Their Mines, Our Stories began in 2005 as part of a class we taught together, called Local Knowledge, at The Evergreen State College. We were interested in learning about the experiences of laboring communities, and how workers and their families made sense of the complex interplay of economic, environmental and health factors that affect them and their communities. Initially we were focused on neighboring Ruston and Tacoma, where ASARCO had operated for almost 100 years before closing in 1985. Over time, as we learned more about the company and the many communities in which it operated, our study broadened both geographically and conceptually.
ASARCO is not unique among U.S. corporations. But there are some factors that make it especially significant—the long arc of its history, the wide reach of its operations, the contentious nature of its interactions with citizens, workers and public agencies, its attempts to influence science, its impact on public policy, and its precedent-setting bankruptcy. ASARCO’s bankruptcy reorganization is a disturbing forecast of what corporations can do to escape their responsibilities to the workers and communities they have used and abused. In its preparations for chapter 11 bankruptcy, ASARCO was sold to its Mexican subsidiary who then purchased ASARCO’s lucrative Peruvian mines at below-market prices. This shifted ASARCO’s assets across the border, out of reach of U.S. unions and courts, and left its many liabilities to be negotiated down during the bankruptcy process. Once a U.S. company with holdings on almost every continent, ASARCO is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, the Mexican company it helped to create. Grupo Mexico, in turn, is now leading the assault on workers’ rights in Mexico, and systematically unraveling the social contract with the communities in which it carries out its operations.
Our multi-media project is working to research, document and analyze this complex story. We have been frequent visitors to several Asarco-impacted communities, as well as to Mexico’s historic Cananea copper mine, now operated by Grupo Mexico. We have been privileged to spend time with union activists and their families, former workers, environmentalists, public health advocates, agency staff, public officials and community residents. We’re grateful to the people who have supported our research and our filming, guided us through their communities, shared their stories with us, and allowed us to participate in their ongoing work, learning and struggle. Our project has also been helped immeasurably by the work of the many dedicated researchers, writers, photographers, occupational health specialists, union activists, and citizen researchers who have contributed to our collective knowledge about this company and the communities in which it operates. We also wish to thank Johan Genberg of Trickleup Web Design (trickleupfilms.org), who patiently guided us through the process of creating this website, and Alex Becker, an extraordinary research assistant and collaborator, who scanned and indexed many of the materials used on this site.
The web of relationships in which we’ve been privileged to participate creates accountability, and this, in turn, spurs us to continue working and finding ways to share what we’ve learned. So far, we’ve completed several articles and made numerous conference and class presentations. We’re working on a documentary film and eventually hope to produce a book. This website was developed as an archive and form of outreach that we hope will be useful. We invite you to make use of the resources that are organized here, and to keep in touch with us about our work—and yours. Thanks for visiting.