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Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, General Secretary of “Los Mineros” Mexican Labor Union, to Receive 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award

Gómez and his organization to be recognized for their commitment to defend democratic trade union rights in Mexico amid escalating violations against workers

(Washington, DC) - Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, General Secretary of the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Méxicana), also known as 'Los Mineros', will be awarded the 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award during a ceremony Wednesday, November 16, at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will be joined by President Leo Gerard of the United Steel Workers in recognizing Gómez's efforts to fight against repression and support democracy and equality in Mexico.  Rep. Linda Sanchez and Rep. Mike Michaud will also speak during the ceremony, as will MSNBC anchor Ed Schultz.  Oralia Casso de Gómez, wife of the awardee, will represent her husband and accept the award on his behalf. Gómez Urrutia has been living in exile in Vancouver, Canada, since 2006 after the Mexican government pressed criminal charges against him, charges that Mexican and international human and labor rights organizations have dismissed as false.

"I have the distinct honor to present this year's Award to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, a truly courageous man who has shown us how difficult and how important it is to be an independent leader of a democratic union. True unions – worker-centered organizations that safeguard the lives of their members and work for respect, fair pay and decent benefits – are a rarity anywhere, and we need them badly," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  "Our labor movement—our worldwide movement for the dignity of labor and a decent way of life for every individual who wakes up in the morning and does a job—owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Napoleón.  When workers unite, there's no end to the good that can come from it. When Napoleón returns to Mexico, which he undoubtedly will do in the years ahead, the potential for democratic reforms led in part by Los Mineros will be tremendous."

"This is important recognition by the AFL-CIO for the inspiring struggle of Napoleón Gómez Urrutia to bring economic justice to Mexican working families with his heroic leadership. He carries on in Canadian exile to negotiate labor agreements under threats of arrest and false imprisonment. His union 'Los Mineros' and the democratic labor movement in Mexico will be vindicated for achieving the aspirations of Mexican workers. The Mexican government's repression of labor and human rights has been exposed by the global trade union movement and should be condemned by all nations," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard, who reaffirmed his union's North American alliance with Los Mineros, adding: "We will persist at every level with the U.S. government to approve Napoleón's pending visa application so he can travel to the United States to raise his voice for the rights of the Mineros to an independent union free from government corruption."

"For the last five and a half years, I have continued –from exile – to fight for worker rights, even as the Mexican government has persisted in its unprecedented political persecution. Mexican labor unions continue to be harassed, oppressed, and censored by the federal government, which has used its vast resources to silence workers. Regardless of this, we have continued with our global struggle for justice, respect and dignity for all workers because we know that we have the support and solidarity from unions around the world," said Secretary General Napoleón Gómez Urrutia from Vancouver, Canada. "This recognition is an incentive to carry on with this fight to protect and defend labor rights, human rights and democracies around the world. I am honored and humbled to receive this award, not only in the name of this struggle and of all Mexican workers but also in the name of my family and every person who is supporting us."

About Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the Mineros

Gómez Urrutia was first elected general secretary of Los Mineros (SNTMMSSRM) in 2002 and immediately began challenging Mexican government policies that were driving low wages, creating unsafe workplaces and turning permanent jobs into casual work, essentially increasing the vulnerability of Mexico's workers. At the same time, Gómez Urrutia began building alliances with the global trade union movement. 

In February 2006, an explosion at Grupo Mexico's Pasta de Conchos mine trapped 65 mineworkers. After minimal efforts to rescue the trapped men and within a few short days, the company and Mexican government announced the end of rescue attempts and the closure of the mine, leaving the men entombed and their wives waiting outside.

Prior to the explosion, Los Mineros had repeatedly cited dangerous working conditions and the smell of gas at Pasta de Conchos. One the company abandoned the men and sealed the mine, Gómez Urrutia publicly accused the government of "industrial homicide." In response to his criticism, the government filed criminal charges against Gómez Urrutia and other union leaders, froze the union's bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions in Los Mineros-represented workplaces, declared the union's strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them. 

As a result, Gómez Urrutia sought asylum in 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 Urrutia has also won major legal victories, as Mexican courts have since thrown out all but one of the criminal charges against him and rejected the government's appeals.

About the Meany-Kirkland award

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, founder of India's Self Employed Women's Association; the Liberian rubber workers of FAWUL; Colombian activist Yessika Hoyos and the Independent Labor Movement of Egypt.

Contact: Gonzalo Salvador (202) 637-5018

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