Forced underground

NOV collapse dignityCollapse of Dignity: The Story of a Mining Tragedy and the Fight Against Greed and Corruption in Mexico
Napoleón Gómez
2013, BenBella Books
355 pages, paperback

MEXICO has a long and noble record of producing brave trade union leaders committed to the struggle of workers with whom they personally identify and braving staggering odds to achieve often limited improvements in working conditions and pay. Napoleón Gómez is the modern face of this tradition and has achieved a profile that has won him many friends in progressive circles – and many enemies in Mexico and abroad among corrupt officials and politicians and the multinational corporations that so often sustain them. The head of the National Mining and Metalworkers Union has been the target of absurd allegations aiming to discredit his struggle for justice for the men who lost their lives in an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila in 2006. A blast in the coalmine trapped 65 workers in a subterranean tunnel. The rescue effort was lamentable and, less than a week later, Mexico’s labour secretary called it off, leaving the trapped men to their fate. Gómez, head of the union that represented the workers, alleged a litany of incompetence and appalling safety conditions at the mine, claiming labour inspectors and the corporation that operated it, Grupo México, had ignored the hazardous state of the site. The tragedy sparked a bitter confrontation between the union and transnational mining corporations whose tentacles reach into the upper echelons of Mexico’s political system – and would ultimately force Gómez to lead the union from exile in Vancouver, Canada. Collapse of Dignity is his account of his union’s fight to bring those responsible for what he claims was industrial homicide to justice, and reveals how his organisation confronted armed aggression, death threats and a corporate-political alliance that extended all the way to Los Pinos, the presidential palace. It was only in April this year that a case lodged by the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) keeping the head of Los Mineros on the Interpol red alert list was scrapped after years of legal campaigning by his supporters. The book reveals how politicians and their corporate paymasters have pursued an anti-union conspiracy in Mexico’s mines for many years, and makes an impassioned plea for global solidarity to confront the abuses being committed against Mexican workers.