What I Do
Christy McGill, Art Teacher - Divide Elementary School, Lookout, WV.
Napoleón Gómez Urrutia
National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic
Over the last five years, Mexican workers and independent unions have experienced an escalation in the systematic and brazen violation of their trade union and labor rights. Instead of creating more jobs and guaranteeing workers’ rights, the Mexican government seems intent on extinguishing independent, democratic unions. Despite the ongoing repression of worker rights, Mexico’s independent, democratic unions continue to organize and represent the rights of workers.
In recognition of his outstanding leadership and commitment to the defense of democratic trade union rights in Mexico, we are proud to nominate Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the organization that he leads, the SindicatoNacional de TrabajadoresMineros, Metalúrgicos, Siderúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic - SNTMMSSRM).
Brother Gómez was first elected General Secretary of the SNTMMSSRM in 2002 and immediately began taking measures to strengthen and modernize the union –demanding that employers pay wage increases proportional to their profits, challenging the views of union leaders who accepted government policies of low wages and flexible labor markets, and building alliances with the global trade union movement.
His activism quickly incurred the wrath of the Mexican government and major mining companies. In February 2006, the government struck back, withdrawing legal recognition of Gómez’s election as the leader of the union, but Gómez continued undeterred. When a February 19, 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 accelerated its attack by filing criminal charges against Gómez and other union leaders, freezing the union’s bank accounts, assisting employers to set up company unions in SNTMMSSRM-represented workplaces, declaring the union’s strikes illegal and sending in troops to suppress them. Four union members were murdered; none of their killers has been brought to justice. Juan Linares, the President of the SNTMMSSRM’s Justice and Vigilance Council, was imprisoned on fraudulent charges from December 2008 until February 24, 2011, and another SNTMMSSRM leader, Martín Salazar, remains in prison since federal police stormed the Cananea mine in June 2010 to evict striking workers.
In the face of this campaign of repression, Gómez took the difficult decision to leave Mexico and go to Vancouver, Canada. From there he has waged a five-year effort to win justice for his union and for all democratic unions in Mexico, challenging the policies of a government that would condemn workers to a lifetime of poverty or force them to emigrate to feed their families. 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, as Mexican courts have since thrown out all of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government’s appeals.
For his courageous commitment to defend the aspirations of Mexican workers to higher living standards, to democratize labor unions, to promote rule of law and a better future for their country, the AFL-CIO is pleased to nominate Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic for the 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award.
In recognition of the struggle of Brother Gómez and the brothers and sisters of the SNTMMSSRM union and all independent unions in Mexico, we call on the AFL-CIO, its affiliates and global trade union partners to continue to expand their support to SNTMMSSRM and other democratic unions in Mexico, and to engage their members in this important fight. We ask that the AFL-CIO, its affiliates, and members call on the government of Mexico to drop all remaining fraudulent charges against SNTMMSSRM leaders Napoleon Gómez and Martín Salazar. We further ask that the AFL-CIO strengthen its advocacy on behalf of Mexican worker rights with its own government, increasing its contact with US leaders in the executive and legislative branches to convene hearings and focus attention on the grave violations of worker rights in Mexico.
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