April 24, 2008 / 1:34 AM / 11 years ago

International unions say Mexico repressing miners

MEXICO CITY, April 23 (Reuters) - International unions, including a leading U.S. labor organization, accused Mexican authorities on Wednesday of using violence to break up union strikes, including one at the country’s biggest copper mine.

The International Metalworkers’ Federation accused the government of siding with the owners of the Cananea copper mine and the Lazaro Cardenas steel mill in labor disputes, and using police to disperse strikers with rubber bullets and tear gas.

“The government has relied on force and violence to resolve the country’s labor disputes, while criminalizing trade union activity,” the group said in a letter sent to lawmakers around Latin America, the United States and Canada.

The federation groups more than 200 unions, including the AFL-CIO in the United States.

Workers at the Cananea mine have been on strike for eight months in a dispute that began over safety conditions but has been complicated by bad blood between the Mexican mining union’s leader and mine owner Grupo Mexico (GMEXICOB.MX).

The dispute has turned violent several times, and Grupo Mexico retook control of Cananea with the support of hundreds of police after the strike was declared illegal in January, sparking a brief clash.

The International Metalworkers’ Federation also accused the government of not fully investigating the shooting deaths of two steel workers in clashes between police and striking workers in April 2006 at the Lazaro Cardenas mill in western Mexico.

The government roundly rejected the claims, saying the report had misinterpreted facts and that excessive force had never been used.

“This is a document that is missing truthful information and doesn’t reflect the relationship we have with the miner’s union, which has been one of respectful dialogue,” the deputy labor minister, Alvaro Castro, told Reuters.

Castro said the accusations could complicate ongoing negotiations between the union and Grupo Mexico to end the strike at Cananea. (Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Braden Reddall)

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