Solidarity gives boost
to sugar workers fight
1,300 fight 2-month lockout in Midwest
Members of Laborers Local 563 join Sept. 16 protest of workers fighting lockout by American Crystal Sugar outside office of scab recruiter Strom Engineering in Minnetonka, Minn.
BY FRANK FORRESTAL
EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn., September 26Solidarity for 1,300 sugar beet workers in the Upper Midwest continues to expand as their struggle approaches the two-month mark. The workers were locked out August 1 after they rejected American Crystal Sugars union-busting contract demands.
American Crystal Sugar bosses are pressing for higher health care costs and the right to contract out union jobs. They have refused to negotiate with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union and have been running five factories in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota with scab labor. The sugar giant has also locked out workers at two smaller plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.
In response, the sugar workers are reaching out for support and working people are answering with donations and other acts of solidarity. This past week union members handed out hundreds of flyers supporting the fight at the annual French Fry Feed and Potato Parade Bowl.
Local 167G, based in Grand Forks, N.D., is organizing a food drive September 30 and October 1 throughout the Red River Valley. Weve already received commitments for donations of potatoes and flour, said Scott Ripplinger, a locked-out worker from the East Grand Forks plant. Were reaching out for more, with plans to deliver food on October 1 to locked-out workers in North Dakota, who arent getting unemployment checks. Steelworkers in Gwinner, N.D., who already donated $15,000, are going to help in the effort. Local 563 of the Construction and General Laborers in Minneapolis donated $5,000 September 16. About 20 members of Local 563 recently joined a protest in Minnetonka against Strom Engineering, the scab-herding agency employed by American Crystal Sugar.
Local 3884 of the American Federation of Government Employers in Fargo, N.D., sent a check for $3,000 to the union. Mail carriers in Bismarck, N.D., from Local 957 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, donated $500.
Several Minnesota locals of the BCTGM made donations: Local 62G in Mankato sent in $1,000; Local 13G in Hastings, $1,000; and $100 came from Local 22 in Minneapolis.
A total of $3,650 has been contributed by locals of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. In a thank-you letter to the union, BCTGM Local 167G President John Riskey wrote that the support has bolstered the morale of many of our Brothers and Sisters throughout the Valley.
No matter how big or small, we appreciate the support, Riskey told the Militant.
In addition, several individuals have sent in checks to support the unions fight. Some write brief notes of solidarity, like retired BCTGM worker Jack Lick, who sent in $200, with a note saying, My heart is with our members.
Contributions have also come from out of state. Amanda Ulman, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Houston, visited the picket lines September 24-25. She handed over $175 in donations collected from 11 workers at the nonunion forklift assembly plant where she works.
We used articles from the Militant to discuss the facts of the lockout, said Ulman. Some took copies of the paper to show to other coworkers to raise money. Many were angry at the fact that the company locked out the workers and then the state of North Dakota denied them unemployment.
The union is challenging the North Dakota law that says workers involved in a labor dispute, including being locked out, cant draw unemployment benefits.
Donations can be sent to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd, Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Write checks to BCTGM 167G with 2011 BCTGM lockout in the memo line.
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