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Brussels forum celebrates the role of women in mining struggles

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

On March 20, Cristina Auerbach of the Pasta de Conchos Family Organization in Mexico met with MEP Tania González Peñas of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left, GUE/NGL, at the European Parliament in Brussels.

González, who is with the left-wing Spanish party Podemos (a member of the GUE/NGL), organized a "Leadership of women in mining communities" (Liderazgos femeninos en las comunidades mineras) forum that included Auerbach, Spanish anti-Franco militant Anita Sirgo, and Scottish anti-Thatcher activist Margot Russell.

While coal miners have historically endured poor wages, dangerous working conditions, silicosis and other health issues, and a shorter life expectancy, they are now also being hit by the closure of mines without just transition strategies in place.

González, who is from the Asturias region in Spain where the coal mines have now been closed, said the conference was intended "to make visible the historical role of women in the claims of the mining sector and also in the anti-Franco struggle."

She adds that while it is usually thought that activism in the mining sector has been carried out by men, "there is a huge debt to women and their role."

The gathering included the women speaking at the European Parliament and an art exhibition on the prominent role of women in mining struggles.

La Nueva España reports (in Spanish) that the exhibition, curated by University of Oviedo professor Rubén Vega, featured "stories and photographs of women who have stood out for their struggle in unfavourable situations."

Russell participated in the coal miners' strike in 1984-85 when then U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher was seeking to weaken the power of trade unions. Sirgo took part in the coal miners' strike in 1962-63 that began in Asturias and grew to 300,000 workers across the country and a profound political challenge to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

In Mexico, Auerbach and the Pasta de Conchos Family Organization is committed to achieving justice for the families impacted by a coal mining disaster 13 years ago.

On February 19, 2006, a methane explosion killed 65 people at a mine owned by Grupo México, the largest mining corporation in Mexico.

To date only two bodies have been recovered from the mine.

The workers reportedly had complained about a gas leak prior to the explosion and had gone on strike many times over safety conditions.

The Mexican government has not conducted a thorough investigation into who was responsible the disaster, nor have the families of those killed been compensated, but the Ministry of the Interior has now said it will work to retrieve the 63 bodies still in the mine.

The Pasta de Conchos Family Organization continues to advocate for improved working conditions for miners and living conditions in surrounding communities.

Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project has noted that the work of the Pasta de Conchos Family Organization touches the "strategic interests of large important economic and political actors" and as a result has been targeted with smear campaigns. Auerbach and her organization have received protective accompaniment from PBI-Mexico since 2014.

For readers in Canada, it might also be noted that Mother Jones, who grew up in Toronto, supported the Vancouver Island Coal Strike in 1914. At a speech in Vancouver, Jones stated, "Capitalism has danced too long on the hearts of the aching miners."

There have also been numerous coal mining tragedies in Canada, including at Hillcrest in 1914 that claimed the lives of 189 miners, Springhill in 1958 that claimed 74 lives, Glace Bay in 1979 that took 12 lives, and Westray in 1992 that ended 26 lives.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo by Peace Brigades International.

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