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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 35      October 3, 2011


Click here for Militant Labor Forums.

(lead article)
Sugar workers’ fight
wins growing support
1,300 stand strong against American Crystal
Militant/Natalie Morrison
Locked-out workers picket American Crystal Sugar in East Grand Forks, Minn., August 1.

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn.—Members of United Steelworkers Local 560 from Gwinner, N.D., donated $10,000 to locked-out sugar workers in the Red River Valley September 15, giving a real boost to the fight against American Crystal Sugar and setting an example of the kind of solidarity that is needed.

Last month Local 560 donated $5,000 at a sugar workers’ rally in Moorhead. Participants at the Nebraska AFL-CIO state convention September 10-11 passed the hat and collected $1,070.

About 1,300 workers at five American Crystal Sugar factories and two processing plants were locked out August 1, two days after they overwhelmingly rejected the company’s takeback contract. The workers are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union.

Efforts to raise funds from unions is essential, particularly since the locked-out workers in North Dakota are not eligible for unemployment benefits. “During this tough time for 1,300 workers and families, it’s good to know we can count on fellow union members to help,” said John Riskey, president of BCTGM Local 167G, in a September 15 union press release.

With the new donation from Steelworkers, the hardship committee has now raised $41,000,” Barb Willison of Local 372 in Hillsboro told the Militant. The committee helps workers who have sick family members and financial problems.

Since the lockout began, the sugar monopoly has brought in some 1,000 replacement workers. Safety has been a major issue.

Another fire broke out September 15, this time at the Moorhead plant. Last week the Militant reported on three earlier fires at plants in Crookston, Drayton, and East Grand Forks. The Moorhead fire started on the roof of the plant’s pulp-drying unit.

TV station KVLY in Moorhead reported September 13 that two replacement workers quit their jobs over unsafe conditions. Both say their concerns were ignored by bosses.

“There are so many safety violations, and that plant, the whole plant, should be condemned,” James Rueter, who quit his job at the Drayton plant, told KVLY.

“I’ve never felt this unnerved going to work not knowing whether I’m going home on the bus or in a body bag,” said Michael Wynne, a former replacement worker at the plant in Crookston.

The media has seized on something that happened a few weeks ago at the Hillsboro plant to smear locked-out workers as racist and weaken support for the fight. A worker put a monkey on a noose on the inflatable rat at the picket line. Most replacement workers and company security guards are Black.

Union representative Mark Froemke told the Grand Forks Herald that the union “will not put up with any kind of racism… . The union has emphasized to its members that these transient workers come in all colors. It is beneath the dignity of you as a person to use the racist card.”

The Hillsboro Banner quoted Gayln Olson, president of the Hillsboro local: ‘“Dan Dumas (fellow locked-out worker) put up the monkey,’ Olsen explained. ‘He said he heard a board member and a grower refer to locked-out workers as a bunch of monkeys.’”

Talking to workers on the picket lines, most were upset about what happened. “We have to think about our history in this country. We know the monkey and noose are symbols of racism,” Kari Sorenson, from Moorhead, told the Militant.

Few Blacks live in the area and none work at the Moorhead plant, she said. “At the same time, there is not a lot of racism. I blame the company for bringing in replacement workers who are Black to try to divide us. We won’t play that game.”

While solidarity in the labor movement continues to build, two union contractors—Wrigley Mechanical from Fargo, N.D., and Comeau Electric in Grand Forks, N.D.-—have crossed the picket line at the East Grand Forks plant, according to Mel Morris, a locked-out worker there.

On September 16, the second protest in two weeks was held in front of Strom Engineering, the scab herding company providing replacement workers. More than 60 unionists and supporters turned out, including many from the locked-out plant in Chaska, and a large delegation from Local 563 of the Laborer’s International Union of North America.

About a dozen union supporters passed out flyers at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Vikings football games over the September 10-11 weekend explaining the company’s refusal to bargain with the union.

In another sign of growing solidarity, Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, wrote a letter September 6 urging American Crystal CEO Dave Berg “to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract.”

“They want us to fold and take their offer,” said Brad Olson, a sugar loader for 15 years, while picketing in front of the Hillsboro plant. “But we’re rock solid, there’s no bickering in the troops about what we want.”

Donations can be sent to the Sugar Beet Workers Fund, 175 Aurora Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103. Write checks to Minnesota AFL-CIO with “BCTGM Lockout 2011” in the memo line.
Related articles:
Solidarity with sugar workers’ fight
‘We won’t go away’ say NY Boathouse strikers
Chicago forum discusses Midwest workers’ struggles
Broadening out solidarity for sugar workers
On the Picket Line
Four workers killed in coal mine flood in United Kingdom

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