Asarco strikers fight for union, first raise in 10 years

By Bernie Senter
December 2, 2019
Workers rally Nov. 18 in solidarity with copper workers on strike against Asarco at company headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. The miners, who struck Oct. 13, are fighting union busting.
Militant/Eric SimpsonWorkers rally Nov. 18 in solidarity with copper workers on strike against Asarco at company headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. The miners, who struck Oct. 13, are fighting union busting.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Solidarity for striking copper workers got a boost from a Nov. 18 rally of 150 in front of Asarco’s headquarters here. The workers have been on strike since Oct. 13 at four mining complexes in Arizona and a refinery in Texas, fighting flagrant union busting by the copper giant.

“We are fighting to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect,” striker Karl Wagner told Militant worker-correspondents at the rally. Wagner, who has worked at the Mission mine in Sahuarita for 13 years, repairs and replaces the gigantic tires on equipment used in the open pit mine there. Ten miners from the Ray mine in Kearny and the Hayden complex, 80 miles east of Phoenix, joined the protest.

Other workers from the area joined the miners to bring support. Noe Gaxiola said he came with four fellow UPS workers “to be an example of solidarity.” Trish Muir, a Teamster who works at American Airlines, said she has brought co-workers to the picket lines. Lawrence Stewart, an aerospace worker in Phoenix and member of the United Steelworkers union, drove down for the day.

The copper strikers are organized in seven different unions based on their jobs. The largest number belong to the Steelworkers and Teamsters.

The strike has forced Asarco to shut down its concentrator and smelter in Hayden and its refinery in Amarillo, Texas, but the bosses have been doing some mining. “The company is attempting to ramp up production at the mines, but they don’t have enough manpower with those who crossed the picket line, salaried personnel and hiring replacement workers,” Alex Terrazas, president of USW Local 937, told the Militant.

Steelworkers Sub-District 2 Director and chief negotiator for the unions Manny Armenta told the rally about the Nov. 14 “negotiating session” with the bosses, the only one since the strike began. “It was tense, the whole [union negotiating] committee was there hoping there would be a change in the atmosphere,” Armenta said. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t. They sat there and answered questions we had, but that was it.”

Bosses out to bust the union

Asarco clearly is out to bust the union. They’re expanding efforts to hire strikebreakers. No further negotiating sessions are planned.

Asarco bosses’ “last, best final offer” freezes pay for four more years for all but the most skilled workers, after nearly 10 years of no pay increase. Health care premiums and deductibles would double or triple. Contractual protections for union representation on the job would be gutted. Miners rejected what they call an “insulting” offer and voted 77% to go on strike.

Henry Dennison, a freight rail conductor from Seattle, spoke, bringing support on behalf of his union local. “We don’t get to pick our fights, they pick us,” he said. “The key is solidarity.”

Dennison read from the letter sent by his SMART-TD Local 324 President Pete Gushwa. “Your struggle was much discussed in our local meeting,” Gushwa wrote. “We want to reach out to say how proud we are of you all for taking a stand against the tyranny of corporate America and the oppression of the working class.” Local 324 contributed $350 to the strikers’ food bank.

Tucson mayor-elect Regina Romero also spoke.

The Militant’s worker-correspondents joined 40 miners and their families at a Nov. 17 cookout at the Mission mine picket line, These have been held every Sunday since the start of the strike.

“These cuts are totally unreasonable and caused a rebellion,” haul truck driver Jim Rushford told the Militant. “Asarco is a profitable company that basically forced us to strike or lay down and dissolve the union.”

U.S.-Mexico miners solidarity

Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, a mining conglomerate that also has operations in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. Strikers express a variety of opinions on whether the fact Asarco is a “foreign” corporation is the source of their problems.

Some miners and union officials said they thought so. “The problem isn’t that Grupo Mexico is Mexican based,” replied striker Eduardo Placencio. “The division isn’t over nationality. They are multinational and workers everywhere need to stand against them. The workers over there are the same as workers over here. It’s just a border between us.”

There is a history of solidarity between miners in Mexico and Arizona. In August 2005, thousands of miners in Mexico held an hourlong strike in solidarity with miners on strike against Asarco in Arizona and Texas and in Monterrey, Mexico. Nearly 50 miners from Grupo Mexico’s Cananea copper mine, 25 miles south of the border, visited the picket lines in Arizona.

Miners in Mexico also have a long history of struggle. Miners at La Cananea were on strike from 2007 to 2010, before company bosses got the help of federal police to break it.

James Wegener has worked at the Mission mine for 14 years. It’s his first strike. “Teachers have showed up, many people from the community have dropped by, some with firewood or baked goods,” he told the Militant at the Tucson rally. “We’re striking for people who aren’t even striking because they’ll benefit from us being out here.”

Miners and their families will celebrate Thanksgiving on Sunday, Nov. 24, with a cookout at the picket lines. Everyone is welcome.

“It’s going to be a long road ahead. We’re in it for the long haul,” said Mission striker Gregory Schuett, who is USW Local 937 financial secretary, echoing a common refrain by miners.

Join them Nov. 24. Send donations for the strike fund and food pantry to the Pima Area Labor Federation via Solidarity messages to the strikers can be sent via