Grupo Mexico, when in 2003 he and his members conducted protests in Mexico City in support of striking United Steelworker members at the Asarco copper mines in the United States, which are owned by Grupo Mexico. Los Mineros and the United Steelworkers subsequently signed a strategic alliance in which they committed to work together in challenging the anti-labor behavior of corporations in which both unions represented workers.
The evidence is overwhelming that the government of Mexico has interfered in the internal affairs of a free trade union by forcibly removing Napoleon Gomez as head of Los Mineros, freezing the union’s assets and even freezing Mr. Gomez’s personal assets—actions violating Mexican law, the Mexican Constitution and international labor standards.
The government’s actions can only be viewed as an attempt to stifle the voice of Mexican miners and to further its efforts to degrade and weaken Mexico’s labor laws and the insurgent successes of that nation’s independent unions, reactionary measures that undermine the living standards of Mexican workers and undercut the bargaining leverage of North American workers.
The AFL-CIO therefore calls on all its affiliates, including state federations and central labor councils, to condemn the egregious and undemocratic actions and the continuing suppression of the independent labor movement in Mexico by the Mexican government. We urge all of our affiliates to call on the government of the United States, including the president and the appropriate committees of Congress, to protest the Mexican government’s actions in the strongest terms, and further to call on the government of President Calderon to restore Napoleon Gomez to his rightful place as president of Los Mineros, free from government intervention. We also call on President Calderon and on the Mexican Congress to take the necessary steps to implement genuine compliance with freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for all Mexican workers.
The AFL-CIO further pledges our strong support to Napoleon Gomez and the Mexican Miners Union. We will take all action necessary to ensure that this government attack on him, on the democratic rights of his members and on the freedom of Los Mineros does not succeed.