Trade Union Leader

Having come up through the worlds of academia and public sector administration, Napoleón began to discover his true vocation. For many years he had helped his father as much as he could. Gómez Sada had become a widely admired public figure in Mexico’s labour movement, having been elected twice as a Senator and once as a Federal Representative. His father had managed to do all this while at the same time maintaining his post as Secretary General of the Miners Union. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia helped his father in his role without ever accepting payment for his services, which ranged from translating articles to providing statistical updates on markets and trends in metal prices, inflation projections and changes to fiscal policy. All of this information proved very helpful when it came to wage negotiations and the revision of collective bargaining contracts.

He continued to help the union in an unofficial capacity as a consultant up until 1995. At that point he became an official member of the union when the Peñoles Group, Mexico’s second largest mining company, offered him a post that involved administration, accountancy and operations for a project at the new La Ciénega mine, opened in Santiago Papasquiaro in Durango state. Some months later, the union named him special delegate to the National Executive Committee for Section 120 of La Ciénaga Nuestra Señora.

In the year 2000 Napoleón Gómez Sada’s health began to deteriorate, leading the union to broach the task of finding a successor to the role of General Secretary. In early March 2000, the union’s National Executive Committee called a full meeting at the Miners Unions headquarters in Mexico City, during which Napoleón Gómez Urrutia’s name was put forward for substitute General Secretary.

After Napoleón Gómez Sada’s death in October 2001, the National Miners Union held a National Extraordinary Convention to choose the official successor to the General Secretary post. The delegates decided unanimously that Gómez Urrutia would assume the role of Acting General Secretary until the next Ordinary General Convention, which took place in May 2002. Following a unanimous vote, he was elected General Secretary of the National Union of Mining, Steel and Metalworkers of the Mexican Republic.

A programme was immediately put in place to understand the needs and problems of workers and to conduct a working tour of all mines, steel and metalwork plants, in order to hear directly from every one of the union’s 250,000 members on the ground. This is how a new leader was born.

Cutting edge trade unionism

Right from his very first days in post, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia was immediately prepared to put into practice one of the many pieces of advice given to him by his father: that the best way to understand workers’ needs and problems is to talk to them personally and directly, face-to-face. He conducted a working tour of every mine to listen to problems and seek solutions, and his struggle for the Miners Union has continued in this vein. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia’s struggle for democratic trade unionism and for the respect and dignity of workers is known across the world. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia has been General Secretary of the National Union of Mining, Steel and Metalworkers of the Mexican Republic since his unanimous election in 2002. He was re-elected for a new term in 2008 and appointed president in 2012.

With the Miners Napoleón Gómez Urrutia has achieved what no other union has done, by fighting for miners’ labour rights. It is the union that has overseen the highest salary increases in the Mexican Republic over the past decade, maintaining an annual uplift of 11.5% for every year of the last ten.

This is something totally unprecedented in the labour and trade union sector, and it far exceeds what various other unions have managed throughout the history of the Mexican Republic.

Despite the way they are portrayed by many business owners, trade unions do not exist to ruin corporations; trade unionism is not the enemy of business. When a worker is treated with dignity and respect, both parties – workers and companies alike, benefit immensely. This is why we see the union constantly looking toimplement global social programmes including access to housing, education, health and social security..

Our objective is not to bleed the executive coffers, but rather toguarantee workers’ basic rights, which often leads to greater benefit for companies than they get from taking advantage of and exploiting their employees and contractors.

We are convinced that wage and benefit increases for workers are synonymous with an increase in productivity, and the companies which have formed a partnership with the Miners Union could testify to this. So much so that we have been able to achieve a greater than 300% increase in comparison to the increases achieved by the Labour Secretary in collaboration with other unions.

International Alliances
At the beginning of 2005, Napoleón attended a meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, with Leo W. Gerard, the international president of United Steelworkers and some of his colleagues. They came to the conclusion that if they did not collaborate by way of an international strategic alliance, the immense pressure exerted by multinational companies and conservative governments throughout the world would end up wiping out trade unions within a maximum of ten years.

After the Miners Union showed its solidarity with USW in a workers strike in the steelwork industry against the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), they signed an agreement to form theStrategic Alliance of Solidarity between United Steelworkers and the Miners Union of Mexico in May 2005, on the occasion of United Steelworkers’ International Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas, in order to take on the challenges of globalization and the policies of transnational corporations.

Over the years that followed, various alliances with other international unions have been formed, raising ever greater awareness of the situation faced by Mexican workers and the fact that changes can and must take place. These international unions have included: United Steelworkers (USA and Canada), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa, Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the IndustriALL Global Union, and Unite the Union from the United Kingdom.

(From left to right) Steve Hunt, Director of District 3, Ken Neumann, National Director of Canada, and Leo Gerard, international President of USW. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union. Senzeni Zokwana, President of the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa. Andrew Vickers President of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union of Australia and New Zealand.