No end to deadlock at one of world’s richest copper mines

In Mexico, miners are continuing to blockade the country’s biggest copper mine in a strike that has already cost US$1.5 billion. Workers are demanding better safety conditions.

In Cananea, Mexico, you can hear the revolution screaming between dust and copper. It is the home of a three-year-long strike of the union of mining workers.

On July 30, 2007, thousands of workers downed tools after deaths and injuries caused by deplorable work conditions. They were demanding the attention of the Mexican government and its legal system against the powerful “Grupo Mexico”, one of the largest mine holders in the Americas and owner of the copper mine at Cananea – one of the biggest copper reserves in the world.

But the government and the corporate executives did not take long to answer with confrontation and violence.

The union workers are counting injuries and dead people, and the executives of the corporation are counting lost millions of dollars.

Walking around his old workplace, Jesus Verdugo says that this huge center used to produce more than 160,000 tons of copper per year.

“When one of us dies, the family is left with nothing: no money, no health. And this is hard, because everything seems more complicated with the lack of answers. But we will continue the fight until we achieve our goals,” Union leader Jesus Verdugo says.

The struggle in these lands has a long history. In 1906, a miners’ strike was drowned in blood by US rangers. Now the union workers complain that even with the evidence and the numbers, their strike is no longer important to the authorities.

“They don’t care about the people of Cananea. They don’t care about the town. If they have so much money, let them go with their money to another place,” Jesus Verdugo says.

Another hot-button subject in Cananea is the pollution.

After the corporation decided to stop the recycling process of sulfuric acid and asbestos – still abundantly present in the surroundings of the nearby town – cancer and other diseases caused hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

“They should be in our shoes. It is not fair that after all our struggle for the contracts they would take this away from our hands. We demand respect for our lives and our families,” mine worker Rodolfo Jerez says.

In any case, the future seems uncertain for the workers and their families. They are getting sick after years of living in the polluted area, and there is no income to support the families because of the strike.

Probably the worst thing is that this is set to continue, as the sides are far from reaching a compromise.