(La Platosa, Durango, México) “How can we have a fair vote when the company has openly supported two competing unions?” This was the question posed by Jorge Luis Mora minutes after the National Union of Mining, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM) lost the election with two company-supported unions by one vote. Mr. Mora is the general secretary of Local 309 of the SNTMMSRM in Bermejillo, Durango.
On July 5, 2012, workers voted to determine which union would control the Collective Bargaining Agreement with Servicios Mineros San Pedro S.A. De C.V., a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Excellon Resources. The agreement covers close to 200 workers at Excellon's only producing silver mine in La Platosa, Durango, Mexico.
The vote was accompanied by the arrival of 100 thugs, several with large sticks. According to international observers present at the site, these individuals arrived in two buses and several trucks and cars. They identified themselves as members of one of the company-controlled unions, the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers 'Don Napoleón Gómez Sada' (SNMMDNGS). None of these thugs were actually workers in the mine. As the majority of workers approached the mine, the thugs menacingly lined the entrance road with large sticks. They only dispersed after federal police arrived around 11 in the morning and forced them to leave. But they returned in the afternoon. A contingent of municipal, state and federal police, as well as soldiers, were also present at the entrance throughout the day.
The thugs aggressively surrounded the international observer team. As international observers tried to interview workers leaving the mine, the thugs would stand behind the workers in an attempt to hear how they voted and intimidate them. “I felt uncomfortable through most of the morning as these thugs took pictures of me and surrounded me whenever I tried to interview workers,” said international observer Shalini Thomas.
Inside the mine, where the election was taking place, workers felt the full effect of the company's intimidation. “Pablo Gurrola has made it very clear that the company does not want the SNTMMSSRM to win a collective bargaining agreement. And then he is standing right next to the ballot box. Many workers were clearly unnerved by this situation.” said Cesár Basurto, a worker in the mine. Furthermore, the company posted propaganda for the company's protection union at the entrance to the mine.
Other irregularities include: (1) the presence of six names on the official voting list of people who are not eligible for the vote as union workers (i.e. supervisors or otherwise confidential employees); and (2) ballot papers on which the company-supported union was listed in color and the other unions listed in black and white.
The vote takes place within a context of systematic labor and human rights violations affecting the workers at the La Platosa Mine and the surrounding community. Since affiliating to the SNTMMSSRM in 2010, the workers have suffered oppression, intimidation and unfair dismissal intended to stop the organizing process and prevent true union representation that would defend the rights of workers at La Platosa. They have waited close to a year for this union recognition vote, but the process was delayed and the company continued intimidating workers and telling them not to vote for an independent union. A report filed with the OECD National Contact Points of Mexico and Canada by ProDESC, the SNTMMSSRM, the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Labour Congress, MiningWatch Canada, and the Ejido La Sierrita also documents the company's financial and coordinative support of opposing unions.
“This election is indicative of the actions of a company that has, for two years, taken every step possible to intimidate workers and instill fear in them to not vote for a union local. Because of the hostility, workers voted out of fear.” Said Alejandra Ancheita, director of ProDESC. “The attorneys for the SNTMMSSRM have appealed the result as a result of these irregularities. Nonetheless, many workers are left to contemplate the next step in this long road to worker justice. What they fear most at this moment is the certain repression that will follow this vote.”
As the election results were announced, the buses of thugs returned to the entrance of the mine. According to the mine workers, only one of those rejoicing was actually a worker at La Platosa. The rest were brought in from other parts of the Mexican Republic.
- Darío Maldonado, ProDESC (Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales en México), (tel) +55-5212-2230, darío(at)prodesc.org.mx