USW Demands Justice for Victims of Grupo Mexico

The United Steelworkers (USW) union issued the following statement as workers prepare to mark the anniversary of the Pasta de Conchos mine disaster that took place Feb. 19, 2006:

Fifteen years after an explosion killed 65 workers at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Sabinas, Mexico, justice has still not been served.

One of the worst mining disasters in the country’s history, the incident became still more horrifying when the mine’s owner, Grupo Mexico, called off the search for survivors after only five days and sealed all but two of the victims’ bodies inside the mine.

Not only did this disaster demonstrate the deep need for labour reform, it also laid bare the stark inequalities in Mexico.

Yet there has still been no investigation or prosecution of government or company officials, despite evidence that inspections at Pasta de Conchos prior to the explosion revealed major safety hazards.

Grupo Mexico is controlled by Germán Larrea, one of Mexico’s richest men, with current family assets of US$24.6 billion according to Forbes. Through his company he controls a global empire including mines, railroads, wind farms, toll roads and construction projects.

Larrea, who owes his fortune to the privatization of the mining industry under the neoliberal government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, at the time of the disaster was engaged in a bitter struggle against the national mineworkers’ union led by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia.

Shortly after the disaster, Gómez was forced to leave the country when the government brought criminal charges against him after he accused it and the company of “industrial homicide.” The governments of the PAN and PRI parties continued their anti-union campaign, while blocking any serious investigation of the disaster and denying fair compensation to the families of the workers.

In 2006, USW activists helped bring Gómez and his family to the U.S., then helped the family make its way to Canada. Over the following 12 years, working out of the USW District 3 offices in Burnaby, B.C., Gómez continued to lead his union in exile. He helped Los Mineros members negotiate the best contracts in their industries, while continuing to fight the trumped-up charges and accusations levelled against him by Mexican authorities.

Today, under a progressive government led by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, there have been important changes. The government compensated the families of the Pasta de Conchos victims and has taken steps to meet their other key demand – the recovery of the workers’ bodies, which remain entombed in the mine. 

Napoleón Gómez was cleared of all charges and in 2018 returned to Mexico as a Senator in López Obrador’s MORENA party, where he has led the fight for labour reforms including ratification of ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines.

The government is implementing labour law reforms required by the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). But it has done little to help workers at three other Grupo Mexico mines who have been on strike since 2007. In fact, the Mexican Supreme Court may rule shortly on the company’s attempt to have one of the strikes declared illegal, which could be a major setback for workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, a Grupo Mexico-led consortium just won a major concession to build part of the government’s signature Mayan Train tourism project.

Grupo Mexico’s impunity hasn’t hurt only Mexican workers. In the United States, the National Labor Relations Board last month issued a consolidated complaint against Grupo Mexico’s ASARCO subsidiary for multiple unfair labour practices at its operations in Arizona and Texas, which include bad faith bargaining, unilaterally changing working conditions and failing to reinstate workers returning from an unfair labour practice strike.

As we remember the victims of Pasta de Conchos, workers in Mexico and the United States demand that Germán Larrea and Grupo Mexico be held accountable by governments in both countries.

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