United Steel Workers and Mexican Union Mineros Explore Merger

by Dan La Botz

USW members table to support Los Mineros at 2010 LabourStart conference

USW members table to support Los Mineros at 2010 LabourStart conference

The proposed merger of the USW and the Mexican union, Mineros, would create an international union of one million metal workers and miners.

The United Steelworkers (USW), which represents 850,000 workers in Canada, the Caribbean, and the United States, and the National Union of Miners and Metal Workers (SNTMMSRM), known as the Mineros, which represents 180,000 workers in Mexico, have announced plans to explore uniting into one international union. The agreement to begin exploration of a merger was signed on June 21.

This new step in the creation of a global union — as opposed to a global federation of unions — represents a significant new development for labor in the Americas with implications for workers around the world. Building on the 2008 trans-Atlantic relationship between Unite in the United Kingdom and the USW, now the USW and the Mineros are working to build a worldwide labor union with the power to confront the concentrated capital of the mining and metal working industries.

USW President Leo W. Gerard and Minero general secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia together asserted the two unions continued “common commitment to democracy, equality, and solidarity for working men and women throughout North America and throughout the world.”

The two unions have had a strategic alliance since 2005. Now a commission made up of five members from each of the unions will create a joint commission to propose “immediate measures to increase strategic cooperation between our organizations as well as the steps required to form a unified organization.”

Several Years of Close Cooperation

The attempt to create an international union by these two unions arises within the context of the 16-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since NAFTA took effect on January 1, 1994, several Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. unions have sought greater cooperation as they faced transnational corporations with new reach and power. This is, however, the first attempt to create a new international union in response to the greater mobility and power of international capital since NAFTA and what has been called the neoliberal era of privatization and free trade.

This new development also comes as a result of several years of intense and intimate collaboration between the Steelworkers and the Mineros at many different levels. The two unions have joined together in campaigns against common employers and in mutual support on issues facing them. Most notably, the USW has helped the Mineros as it came under a brutal attack by Grupo Mexico, that country’s largest mining company, and by the administration of Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president. ”

When the Mexican government repeatedly filed charges against the Mineros’ general secretary, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, threatening to jail him, the USW played a central role in helping him find safety in Vancouver, B.C. For three years with the aid of the USW, he has been leading the Mineros through a series of difficult strikes and other confrontations from that city.

Dan La Botz is a  labor union activist, academic, journalist, and author in the United States. He was a co-founder of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and writes the invaluable monthly Mexican News and Analysis A longer version of this article examines the history of US-Mexican solidarity and the impact of NAFTA.

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