15 May 2009

Mining union rocked by dissent



The nation's mine and metalworkers union on Thursday announced the five-year suspension of a former political affairs director and two state-level directors for "treasonous acts" that threatened the leadership of its exiled secretary-general Napoleón Gómez Urrutia.

The union's National Executive Committee, or CEN, branded former political affairs director Carlos Pavón - the union's ex-spokesman and previously the most vocal defender of Gómez Urrutia - and the state directors in Chihuahua and Zacatecas as "traitors" for supposedly using money from mining companies to organize meetings in an attempt to split the labor organization. Pavón was also accused of having cozy relations with officials from the Labor Secretariat and mining giant Grupo México.

Union spokesman Juan Luis Zuñiga failed to provide proof of the allegations at a Thursday press conference, but said that "sources" inside of unnamed firms provided the information. Zuñiga called Pavón's supposed actions "an attempt to destroy the union from within."

Pavón has denied any disloyalty and has demanded the union back up its charges. But in an interview earlier this week with El Financiero he acknowledged having had differences with his former union colleagues, whom he accused of putting the interests of Gómez Urrutia and the union boss' political and legal struggle ahead of the interests of miners.

He called Gómez Urrutia, who has been residing in Canada in self-imposed exile for more than two years, "a burden on the union."

The purge reflects the ongoing dissent over Gómez Urrutia's leadership that threatens to tear the labor organization apart. It also follows a string of unfavorable court rulings, the arrests of senior officials - including Pavón, who was charged with fraud - and the filing of a petition to have Gómez Urrutia sent back to Mexico to face fraud and embezzlement charges pertaining to the management of a $55 million trust fund. He denies the charges.

Chapters in Chihuahua have already broken away from the union, which Pavón says is cash-strapped and being asphyxiated due to the government freezing its assets.

The miners also have lost battles with the Labor Secretariat over the leadership of Gómez Urrutia, whose authority it refuses to recognize - and a 20-month strike at a Grupo México copper mine in Cananea, Sonora.

Gómez Urrutia has long accused the federal government of attacking both him and the union at the behest of Grupo México. Grupo México has rejected those assertions.

According to labor expert Aldo Muñoz at the Universidad Iberoamericana, the struggle between Gómez Urrutia and Grupo México dates back to earlier this decade, when Gómez Urrutia inherited the union from his father and began winning large contracts for his members that mining companies found objectionable.

The federal government developed a dislike for Gómez Urrutia after he helped derail possible labor reforms, Muñoz said.

He said he expects the union-government struggle to continue for about a year or maybe longer. But eventually, he said, "It's most likely that [the government] will twist the union's arm. It's a very unfair fight."

No comments: