29 November 2010 ICEM InBrief
Ongoing abuses of trade union rights in Mexico will be highlighted on 3 December, the day that marks the two-year anniversary of Juan Linares Montufar’s arrest. Linares is a political prisoner, held illegally, without bond since his arrest. The sham charges against him all relate to the transfer of funds from a Trust created by his trade union, the National Union of Mine, Metal and Steel Workers (SNTMMSSRM) to the union. His detention is one part of the campaign of trade union intimidation and repression by the Mexican government.
Juan Linares is the President of the Oversight and Justice Council of the SNTMMSSRM, also known as Los Mineros. The sham charges against him relate to a trust created in 1988 as part of negotiations around the sale of a number of state-owned mines to Germán Larrea, the current owner of mining giant Grupo México. As part of the privatisation negotiations, 5% of the shares of the companies were to be placed in a trust for the benefit of the SNTMMSSRM. In a 1990 ruling, the First Commercial Court in Mexico City confirmed that the union was the beneficiary of the trust. Linares was one of three trustees named by the union to administer the trust.
Los Mineros fought a 15-year legal and industrial action struggle to make the Larrea companies pay the agreed shares into the Trust. Agreement was reached on 2 October 2004, by which time the 5% share was worth approximately US$55 million. In February 2005 the union decided to terminate the Trust and transfer the money to a bank account of the union.
In 2006 the Federal Attorney General filed criminal charges against Linares, SNTMMSSRM General Secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and other union officials, in federal and state courts. All of the charges are based on a single argument: that the union did not have the right to terminate the trust because the trust existed for the benefit of the workers, not the union. The union officers reply that the transfer of the trust funds was perfectly legal under Mexican law; in addition to being a protected exercise of trade union autonomy under ILO Convention 87. So far, charges filed against Gómez in three state and two federal courts have been dismissed, as have two state charges against Linares. However, a federal charge against Linares is still being litigated, and the courts have denied him bail.
Ironically, while the government claims that its prosecution is intended to force the union to pay the Grupo Mexico workers, its charges actually halted the payments. Prior to the filing of the criminal charges, the SNTMMSSRM had already distributed almost $21 million to the workers. But when the government filed charges, it also froze the union’s bank accounts, halting the distribution process.
Since his arrest, Linares has been held at the Reclusorio Norte prison in Mexico City. He receives regular visits from his family, other Mineros leaders, and international trade union delegations from around the world. To all his visitors, Linares has one message: “I could walk out of this jail tomorrow if I were willing to betray my union. But I will never do that.”
Juan Linares is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately.
This demand is part of a global mobilisation that is being planned to coincide with the five-year anniversary of the deadly accident at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Coahuila on 19 February 2006. The global days of action, calling for an end to government attacks on Mexico’s democratic trade unions, will be led by affiliates of four Global Union Federations: the ICEM, International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and UNI Global Union. A general call will be released on 1 December, with more information.