A group of armed civilians calling themselves the “Tonalapa Community Police,” attacked striking workers at the Media Luna gold mine in Mexico on November 18, killing two workers. The two men killed were brothers, Víctor and Marcelino Sahuanitla Peña.
Workers at the Cocula, Guerrero, gold mine went on strike earlier this month after their employer recognized the Confederation of Workers of Mexico (CTM) union, a labor organization with a history of acting as “protection union” by assisting employers in blocking independent unionization efforts. The independent mineworkers’ union, SNTMMSSRM (Los Mineros), had filed for a union election on October 13.
On November 16 and 17, union leaders and the employer negotiated a peaceful resolution which called for the withdrawal of armed security forces and an expedited union representation election. The talks came after scores of armed police forces arrived at the mine, taking over the site on November 13.
“This is an outrageous and unacceptable attack on freedom of association and fundamental human rights,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “The perpetrators must be found and held accountable.
“We stand with Los Mineros and workers everywhere who seek to peacefully form unions of their choosing,” she says.
Workers say an army squadron detained the attackers, some of whom they identified as CTM leaders, but immediately released them. The government has now sent in armed security forces.
In a statement, the United Steelworkers in Canada urged the Canadian government to “intervene with Mexican authorities and the company to recognize the basic rights of Mexican workers and prevent further violence.”
Canada-based Torex Gold Resources owns the Media Luna mine.
Mine workers in Mexico labor in difficult and sometimes deadly working conditions. But through their union, the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Similar Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM, known as “Los Mineros”), they are winning collective bargaining pacts that include significant economic benefits, essential safety and health protections, and other fundamental rights on the job.
The union is breaking ground by raising the visibility of the work and activism of women members through the Mineras de Acero (Women Miners of Steel) leadership and gender equality training, a program jointly developed by the Solidarity Center, United Steelworkers (USW), Comité Fronterizo de [email protected] (Border Committee of Workers, CFO) and Los Mineros.
During the most recent collective bargaining training, union members looked at family-friendly contract language and strategies for promoting gender equality and ensuring that women’s key issues get on the list of bargaining priorities—and stay there. Female miners and their sisters in allied industries are building a network throughout the national union as a result of this work.
In this photo essay, Los Mineros members working in the Fénix and Monje phosphate mines in La Paz, a large commercial center in the Mexican coastal state of Baja California Sur, demonstrate the daily courage and quiet dignity of miners at work.
Photos by Roberto Armocida for the Solidarity Center, unless otherwise specified.
Miner Ileana Vasquez, repairing machinery nearly 1,000 feet from the surface, has worked three years as an instrumentalist and electromechanic. Vasquez and other women miners are challenging Mexico’s cultural and social taboos regarding women working in mines.
Juan Pablo Bautista Gómez, with the protective equipment he wears in the mine, gets set to leave for work from his home in La Paz, where he lives with his daughter and grandchildren. Gómez has worked in the mines since 1978 and is in charge of maintaining equipment and external logistics.
In the Fenix Mine shaft, César Estrada Cueva from Guadalajara, Jalisco, is among 30 miners who work on each of three excavation shifts that keep production going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Mine worker Ruth Rivera, 45, a single mother of three, gets ready for work. Rivera, a union steward, has worked as a miner for six years and was a founding member of Mineras de Acero.
Ruth Rivera and her co-workers travel through the mines in a cart that transports all personnel.
Ruth Rivera (center) and her co-workers inside the Fenix mine, where the tunnel height varies between 59 inches and 62 inches.
Miner Ruth Rivera also is responsible for the delivery and recovery of personal protective equipment. The equipment allows miners to survive without air for a maximum of 60 minutes.
Workers operate a conveyor belt to extract rock and deposit it outside the mine. Miners load the rock onto trucks and drivers carry it to the processing plant.
A crew of miners, a team leader and a supervisor organize their work at the excavation system in the Fenix mine shaft, where workers excavate phosphate rock, the basic ingredient for fertilizer.
Luis Alberto Bernal Díaz at the Fenix mine, working nearly 1,000 feet below the Earth’s surface.
Miners in the Monje mine shaft finish the morning shift and return safety equipment such as personal protective devices and rechargeable lamps.
Lizbeth Garcia, a geological engineer, goes over an excavation map during a training for women mine worker members of Los Mineros. Credit: Julia Quioñez, CFO
Women miners take a break during from mining, welding and related work to participate in a workshop on collective bargaining focused on strategies that include gender equality and family friendly language in contracts. Los Mineros members include Maria de los Angeles Nuñez de la Rosa (center), Alma Yadira Martinez Ramirez (top right) and Eliza Martinez Carrillo (top left). Credit: Los Mineros
In Mexico, Ruth Adriana Lopez Patiño, from Los Mineros, Julia Quiñonez, CFO, and Mariela Sanchez Casas, Los Mineros, all founded the “Mineras de Acero” (Women Miners of Steel) training program. In February, they participated in a tour of a gold mine during a training on gender equality and women’s leadership. Credit: Los Mineros
Talks between Peruvian mineworkers and the Ministry of Labor over proposed labor law reforms came to a standstill after the government began retaliating against workers who took part in a recent nationwide strike, despite promises not to do so, according to the National Federation of Mining, Metallurgical and Steel Workers of Peru (FNTMMSP).
The government and FNTMMSP agreed to a monthlong series of negotiations after mine workers from 56 unions in Peru went out on an indefinite, nationwide strike July 19 to protest the government’s proposed reforms to loosen workplace safety rules, make it easier to fire workers and shift the burden of paying into an unemployment fund to workers from employers.
The director of the Peruvian Labor Ministry contacted each company where workers went on strike to clarify that the strike was illegal, a move that could result in discipline or dismissal of the workers involved—and could send a warning that “workers do not dare in the future to exercise our right to strike,” according to the union.
“We call out the mining employers who, seeking to intimidate miners throughout Peru, have sent notarized letters to workers who participated in the struggle challenging their inalienable labor rights to do so. We respond with firmness: We know our rights—such as the right to strike, and we know when the employer violates labor laws, does not comply with collective bargaining agreements, and excessively abuses the labor rights of its workers,” FNTMMSP says in a statement.
Although the right to strike is protected under Peruvian law, the freedom to strike is restricted. The government declared the mineworkers’ strike out of compliance with legal requirements, as it does for most major strikes. The Mineworkers Federation has appealed the determination.
“If the dialogue is not resumed and the signed agreements are not fulfilled, we will take measures necessary to enforce our rights, which are also the rights of all the workers of the country,” FNTMMSP says.
Juarez told Reuters that miners want President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to drop proposed labor reforms that would loosen safety rules, make it easier to fire workers and shift the burden of paying into an unemployment fund to workers from employers. Kuczynski, who took office in July 2016, is a former investment banker and free-market proponent who has sought to attract investment since taking office.
Some 200,000 members of the General Confederation of Peru Workers (Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú, CGTP) also conducted a general work stoppage yesterday to protest the president’s proposed labor reforms.
Although workers in Peru are allowed by law to strike, the freedom to strike frequently is restricted. The government declared the mine workers’ strike out of compliance with legal requirements, as it does for most major strikes. The Mineworkers Federation is appealing the determination.
Peru is the world’s second-biggest copper producer and its largest mines are operated by major multinational corporations, including Southern Copper Corp., where 2,000 miners went on strike earlier this year for better medical care, an end to company surveillance of workers and the reinstatement of dismissed workers.
Bullet shells shot into a crowd of mineworkers at Peru’s Labor of Ministry.Credit:Solidarity Center/Samantha Tate
Six mineworkers were arrested and one injured from police gunfire yesterday as some 100 workers protested at the Ministry of Labor and Employment Promotion in Lima, Peru. The miners, who have been on strike for 17 days at Buenaventura’s Uchucchacua silver mine in the coastal region north of Lima, are calling for immediate improvement in safety and health conditions in the mines, especially air quality, which they say is extremely hazardous.
The mineworkers, all contract workers, gathered at the Labor Ministry, hoping their representatives could speak with Ministry representatives. After police accused them of blocking a public sidewalk, a police officer shot at the group, wounding mineworker Roberto Loyola, in the leg.
“We reject how we have been received here at the Ministry of Labor, with a worker wounded by a bullet,” says Uchucchacua Workers Secretary General Ronald Ventocilla. “We cannot allow Peruvians to be shooting at Peruvians. Buenaventura is an irresponsible employer that ignores its obligations to its workers, including high levels of carbon monoxide in the mines and not providing mineworkers with the food that they have committed to provide.”
On Tuesday, the Mineworkers Federation (FNTMMSP) launched a nationwide strike in part to call for a repeal of additions to Peru’s Health and Safety Law that make it more difficult for injured workers or their families to hold employers accountable for workplace injuries. Employers requested the amendments to the law, which was enacted last July.
Miners told Solidarity Center staff in Lima yesterday that when safety and health inspectors arrive at the mine to investigate working conditions, managers turn off the older machinery that produces the worst air contamination. Mineworkers regularly work 10-hour days underground for 14 days, followed by seven days off, and they say the continued exposure to toxic gasses prematurely ages them.
Contract workers at the mine, who are not in a union, earn $16 day, less than unionized Uchucchacua mineworkers, who are paid $22 a day, of which almost one third must be returned to the employer for food. Up to 30 workers who have participated in the strike have received letters from the employer saying they will be laid off for participating in the strike.
Buenaventura Group, owner of the Uchucchacua mine, is Peru’s largest producer of precious metals and in May announced $17.3 million dollars in net profit for the first quarter of 2015. The Uchucchacua mine, in the province of Oyon Lima region, produces about 714,300 pounds of silver a year. Peru is the world’s third-biggest silver producer.
Vowing to stay in Lima until Labor Ministry receives them—striking workers are sleeping under the eaves of the National Stadium because they don’t have the money to pay for a hotel—Ventocilla says, “Three days ago we started a ‘march of sacrifice’ to Lima and we are going to continue until the Ministry receives us.”
FNTMMSP decried the use of police violence to repress workers freedom of speech and is working with National Human Rights Coordinating Body to seek the release of the detained workers.
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