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Vol. 76/No. 6      February 13, 2012

Sugar workers boost
pickets, plan protest
DRAYTON, N.D.—The 1,300 workers locked out by the American Crystal Sugar Co. confront a drawn-out boss campaign to wear them down, along with stepped-up cop harassment. Workers are responding by organizing expanded pickets, a month-long food drive, defense against police frame-up, and a solidarity caravan with other workers in struggle.

“Earlier generations of workers fought hard to keep the union. We don’t plan on letting them down,” Mike Johnson told the Militant while on picket duty in front of the factory here.

Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union are picketing 24 hours, seven days a week. The union has been organizing expanded pickets once a week for the last three weeks to confront scabs during shift changes in front of American Crystal’s five factories in northern Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Last Tuesday we had about 60 in front of the plant,” said locked-out worker Paul Dahlman in Drayton.

“When you have 75 plus, like we did last night, that has a big impact on our spirits,” said Lee Schlichtmann, a member of the union’s Action Committee, describing the Jan. 30 picket line at the Hillsboro, N.D., plant.

American Crystal locked the workers out August 1 after the union membership rejected the company’s concession contract offer by a 96 percent margin. Bosses had planned well ahead, lining up a professional strikebreaking outfit to supply scabs from around the country. Since November the company has been on a campaign to hire replacement workers from the local area.

Workers in Drayton and Hillsboro have been denied unemployment benefits by the state of North Dakota. Some have been able to get by on $100 weekly stipends from the union, personal savings or help from family, but many are working or looking for work elsewhere. Others who can are retiring.

The new canola processing plant northeast of here requires locked-out workers to quit their jobs at American Crystal before it will hire them.

Workers started another food drive running from Jan. 23 to Feb. 24 to alleviate some of the financial pressure.

Picketers are also facing increased surveillance by the local cops. While this reporter was in town, the police came to the picket line looking for radios that the company said were interfering with communications inside the plant. A number of workers report receiving letters from the company saying they are being investigated for harassing scabs on the picket lines.

American Crystal has not responded to calls from the Militant.

Support is growing for Brad Knapper, a locked-out worker from the Moorhead, Minn., plant who was framed up on felony charges for allegedly scratching a replacement worker’s vehicle during a shift change late last year.

Union supporters of Knapper have set up a fund to help defray attorney fees. So far more than half of the $2,500 goal has been collected from about 25 supporters. “The fight has been long and will get much harder,” wrote Jim Stevens, a contributor to the fund, “so if we intend to stay in this fight for what’s right it’s time for all working people to admit only in numbers do we have strength!”

Donations to the defense fund can be made online at, or by sending a check or money order. Make checks payable to “We the Union Local 167G” and mail to Wells Fargo Bank, 730 Center Ave., Moorhead, MN, 56560.

The union is planning a protest where it will turn over petitions signed by people across the country calling for the company to end the lockout, according to John Riskey, BCTGM Local 167G president. The event will also kick off a joint solidarity caravan of locked-out workers from both American Crystal and Cooper Tire, in Findlay, Ohio. The caravan will begin in the Red River Valley and end in Findlay.
Related articles:
‘Groundswell of support’ backs Caterpillar workers
Bosses demand 50 percent wage cut
EGT agrees to hire ILWU labor, but fight is not over
On the Picket Line
Wyo. miner fought for safety, wins job ruling  
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