Napoleon Gomez, the union leader at the center of one of Mexico's nastiest strikes, says his self-imposed exile in Canada has not dampened his spirit, but he never expected to be away from home for so long.
Gomez runs Mexico's miners' union, and a strike at that country's largest copper mine, using cellphones, e-mails and video links. Meantime, his lawyers back home fight against corruption charges that he dismisses as a political attempt to destroy the union.
I never expected it was going to take so long, Gomez told Reuters in an interview this week in Vancouver, the Pacific Coast city where he now lives with his family since coming to Canada in 2006.
An economist by training rather than a miner, Gomez said the situation, while personally straining, has not stopped him from doing his job, and the union has been able to reach 30 collective agreements over the past year and a half.
The fight that has not been resolved -- and is intricately tied to his being in Canada -- is the sometimes bloody 10-month strike at Grupo Mexico's
Gomez puts the blame squarely on the company and Mexican labor officials, who he alleges have waged a dirty campaign -- including the corruption charges -- in an attempt to make him the main issue in the labor dispute.
The strike is about workers's safety and health, he says, emphasizing his remarks, as he often does, with a firm hand gesture. They are prepared to continue on strike (until they get) their legal rights.
WANTS CALDERON INVOLVED
Gomez dismisses Mexico's labor secretary as having repeatedly favored the company, citing as an example, the government's current delay in certifying his re-election as union president this month.
Thousands of miners and metal workers staged a one-day strike to show their support for him, but he downplayed the idea of another walkout, saying that if the government rejects the vote certification the union will continue its fight through the legal process.
Gomez also renewed his call for President Felipe Calderon to become involved in ending the dispute.
This problem has caused a lot of uncertainty in the industry and in many other unions, and we want to go back to normal again. We want to negotiate and solve the problems with respect for the union and workers' rights, he said.
Gomez dismissed suggestions that Grupo Mexico will simply abandon Cananea and its other Mexican mines in favor of operations in Peru or other countries were it might face less labor strife.
It is another way of blackmailing the president, society and the workers. he said.
He said that in contrast to Grupo Mexico, the union has relatively good relations with other mining companies and steelmakers. They (Grupo Mexico) like to keep fighting with the workers.
DOES NOT TRUST JUSTICE SYSTEM
While strongly denying allegations that he misused union funds, Gomez does not trust the Mexican justice system and will not return home until his lawyers say it is safe.
We do not trust the justice system because so far it has been manipulated by lies, he said.
He concedes his political enemies have tried to take advantage of his absence, but believes his personal fight has also proven to be a rallying force for the workers.
Gomez, whose father ran the union for many years, says he tries to live a normal life, and is working on a book in what little time he has between dealing with union duties and phone calls.
I used to have five (phones), no, six, and now I only have three, he said with a laugh. (Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)