Over the past five years, the Mexican government has unleashed a systematic attack on workers’ rights. Despite the continuing repression, Mexico’s independent, democratic unions organize and represent the rights of workers. Some of the most egregious attacks have been on the Mine, Metal and Steel Workers Union (SNTMMSSRM), also known as Los Mineros.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, awarded Los Mineros and their leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. The award will be formally presented later this year. Click here to read the resolution in English and here for Spanish.
Gómez was first elected general secretary of the SNTMMSSRM in 2002 and immediately began challenging government policies of low wages and flexible labor markets, and building alliances with the global trade union movement.
When a February 2006 explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine killed 65 mineworkers, Gómez publicly accused the government of “industrial homicide.” In response to this criticism, the government filed criminal charges against Gómez and other union leaders, froze the union’s bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions in SNTMMSSRM-represented workplaces and declared the union’s strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them.
Four union members were murdered and key union leaders were jailed. In the face of this campaign of repression, Gómez left Mexico for Vancouver, Canada. From there he has waged a five-year effort to win justice for his union and for all democratic unions in Mexico.
Despite massive repression, the SNTMMSSRM has continued to bargain contracts and organize new workplaces with the help of trade union allies around the world.
Gómez has won major legal victories. Mexican courts have thrown out all of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government’s appeals.
The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe, Ela Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, the Liberian rubber workers, Colombian activist Yessika Hoyos and the Independent Labor Movement of Egypt.
About the Author: James Parks‘ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 18, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.