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Cablegate: Striking Chihuahua Miners Settle for Half of Lost

VZCZCXRO1845
RR RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHQU
RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #0462/01 0502153
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 192153Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 2364
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0542
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 000462

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/AWH AND ILCSR, WHA/MEX, USDOL FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON PGOV PHUM PINR MX
SUBJECT: STRIKING CHIHUAHUA MINERS SETTLE FOR HALF OF LOST
WAGES

REF: (A) MEXICO 0183 (B) MEXICO 0126 (C) MEXICO 0013

1. SUMMARY: The strike that began some three weeks ago at
the Naica lead mine in the northern border state of Chihuahua
(REF A) was settled on February 8. The strikers at the Naica
mine belong to Local No. 30 of the National Union of Miners
and Metalworkers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM),
Mexico,s oldest and largest miners union. The workers from
Local No. 30 launched a strike to demand a 10 percent wage
increase when the mine,s owners refused to offer more than 6
percent. The GOM,s Labor Secretariat (STPS) took an active
part in the negotiations that ultimately resolved the strike.
Ordinarily the STPS tries to play a neutral role in such
negotiations but this time that was clearly not the case.
Instead, at the very start of the negotiations the STPS
publicly described the union,s position as &rigid and
inflexible8. Under STSP pressure, Local No. 30 eventually
settled for the 6 percent increase offered by the mine
owners. The only thing the Local No. 30 workers got from the
negotiations was an agreement from the company to 50 percent
of the wages union members lost during the strike. Mexican
Federal Labor Law indicates that striking workers are
eligible for, although not entitled to, 100 percent of wages
lost during a strike action. In this case, the only thing
the Local No. 30 workers obtained by going on strike was the
loss of 50 percent of their wages for the 21 days they walked
off the job. END SUMMARY.


MINERS END STRIKE WITH LITTLE TO SHOW FOR THEIR EFFORTS
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. On January 15, the members of Local No. 30 of the
National Union of Miners and Metalworkers of the Mexican
Republic (SNTMMSRM) launched a strike at the Naica lead mine
located in the northern border state of Chihuahua. The mine
workers began their strike when their employer, the &Minera
Maple8 company of the Penoles mining group, refused their
demand for a 10 percent wage increase. As a counter offer,
the company offered workers a 6 percent increase. The
counter proposal was initially rejected but, on the evening
of February 8, following a 21 day strike, the union Local
reversed itself and reluctantly accepted the company,s offer.

3. The Naica mine is Mexico,s largest lead mine. It
employs over 500 people of which 350 are unionized with
another 100 persons hired on individual employment contacts.
The remaining employees are management staffers. At the time
Local No. 30 launched the Naica mine strike it was one of
several labor actions being carried out across Mexico by
different SNTMMSRM Locals. The longest running SNTMMSRM
strike was, and remains, a labor action carried out by Local
No. 65 at the Cananea copper mine in the state of Sonora.
Officially, Local No. 65,s strike at the Cananea mine is a
dispute over unsafe working conditions but most labor
observers agree that that particular strike is politically
motivated protest in support of the SNTMMSRM,s national
leader, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, who has several criminal
corruption charges pending against him. The Naica mine
strike differed from the ongoing Cananea labor action in that
it was essentially a dispute over wages with little, if any,
political overtones.


STRIKING MINERS CONFRONTED BY THE GOM
-------------------------------------

4. In launching their strike for increased wages the members
of Local No. 30 justified their action by pointing to rising
world metal prices. In light of rising world metal prices,
the Local argued, their demand for a 10 percent wage increase
was a simple request for a fairer sharing of the wealth. In
support of this position the Local pointed to the fact that
the Mining Chamber of Mexico, a national commercial
association that represents mine owners, had predicted a 30
increase in mining profits for this year (assuming the
increase in world metal prices remains constant). Given
these facts, the striking workers might well have obtained
the requested wage increase had it not been for the GOM,s
Labor Secretariat (STPS).

5. Since taking office in December 2006, the government of

MEXICO 00000462 002 OF 003


Mexican President Felipe Calderon,s administration has
attempted unsuccessfully to resolve a complicated dispute
with the SNTMMSRM union that it inherited from its
predecessor. Overall the Calderon government,s attempts to
settle this inherited dispute have been slow and it appears
the GOM,s patience finally ran out. On January 11, just
four days before the start of the Naica strike, the GOM took
advantage of a questionable judicial ruling to send federal
police and army troops to confront the SNTMMSRM at the
Cananea mine. After the fact, the union succeeded in
obtaining a superior court injunction against the
questionable ruling but by then government forces were in
control of the mine.

6. This was the first time ever the Calderon government had
used force against a striking union. The SNTMMSRM members at
the receiving end of this force belonged to union Local No.
65 and not Local No. 30 at the Naica mine. That said, the
tone of the GOM,s dealings with SNTMMSRM Locals had been set
and it soon became clear that the government intended to take
a harder line with all elements of the national miners union.


GOM ALL BUT DICTATE A SETTLEMENT OF THE NAICA STRIKE
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. According to a variety of media accounts negotiations
between the representatives of Local No. 30 and the
management of the Naica mine were ongoing from the very first
day of the strike. Senior STPS officials took an active role
in these negotiations. STPS participation, normally as a
neutral arbiter, in discussions to resolve a labor dispute is
not unusual. In this particular case however, the STPS,
role was far from neutral. Instead the Labor Secretariat
clearly signaled its disagreement with the Naica mine labor
action by characterizing Local No. 30,s wage demands as
excessive and publicly describing the union,s position as
&rigid and inflexible.8

8. In addition to calling the striking workers inflexible
the STPS did not hesitate to express it,s unease over the
fact that Local No. 30 was seeking a wage increase in excess
of the general four percent salary increase the government
established in late December 2007 (REF C). GOM officials
also pointed out that most SNTMMSRM union Locals were
accepting wage increases of 6 percent for 2008. When
confronted with the points forcefully put forth by the STPS
it was difficult for Local No. 30 to try and hold out for a
wage increase significantly higher than that being accepted
by other union Locals. At the conclusion of the
negotiations, the striking workers of Local No. 30 were
granted 50 percent of the wages lost while they were on
strike. Mostly likely this concession by the company was a
sweetener to help soften the fact that in the end the union
had no choice but to accept management,s offer of a 6
percent salary increase.


COMMENT
-------

9. Mexican Federal Law provides that striking workers may
receive, but are in no way entitled to, the wages lost during
a strike action. In the case of the Naica strike the mine,s
owners, with the help of the GOM, were able to force Local
No. 30 to back down from their demand for a 10 percent wage
increase and accept the 6 percent raise that had been offered
from the very start. This was clearly a defeat for the union
since, in the face of GOM and management opposition, the only
thing the members of SNTMMSRM Local No. 30 obtained by going
on strike, other than the original wage increase offered by
the mine owners, was a 50 percent pay cut for the 21 days
that the workers were out on strike.

10. This message was cleared with AmConsul Ciudad Juarez.


MEXICO 00000462 003 OF 003

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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