On February 19th, 2006, 65 miners perished in a mine explosion at the Grupo Mexico mine at Pasta de Conchos in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The situation began with (unfortunately common) horrible labor conditions and unfair compensation for workers. It climaxed with untold government and corporate corruption, leading to the deaths of dedicated laborers. Though they had been fighting for their rights as workers and as humans, they were consistently ignored by their employers, who were in favor of higher corporate profit.
The explosion seemed to be ignored as officials tried to sweep it under the rug. They had not even attempted recovery of the trapped miners. And when Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the leader of the the national union of mine, metal and steelworkers (Los Mineros), denounced the killings, the government tried to remove him from office.
Enough was enough. In April 2006, the union called strikes across the country. Workers stood together to fight for basic rights. Government and corporations feared cuts to their profits if the workers were successful in standing up for fair wages and improved safety measures. Especially because they had such a capable Union leader and could actually win.
President Vicente Fox ordered an attack by police and military forces on the strikers. That order resulted in the deaths of Hector Ấlvarez Gómez and Mario Alberto Castillo Rodríguez, two union members at the steel mill in the Mexican town of Lázaro Cárdenas.
To commemorate their bravery and to stand in solidarity, annually thousands of members of Los Mineros are joined by more than a hundred United Steelworkers and members of Unite the Union from the UK and Ireland. They march to commemorate Hector and Mario and remind the world that the fight for safe and decent working conditions is not over.
This year, 4 people are going to join the march from the Western New York area to represent a portion of the District 4 United Steelworkers. Joe Vertalino, David Wasiura, Valerie Thomas (staff at the District 4 Office), will be joined by City of Niagara Falls employee Brook D’Angelo of USW Local 9434 (who is also their Women Of Steel Chairwoman).
Follow their journey as they travel to Mexico. This year they will be departing April 18 and returning April 22nd. Take this opportunity to promote the noble cause of international laborer unification and the support of the most basic of human rights and work safety. Ms. D’Angelo plans to extensively photo-document their journey. Consider interviews pre-trip and even see them off as they fly out of Buffalo.
United Steelworkers Presence in Western New York
USW District 4 has headquarters in Cheektowaga. The district covers CT, DE, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VT and Puerto Rico. It is lead by Director John Shinn. The USW Buffalo office opened around 50 years ago. Once on Genesee Street in Buffalo, now located in Cheektowaga on Cayuga Road.
The USW office serves as meeting space, a place for negotiation facilitation, mediation for conflict resolution, and even as training space. The staff are there to assist the membership in any way that they can. They serve over 6,500 workers in Western New York alone and from many different industries. In WNY there are 70 plus Locals, from: steel, rubber, chemical, paper, public sector, mining, beverage distribution, and manufacturing, to name a few.
The United Steelworkers not only support their own members, but are very active within their communities. Groups like Women of Steel, Next Gen, and the Legislative committee groups are busy volunteering and often collecting items such as food, diapers and toiletries to help build stronger neighborhoods. They often work alongside other unions to ensure working families have good jobs and a bright future.