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Vol. 81/No. 43      November 20, 2017

(front page)

Striking Idaho silver miners rally to build support for union struggle

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — “The owners want the working class to be inexpensive for them. They want to work us till we can’t work anymore and then get rid of us, especially older workers,” Don Scheel told the Militant on the picket line at the Lucky Friday mine Oct. 31. “People have to get together and fight and we have to rebuild the unions.” Scheel works at the mine’s surface mill and has more than 10 years seniority.

Some 60 striking members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 and their supporters rallied at the Hecla Mining Co. headquarters the same day, showing their determination to keep fighting in the eight-month-long strike. Miners at the Lucky Friday silver, lead and zinc mine in Mullan, Idaho, went on strike March 13 after rejecting Hecla’s concession-filled “last, best and final offer.”

The union has organized picket lines and rallies, spoken to other unions about the strike and sponsored social activities to bring together miners and their families. Strikers have given solidarity to fellow workers standing up to the bosses in the region.

“I won’t go back to work under the conditions the company is demanding,” striking miner Ron Sullivan said at the picket shack in Mullan.

Bosses undermine union control

The mine bosses are seeking to undermine union control of work conditions by eliminating the seniority-based job bid system. They also plan to slash layoff recall rights from three years to three months, and give the bosses the power to raise premiums and deductibles for health insurance at any time.

“Hecla’s proposal to eliminate the current seniority-based job bidding system remains the engine in the company’s drive to weaken our union and exert complete control over our working lives,” Local 5114 said in a Sept. 12 statement.

Workers know that union control of the organization of work crews is essential to protect miners’ lives. Many tell you about the fire at the Sunshine Mine near Big Creek, Idaho, that killed 91 miners in 1972 and about the two workers who were killed at the Lucky Friday Mine in April and November 2011. In December that year a mine collapse at Lucky Friday injured at least seven miners.

Most strikers have temporarily taken jobs out of town, so family members help staff the picket line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When Socialist Workers Party members brought two bags of food to the food bank in Wallace, a woman staffing the office told us her husband is among the strikers currently working in North Dakota who aren’t able to come home regularly.

Brian Skiffington, a member of the Young Workers Committee of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 in Tacoma, Washington, joined the Oct. 31 rally. He said that his union had sent a contingent of Longshore workers from Tacoma, Seattle and other locals to the Aug. 2 strike solidarity rally here. At that time his local gave $5,000 to the miners.

Others present at the rally included USW members from Arizona; Steelworkers and Machinists from Spokane, Washington; a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees from Albany, Oregon; and members of the Socialist Workers Party from Seattle.

‘Injury to one is an injury to all’

Skiffington’s ILWU local helped host some of the striking miner “Road Warriors” who came to Tacoma in September to show support to Teamsters on strike against a trucking company there. “That was great,” he said. “The ILWU believes that an injury to one is an injury to all.”

The American Federation of Musicians Local 76-493 from Seattle sent a letter of support and a $200 contribution Oct. 18.

“The company is not willing to discuss any of the substantive issues. In reality nothing has changed from their last best and final offer from March,” Dave Roose, a member of the union negotiating committee, told the Militant. He said that the company wants 12-hour shifts, and a 24-hour, seven-day operation, including working on holidays. Although there had been negotiations, now “things have just stopped.”

Hecla has tried to keep production going with management and nonunion workers. But third-quarter production for this year has dropped 90 percent from the same period last year, the Spokesman-Review reported Oct. 13, citing company sources.

Send messages of support and contributions for the union hardship fund to: USW Local 5114, P.O. Box 427, Mullan, Idaho 83846.

Mary Martin contributed to this article.

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