Some 1,700 copper workers at four open-pit mine and processing complexes in Arizona and a refinery in Amarillo, Texas, have been on strike against mining giant Asarco since Oct. 13, fighting the bosses’ draconian union-busting demands.
Asarco’s “last, best and final” offer was “insulting,” workers say. It included a four-year wage freeze for most workers, a freeze on pensions, doubling or tripling health care costs and weakening of union protections on the job.
The workers — members of the United Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other unions — need and deserve growing solidarity. Letters of support, visits to reinforce picket lines and donations to their strike funds and food pantry are crucial.
In a phone conference with investors less than two weeks after the start of the strike, corporate executives from Grupo Mexico, which owns Asarco, made it clear they are not interested in negotiating a settlement with the unions. The company claims that 340 workers out of some 2,000 have crossed the picket line. The bosses say they hope to get back up to 100% production by January by hiring more people.
The strikers are buoyed by a steady flow of support. A turkey dinner for strikers, their families and area supporters Nov. 24 drew almost 100 people at the Mission mine picket line south of Tucson. Generous donations came from other unions and the community.
“People have come by the [picket] line all week with donations,” Teamsters Local 104 spokesperson Karla Schumann told the Militant. “The miners know they are not alone in this and they are blown away by the support from other labor organizations, family and neighbors.”
As the bosses drag the strike on, “some strikers have had to start doing side work,” striker David Copeland told the Militant. “I’m not seeing anyone give up.” Picket lines at the mine entrances are up 24 hours, seven days a week and supporters are invited to — and do — join in.
“Pretty close to 75% of the miners are striking” at the two mines in the Tucson area, said Alex Terrazas, president of United Steelworkers Local 937. “Ninety-five percent of the miners in Kearny and Hayden — 80 miles east of Phoenix — are out.”
Because of the strike, Asarco has closed its smelter and concentrator in Hayden and its refinery in Amarillo. Bosses are keeping the mines open.
A Nov. 14 “negotiating” session — the only one bosses have agreed to since the start of the strike — ended without any actual negotiations taking place. No further talks are scheduled.
Grupo Mexico is the world’s fourth largest copper producer, with operations in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Spain as well as the U.S. It reported profits of 37% in 2016. Asarco accounts for a third of Grupo Mexico’s copper production.
Asarco does not even claim that the its concession demands are necessary to compete against its rivals. In fact, copper barons worldwide anticipate an increase in copper demand. “Copper is morphing from its traditional role as an industrial metal,” a Nov. 19 article in the business journal Forbes says, and “is developing new markets in electric cars (which use four times as much copper as a gasoline-powered car) and in renewable energy systems such as wind and solar.”
Reuters reports that Freeport-McMoran and other copper companies have sunk an additional $1.1 billion in U.S. production, including in opening more mines. Freeport-McMoran took over the Phelps Dodge copper mine in Morenci, Arizona, where workers fought a bitter three-year fight against union busting in the 1980s. Their union was broken by government intervention with National Guard and sharpshooters.
Donations to the strike fund and food pantry can be sent to the Pima Area Labor Federation Community Services via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice. Solidarity messages to the strike can be sent via firstname.lastname@example.org.