Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, leader of the Mexican Mineworkers’ Union, (Los Mineros) has been chosen to receive the prestigious Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award in the USA.
The award, approved by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, recognises Gomez’s “courageous commitment to defend the aspirations of Mexican workers to higher living standards, democratic labor unions, rule of law and a better future for their country.”Gomez, who was elected in 2002, incurred the wrath of the Mexican government by demanding higher wages and resisting government efforts to control and break his union. In 2006, the government removed him from office and, following a mine explosion that killed 65 workers, filed criminal charges against him and other union leaders. The Government has frozen the union’s bank accounts, assisted employers to set up company unions, declared the union’s strikes illegal and sent in troops to suppress them. Despite this massive repression, Los Mineros has continued to bargain contracts and organise new workplaces with the help of trade unions around the world including the United Steelworkers in the USA and Unite in the UK, the global union Workers Uniting, the Mineworkers Union in Australia as well as the International Metalworkers and Chemical workers federations.
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. The USW has been a key supporter of the Los Mineros providing assistance to Gomez in Vancouver, Canada where he lives after being forced to leave Mexico. In June 2010, the two unions set up a joint task force to “propose immediate measures to increase strategic cooperation between our organizations as well as the steps required to form a unified organisation.”
The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognises outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions
“This is an important public recognition that the fight of Napoleón Gómez, his union, and the democratic labor movement in Mexico is just and will be vindicated,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “The Mexican government’s flouting of international labor and human rights norms has been exposed by the global trade union movement and should be condemned by all nations.”