June 19, 2006

Mexican workers plan 24-hour strike as election looms

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Mexican
telephone and university workers are threatening a 24-hour
strike just days before July presidential elections to pressure
the government to end a long-running mining dispute.

On June 28 the workers will walk off the job, joining
thousands of teachers and miners, some of whom have been on
strike for months in a series of labor conflicts that have seen
running street battles with riot police.

The sometimes violent conflicts have caused two deaths and
dozens of injuries, creating industrial instability ahead of
closely-fought July 2 presidential elections.

The telephone workers union said the June 28 strikes at
Mexico's main telephone company Telmex, would affect only
customer service and administrative functions. Telmex is owned
by the world's third richest man, Carlos Slim.

"If you want to make a phone call you won't have any
problem, but if you have to make a payment or your phone is
broken there will be nothing you can do about it that day,"
union spokesman Eduardo Torres said on Monday.

The powerful electricity workers union is expected to
organize protests to support the strike, although its members
will not walk off the job completely.

Mexico's mining industry has been in turmoil for most of
this year with sporadic and sometimes drawn-out strikes in
favor of union boss Napoleon Gomez, accused of fraud by the
government and some workers.


Torres said the one-day strike had been called to pressure
the government to reinstate the ousted union boss. He said the
June 28 labor action would only be called off if the government
backed down.

The Sicartsa steel mill and Grupo Mexico's massive Cananea
and La Caridad mines in the state of Sonora near the U.S.
border are the hardest hit by the mining crisis.

In April, two workers were shot dead by police in a botched
attempt to end the Sicartsa strike by force.

Gomez was officially pushed out of the union in February
and is now wanted by Sonora police for alleged misuse of union
funds, but still enjoys the support of many union members who
say the labor ministry illegally orchestrated his removal.

La Caridad produced 122,317 tons of copper in concentrates
last year. La Cananea produced 118,741 tons of copper in
concentrates in 2005.

In a separate conflict, striking teachers have closed
schools in several Mexican states. Worst hit is the southern
state of Oaxaca, where teachers are demanding pay rises and
want the state governor to resign.

Pitched battles with the police there resulted in 66
injuries last week.