Report of the Cananea International Solidarity Trip by Women of Steel
On May 27, 2008 fourteen Women of Steel (12 of which were local union members) from Districts 4, 6, 7, and 12 representing the United Steelworkers gathered in Tucson, Arizona and caravanned across the Mexican border about three hours into Cananea, Mexico to support striking miners, but most of all to meet the group of women who have taken the lead in support of the miners during their strike. This article was written by Rosie Gonzalez, tour participant, USW Staff Representative and District 12 Women of Steel Coordinator.
Cananea, Mexico located in the Sonora Mountains, fifty miles south of the US border, lies one of the world’s largest copper mines operated by Grupo Mexico, one of the largest mining corporations in the world. The Mexican Union of Mine, Metal and Allied Workers have been on strike for approximately ten months over Health and Safety issues which have affected the miners as well as the community.
On May 26, 2008 fourteen Women of Steel from Districts 4, 6, 7, and 12 representing the United Steelworkers traveled to Tucson, Arizona and gathered the following day and caravanned across the border about three hours into Cananea, Mexico in support of the miners, but most of all to meet the group of women who have taken the lead in support of the miners during this strike. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived. To our surprise, as we approached the Local Union Hall, we were met by the Local leadership and their warm hospitality they showed us throughout our stay. We were led into a conference room where we met the women and sat down in a round table setting and we introduced ourselves and our purpose for being there. As I sat there and listened to the many stories and struggles these women have gone through to support their loved ones and the cause they strongly believe in, I realized that we were not talking to women who were frail or weak these women were strongly opinionated and outspoken women. The stories told were of intimidation, harassment and, even at times, physical abuse by both the Employer and the Government. At the end of the day, we were all invited to eat dinner with some of the miners and the women who prepared a wonderful meal for all of us. We continued to share experiences and the women even shared some of there chanting songs, as we prepared for the following day.
The next morning, arrangements were made to have three of the WOS speak and be interviewed by a local radio station. This was a great opportunity for us to tell why we were there and a greater opportunity on behalf of the miners and the women, since they do not get much support from the local media. We were amazed when we found out that during the session at the radio station, lined up outside were some of the Women of Cananea who came and showed their support and solidarity for us. We met back at the hall and were escorted to the Mine and met with some of the strikers outside the gate. They expressed there gratitude to the WOS and the United Steelworkers for the support we had brought to them and the encouragement we brought to the women. As one gentleman said and I quote, “I didn’t think anyone out there cared.”
Throughout our conversations with both the miners and the women, there were many issues to be addressed:
- Medical coverage taken away from the employees.
- Water supply limited to certain times of the day.
- Discrimination of their children in the schools
From these issues the main concern was having their Health Care Coverage taken away from the miners and their families, which affected cancer treatments, medications and pre-natal care, are just a few examples. There was a young pregnant woman in the group who I spoke to whose baby is due in August and she expressed her concerns for both herself and her newborn.
During our long drive back to Tucson, we could not help but reflect to what we had just experienced. We all were determined to come back home and pass on their stories and find a way to help! Even though there is so much distance between both countries and unions, we must do best what unions do and that is to support our brothers and sisters in the struggles we all fight for everyday.
My deepest admiration goes out to all my sisters who made this journey a success, one I will never forget.