There's trouble in the world's largest gold mine and it's connected directly to Phoenix. The Grasberg mine in Indonesia is owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, one of the world's largest mining companies, and thousands of the workers there have been striking for nearly three months.
They want an increase in pay—NPR quotes a union lawyer affiliated with the workers: "We're making $1-$3 an hour," he explains. "We're not asking for the same pay as Freeport workers in other countries. We are just asking for what's rightfully ours, considering how much the minerals mined at Grasberg contribute to Freeport."
And they are angry about the environmental destruction and decades of human rights abuses by the Indonesian armed forces that Freeport-McMoRan is accused of enabling. The Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world's second-largest pension fund, has excluded Freeport, along with partner Rio Tinto, from its investment portfolio because of criticism over the environmental damage caused by the Grasberg mine, which has been named among the 10 most incredible Earth scars.
Local Oppression, Lack of Worker Protection
Foreign journalists are not allowed in without government approval, and the Atlantic reports that the access road to the mine is for official vehicles only. The Atlantic continues, explaining the conflict of interest for local police:
Freeport is paying millions of dollars directly to the police officers who guard its mine, although Indonesia's police force has a history of brutality and corruption. When the National Police chief admitted to these payments last month, he called it "lunch money," writing it off as "operational funding given directly to police personnel to help them make ends meet."
And explains more about the recent strikes:
this strike is not only the longest in Indonesian mining history, but also one of the more violent, with sabotage to pipelines and deadly attacks on company employees. "We don't feel secure to work at Freeport or to travel between the mine and our homes," said Juli Parorrongan, a spokesman for the All Indonesian Workers Union, which organized the strike. "Too many people have been killed, but we don't know who's shooting us. We need the police to protect us."
NPR reports on the actions that people involved have been trying to take:
In a letter dated Nov. 1, 2011, the United Steelworkers union wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking it to investigate whether Freeport-McMoRan's payments amounted to bribing a foreign government, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The story said that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission considered similar allegations in 2003, but it sided with Freeport-McMoRan. The battle is exhausting people who are trying to help the workers.
NPR quotes a local activist: "I ask president of America, Mr. Obama, must help, must understand... Because you have took our gold, our rich natural resource, you make your country rich, but our people poor."
And then explains how the workers' situation doesn't look promising: After weeks of deadlocked talks, NPR says that police in Papua have threatened to break the strike if the union doesn't call it off.