Prince George, British Columbia I wanted to hear Napoleon Gomez Urrutia speak to the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) leaders gathered in the northern part of the province to look at how their union connects to the community. Gomez is Secretary General of the 250,000+ member Union of Mining, Metallurgical, Steel and Allied Workers of Mexico, known popularly as Los Mineros in Mexico. Every year Gomez has been elected unanimously by the miners for the number of years since 2006. His miners are on huge strikes, where the Mexican government has intervened militarily throughout the country, in Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and Coahuila. He and his miners have been in a life-and-death struggle with Grupo Mexico in the giant copper mine in Cananea where the strike has gone on for several years.
Just more grist for the mills in the hard life of mines and miners? Not really, because the other part of this story is that Gomez is on the run. He ran from trumped up charges of embezzlement from the government, first to the United States and then to Canada where he has lived in Vancouver – and directed Los Mineros as its chief officer – since 2006 from a loaned office given him by the United Steelworkers regional office in BC. Gomez and three of his fellow officers, including one still be held as a political prisoner in Mexico, were accused by the Mexican government of misappropriating a fund of $55 million USD. Swiss auditors and Mexican courts have audited, investigated, and exonerated Gomez and his people, and the government has frozen $20 M USD in assets and accounts. The support of
Gomez by his members is so strong and consistent, that Gomez continues to negotiate contracts with the employers where the union has contracts after meetings in Vancouver where they travel to meet him and bargain with him, except of course for Grupo Mexico.
After a decades of calm in the 80’s and 90’s, Los Mineros have been involved in 30+ strikes in Mexico in the first decade of the 21st century under Gomez, and it is hard to escape feeling that this crackdown is prompted by the miners increased militancy. Gomez was quick to compare the abandonment by the Mexican government and the company of trapped miners in Coahuila, trapping and burying more than 60 miners in an underground grave, compared the job done recently to save the miners in Chile and earlier this year in China.
Talking to Gomez after his remarks, he seemed resigned. He has applied for permanent status in Canada, and seems not to believe a return to Mexico is anywhere close in his future. His English has become superb, and he has built huge support and solidarity throughout the international labor movement coupled with the Canadian Labor Congress and the AFL-CIO. He now carries 3 cell phones rather than the 5 he had in his early years as an exile.
Organizing is rough, but Gomez and Los Mineros are teaching the labor movement something about “the people united, shall never be defeated,” and that should give all of us heart and hope for the future, no matter how difficult and uncertain the future seems for them and for us.