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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 37      October 17, 2011


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(front page)
N. Dakota: aid pours in for
locked-out sugar workers
Solidarity spreads-from Tampa to Tanzania
Militant/Frank Forrestal
Unloading food and other donations for locked-out sugar workers, Drayton, N.D., October 2.

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—“I had to do something to help,” said Scott Nelson, a member of Teamsters Local 120, as he loaded crates of bread onto a Teamsters semitrailer parked in front of the local office of the union representing locked-out sugar workers here. “I can’t watch my sisters and brothers in North Dakota suffer.”

Nelson, who works at Sara Lee Master Bread in Grand Forks, organized a donation of hundreds of loaves and kicked in more than $300 himself.

Two days after workers by a 96 percent margin rejected American Crystal Sugar’s “final offer” July 30 the sugar giant locked out 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union in five factories across the Red River Valley in Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as workers in smaller plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

American Crystal, the largest sugar beet company in the U.S., has been running its plants with management and scab labor.

Several hundred workers at the company’s two North Dakota factories in Drayton and Hillsboro are denied jobless benefits under a state law barring unemployment compensation to workers involved in a labor dispute, even if they’re locked out.

To meet this challenge the union organized a food drive at the end of September. Workers from American Crystal plants in Crookston, Moorhead and East Grand Forks, Minn., are organizing the effort. They have donated more than $15,000 to their union brothers and sisters in North Dakota.

For several days workers delivered food and household supplies to the union’s offices in Grand Forks and other drop-off points. “BCTGM workers from North Dakota State Mill and Elevator brought a palette of flour, 504 five-pound bags,” said Scott Ripplinger, one of the organizers of the effort.

Ralph Honda, from the Grand Forks local of the National Association of Letter Carriers, organized a large shipment of sorted goods in large paper bags. An anonymous supporter sent close to 2,000 pounds of potatoes.

Nelson, along with about two-dozen BCTGM union members and supporters, loaded up the food and other supplies October 2 and drove to Drayton.

Several locked-out union members in Drayton, a small town of 700 people, greeted the trailer and got busy unloading supplies into a large garage that belonged to two of the locked-out workers. The next stop was Hillsboro, a town of 1,500 about 80 miles south, where another large group of workers unloaded supplies into their union hall.

This week donations came from unions attending the North Dakota AFL-CIO state convention held here. Frank Hurt, international president of the BCTGM, handed over a check for $50,000 to the locked-out workers. BCTGM Local 285G, which organizes workers at Sidney Sugars, a subsidiary of American Crystal in Sidney, Mont., delivered a check for $10,000.

BCTGM Local 48G in Keokuk, Iowa, voted October 3 to send another $500, bringing the total they have donated to $1,000, reported Buddy Howard. Mark Froemke, a leader of the struggle, told the Militant that “$26,000 had been raised by the Minnesota AFL-CIO from unions in the Twin Cities region.”

Other donations included a check of $1,000 from United Mine Workers Local 1101, in Beulah, N.D., and $5,000 from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1426 in Grand Forks.

“Union supporters continue to send individual donations. One came from an IBEW member in Tampa, Florida,” said John Riskey, president of BCTGM Local 167G, which represents workers in sugar beet factories, grain elevators, and flour mills in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board in Minneapolis dismissed unfair labor practice charges by the union against American Crystal.

“Company training of non-bargaining unit and replacement workers before the lockout began and contacting employees to state its position on negotiations before a union vote on a proposed contract did not violate the National Labor Relations Act,” wrote Marlin Osthus, regional NLRB director.

The union announced it will appeal the decision.

The NLRB also dismissed the company’s charges that the union did not bargain in “good faith.”

The sugar workers’ fight is becoming more known and support for it continues to expand. A solidarity message was received from Morogoro, Tanzania, in East Africa. We “are ready to provide our solidarity to the sisters and brothers and their families under the lockout by American Crystal.” It was sent from a labor conference on the sugar industry from unionists, who like the BCTGM, are affiliated with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.
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