As labor and management continue to face off over the struck Cananea Copper Mine in Sonora, Mexico, U.S. labor solidarity activists are increasing their activity also.

More than 1,000 members of the Mexican National Mine and Metal Workers’ Union went on strike at the Cananea Copper Mine owned by the Grupo Mexico transnational, with links to the Arizona-based ASARCO Company, on July 30, 2007, mostly over safety issues but also over a 10 percent raise demand.

Union representatives claim that management had let conditions run down to the point that workers’ lives are endangered by carcinogenic dusts and a very high accident rate. They point to a disaster at another Grupo Mexico mine in Pasta de Conchos in Coahuila, Mexico in which 65 coal miners were killed by an explosion in February 2006 as an indication of management’s negligent attitude. Investigators have attributed the Pasta de Conchos disaster to failure of the management to follow elementary safety rules.

The Cananea strike has been costly for Grupo Mexico. According to information published by the AFL-CIO, its profits for the last quarter of 2007 had been cut in half.

The right-wing government of President Felipe Calderon, of the National Action Party (PAN), has clearly shown itself to be on the side of management. It has persecuted Mine and Metal Workers’ Union Secretary General Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, in exile in Canada, threatening him with arrest on corruption charges the union says are trumped up.

On Jan. 11, Sonora State Police along with the Federal Protective Police, 1,000 armed operatives in all, stormed the gates of the Cananea Copper Mine and took over on behalf of the Grupo Mexico management. About 40 union members were injured.

The action was supposedly in response to a ruling earlier the same day by Mexico’s National Conciliation and Arbitration Board declaring the strike illegal. Mexican labor law is, on paper, relatively enlightened and does not normally allow the use of scabs when a legal strike is in progress. By declaring the strike illegal, the Board opened the way for Grupo Mexico to fire and replace the strikers. The government had the security forces ready to march at a moment’s notice in anticipation of the Board decision, which strongly suggests collusion.

There was a large scale solidarity work stoppage in more than 80 other Grupo Mexico facilities on Jan. 16, involving more than 25,000 workers, and there have been a number of mass demonstrations against Grupo Mexico and against Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón for his bias in favor of the company.

Since that time, the union has won no less than three rulings from federal judges, the latest on Friday, Feb. 15, declaring the strike to be legal and overturning the Conciliation and Arbitration Board’s decision. Grupo Mexico has brought in two foreign companies, DuPont and Security International, however, to try to get the mine up and running again. The government theoretically should enforce the judge’s decision in favor of the miners, but is not doing so, and management is defiant of the judicial rulings, relying on one final Conciliation board determination to reverse them.

In the U.S., the United Steel Workers union has developed a formal solidarity relationship with the Mexican miners’ union and has been involved with the defense of miners’ union President Gómez Urrutia. Miners from Cananea and members of US unions led by the USW went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 13 to demand that Congress withhold a grant of $1.4 billion which President Bush promised Mexico last year for security and infrastructure improvements related to trade between the two countries, until hearings can be held on the repressive government intervention against the Cananea miners.

USW also organized a protest against President Calderon when he visited Chicago last week. At the demonstration, USW President Leo Gerard pointed out that the attack on the miners at Cananea is one of a number of recent abusive acts against workers and farmers by Mexican security forces. Many in and out of Mexico fear that human rights abuses will increase as a result of the U.S. grant.

Mexican workers and labor activists await with trepidation the soon-to-be announced Calderon labor law reform package, which is expected to be a frontal attack on the rights of workers and especially of unions and will face a big fight in Mexico’s Congress.