Mexico’s miners’ union vowed on Thursday to continue a strike that has brought operations at the largest mining companies to a virtual standstill, affecting metals supplies across the country and helping push up international copper prices.
The National Mining and Metal Workers’ Union, which represents about 270,000 of Mexico’s miners, said on Thursday that the strike “was only just the beginning” and would continue until the government stopped interfering in union matters.
Miners throughout Mexico walked off the job on Wednesday in a show of support for Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, a former union leader who was replaced in mid-February following an internal dispute over the handling of funds.
Mexico’s labour ministry has officially recognised Elias Morales, the new union leader who replaced Mr Gómez, but denied on Thursday that it endorsed the change.
“All we do is note the changes that take place in union leadership and make sure they are in accordance with the law,” said Pedro Camacho, the ministry spokesperson. “This is an internal problem in the union and has nothing to do with the government.” Mr Camacho said the government considered the strike “illegal”.
The largest mining companies said the walk-out would soon cause serious problems to their operations. Industrias Peñoles, the world’s largest silver producer, told the FT that if the strike lasted more than a week the company would no longer be able to continue supplying its customers.
“It makes no sense,” said Luis Rey, the company’s spokesperson. “It is hitting our operations very hard and yet it has nothing to do with us.” Mr Rey estimated that the strike was costing the company roughly $10m (€8.3m, £5.7m) a day.
The nationwide stoppage is affecting mining companies across the country, including Grupo Mexico, the world’s third largest copper producer, and Netherlands-based Mittal Steel, the country’s biggest steel producer.
The fighting within the union is understood to centre on a dispute involving the distribution of $55m paid by Grupo Mexico to the union that resulted from the privatisation of two mines in 1990.