Apr 22, MEXICO CITY (Dow Jones)--The union representing striking miners who seized Mexico's Cananea copper mine 33 months ago said Thursday that explosives have been set to blow up the facility rather than hand it over to mining concern Grupo Mexico SAB
Javier Zuniga, work secretary for the National Mining and Metal Workers Union, said at a news conference that workers were willing "to light the fuse" of explosives placed throughout the mine complex in Sonora state near the U.S. border.
The official said the union doesn't want to destroy the mine but that it is willing to do so. "It was the workers who took the decision to place the explosive charges," Zuniga said.
Union officials also said they are willing to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict and would like to see the government rescind Grupo Mexico's mining concession at Cananea and give it to a company more supportive of labor.
The explosives threat came after the Supreme Court rejected a union appeal against unfavorable lower-court rulings that allow Grupo Mexico to end the collective contract and lay off workers at Cananea, Mexico's largest copper mine.
Zuniga said individual workers are also fighting their layoffs in court and that the legal battle would continue on that level.
Grupo Mexico had no immediate comment on the union threats.
In recent months, Grupo Mexico sweetened its severance offer to Cananea workers and said they would have the right to return to their jobs independent from the union. Few workers have accepted, however.
Cananea miners went on strike in July 2007, locking in its 180,000 tons a year of copper capacity.
Zuniga said the workers, who seized the facility when the labor dispute erupted over workplace conditions, decided to set explosives because they were denied their rights in the courts and with the federal government.
"What else is there for us to do except to defend ourselves," he said, when asked if the explosives would be detonated if authorities sought to recover the mine.
Zuniga called on President Felipe Calderon to intervene to find a peaceful resolution.
Cananea is part of Grupo Mexico unit Southern Copper Corp. (SCCO), which runs the company's Peruvian and Mexican mines.
In Peru on Wednesday, Southern Copper was ordered by the government to suspend work on the Tia Maria copper project, set to begin production in 2012.
The 90-day suspension came after a highway blockade by residents living near the project in the southern district of Islay who claim negative environmental impacts.
Southern Copper expects to produce about 500,000 metric tons of copper this year in Peru and Mexico.
Grupo Mexico B shares on the Mexican stock exchange fell 1.4% to 34.69 pesos ($2.84) Thursday on lower copper prices.