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Vol. 75/No. 21      May 30, 2011

Picket in Keokuk, Iowa,
backs locked-out workers
KEOKUK, Iowa—Some 150 people turned out for a May 13 picket to support 237 workers locked out for more than seven months at the Roquette corn processing plant here.

Roquette locked out members of Local 48G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union (BCTGM) in September when the workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract that included sharply reduced wages for new hires, increases in health insurance premiums, and a green light for Roquette to use “temporary workers,” denying new hires the right to be in the union. Only three workers have crossed the picket line.

The expanded picket included workers from nearby local towns, as well as Iowa City, Dubuque, and Des Moines. Some were members of other unions, including the United Steelworkers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, Communications Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Workers reported to the union hall and were dispatched first to Roquette’s corporate offices and then to the two main plant entrances, where peaceful picketing took place. Police presence was heavy.

After the rally participants—including this reporter and several other supporters of the Militant from the Midwest—went to the bar at the labor center. Eight participants signed up for subscriptions to the paper at the rally and afterward.

Militant supporters also took some time to go door to door in working-class neighborhoods here and in two neighboring towns—Ft. Madison, Iowa, and Hamilton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River. Fifteen others bought subscriptions as part of this effort, attracted to the Militant’s revolutionary working-class perspective.

Many workers in this industrial and agricultural area support the grain millers’ fight. Yard signs reading, “We support BCTGM Local 48G locked out by Roquette” are common.

Several people thanked us after talking with us. “I think it’s really good what you’re doing,” an unemployed worker playing with his children said. Many agreed that there is no economic “recovery” for working people.

At the same time, the effects of the crisis have dampened the confidence of some. “In this economy, the Roquette workers shouldn’t have rejected the company’s offer,” said a woman who works as a baker at the nearby HyVee grocery store.

The capitalist crisis is having an impact on workers in the area. Some members of the United Steelworkers who work at Keokuk Steel Castings, one of the town’s other large industries, said they were worried about their contract, which expires later this year. Rising unemployment resulting from downsizing and plant closures is evident.

One area company, Pinnacle Foods in Ft. Madison, a town of 10,000 up the river from Keokuk, is hiring, according to one of the locked-out Roquette workers now employed there. A worker was killed there in March when he got caught in a large piece of equipment.
Related articles:
Union officials in Connecticut submit to cuts
Chipotle workers fight firings in Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania: Health workers fight union busting  
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