Copper miners strike

March 11, 2020

From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters

Workers walk the picket line against Asarco/Grupo Mexico. Photo by United Steelworkers

The strike of more than 1,500 copper miners and smelters in Arizona and Texas against Asarco/Grupo Mexico has entered its fifth month, as workers face off against their intransigent boss. Union membership is fractured between Steelworkers, Electrical Workers, Teamsters, Machinists, Operating Engineers, Boilermakers and Pipefitters, but that has not interfered with unity on the picket lines.

Miners, who had worked without a contract for more than a year, walked out in October after Asarco presented what it called its “last, best and final offer” as prelude to unilaterally imposing its settlement on union workers. They had not gotten a raise in the more than a decade that Grupo Mexico controlled the mines, and Asarco was demanding a pension freeze and greater healthcare contributions; but current violations of labor laws make the walkout a strike over unfair labor practices.

In the past the company has paid out close to $2 million in fines—just the cost of doing business—for environmental, health and safety violations. In December Asarco formally imposed their last, best and final offer and counted on replacing strikers.

Support from other union members and communities around Asarco sites has been strong. Many strikers who have found other work, temporary or steady, still come back to help maintain picket lines against scabs. But opposing the power of an international conglomerate like Grupo Mexico that can call on the government for support will test even this solidarity. Union officials have put their hopes in documenting the extensive outlaw record of Asarco before the National Labor Relations Board even though Trump’s lackeys control it.

In the Reagan era in 1984 News & Letters’ Labor Editor Felix Martin spent time with copper miners in Arizona on strike against Phelps Dodge since the year before. He delivered messages of solidarity from UAW workers in his California GM plant and from News and Letters Committees. The miners returned that solidarity. He was able to report that attacks by the company and police hadn’t broken the spirit of miners, women and children.

One 10-year-old miner’s daughter had refused to say the pledge of allegiance in school, because she saw the words were a lie. The whole town was involved in the strike. Felix Martin called the People’s Clinic serving strikers a real unity of mental and manual labor, and he and his wife only got to stay in the motel because they were strike supporters.

Phelps Dodge eventually broke the union, but the legacy of copper miners (and air traffic controllers and meat packers at Hormel) challenging bosses during Reagan retrogression in the 1980s helped inspire teachers, GM workers and now copper miners to confront their bosses and command support from their communities.

—Bob McGuire

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