Steel Workers in Mexico Clash with Police

Five-hundred striking Steel workers who have occupied the SICARTSA steel mill in Michoacan, Mexico repelled 800 armed policemen dressed in riot gear who tried to overtake the plant. On April 20 two workers, José Luis Castillo Zúñiga and Héctor Alvarez Gómez, were killed when police entered the plant through a back door at daybreak and began firing tear gas and live ammunition at surprised workers. Forty one workers were injured, mostly by gun shots.

The SICARTSA workers, who have been on strike since April 2, did not give up easily. As news of the police attack got around, union workers from nearby MITTAL Steel— arrived and fought back police with sticks. Police were forced to leave through the same door from which they entered.

Later, a video tape surfaced that showed Police Ministry Director Jaime Liera Alvare giving orders to fire at protesters’ "feet." Liera Alvare resigned the next day. Michoacan State Police retired from the mill, leaving 400 Federal Preventative Police (PFP) on the Mill’s perimiter.

Workers are demanding the re-installation of union leader Napolean Gomez Urrutia, who was removed by government fiat in February and accused of embezzlement. He was replaced by a former union official who now supports the company.

Former Labor Secretary Carlos Abascal, who is Mexico’s current Interior Secretary, was tapped by President Fox to spearhead negotiations between mill owners and the union. The union has demanded the resignation of current Labor Secretary Francisco Xavier Salazar and the impeachment of Fox. [Abascal drew attention as Labor Secretary when he claimed that women who work outside the home threatened femininity.]

Early last week, the Labor Secretariat´s arbitration board ruled the strike illegal, precipitating Thursday´s police action. The second of the two victims of Thursday´s clash was buried Saturday in the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, home of the conflicted mill.