“People need to know what we are fighting for,” Alex Terrazas, a worker at the Mission Mine and president of United Steelworkers Local 937 told this Militant worker-correspondent Jan. 7. “Asarco is a multibillion dollar corporation. They’re taking from our families; we’re fighting for our families.”
Some 1,700 workers at the Mission Mine and three other Asarco complexes in Arizona, and at its refinery in Amarillo, Texas, have been on strike since Oct. 13.
In what workers call an “insult,” Asarco’s “last, best and final offer” — which the company said it put into effect Dec. 2 after the strike had been going for almost two months — included a wage freeze for three-quarters of the workers, a freeze in pensions, doubling or tripling health insurance costs and the gutting of union protections, which are essential for fighting for safety on the job.
Most workers haven’t had a wage increase in nearly 10 years.
Asarco, which is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the biggest copper operations worldwide, has refused to negotiate with the Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other striking unions. The only other union mine in copper-rich Arizona is the Pinto Valley open-pit mine owned by Capstone, with 500 workers.
Phelps Dodge succeeded in busting the unions at the huge Morenci mine complex in a bitter strike there from 1983 to 1986. Bosses closed down other union mines in Arizona, then sold them or reopened them later nonunion.
International copper barons like Freeport-McMoRan, Rio Tinto, Glencore and BHP Billiton are now pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding mines, including in Arizona, in the expectation that copper prices will go higher, pushed by the manufacture of electric vehicles.
In the face of Asarco’s blatant union busting, the strikers have received solidarity from area workers and unions. Contributions and visits have come from oil refinery workers in Los Angeles, steelworkers in Wyoming and Walmart workers — who don’t have a union but know what boss exploitation is about — from a number of cities.
Strike supporters are encouraged to join the picket lines, kept up round-the-clock. “On the picket line we have had help from ‘Red for Ed’ teachers, the Machinists and carpenters union,” Terrazas said. “The nurses union is always on our picket line. Jobs for Justice makes dinner for the Silver Bell strikers every Friday night.”
David Copeland was driving home from picket duty at the Silver Bell Mine in Marana when he spoke with the Militant Jan. 2. “Solidarity has been more than I could have hoped for,” Copeland said. “About two weeks ago Machinists union members from Raytheon brought around $1,000 in cash they had collected at work and gift cards.”
Adrian Lopez, a shovel and drill mechanic at the Ray Mine, said, “Old Time Pizza in Kearney sends three or four boxes of pizza with a note on top ‘We support you guys.’
“Families of strikers bring a big pot of menudo or chicken soup, which warm us up. Local businesses in Kearney and Superior send sandwiches or burritos. Retirees from the three Steelworker locals here bring us lunch, dinner and fruit,” Lopez said.
From the start the company has used supervisors, nonunion contractors and a few hundred workers who crossed the picket line to maintain some production.
But the strike forced the company to shut the Hayden, Arizona, smelter and the Amarillo refinery. Now the bosses are attempting to increase production. The company is advertising for workers on its website and strikers say they are also using temporary workers.
“There’s more scabs coming in to work,” Lopez said. “Before there was one bus from Phoenix and one from Tucson. Now there’s two buses from each direction. There’s probably, with supervisors and all, about 150 people working in the Ray Mine.”
In addition, Asarco hasn’t been honoring its obligations to retirees, Lopez said. “Those that retired recently are owed five weeks or more vacation pay, but Asarco is holding on to their money.”
“On Monday, Jan. 13, we will be at the state Capitol lawn in Phoenix when the legislature opens,” Terrazas said. “And we will be marching in the Martin Luther King parade in Tucson.”
Send contributions for strikers at the Mission and Silver Bell complexes near Tucson to the Pima Area Labor Federation Community Services via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice. Send solidarity messages to email@example.com. For strikers at the Ray Mine and Hayden Smelter, send contributions and messages to USW Local 915, Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 550, Kearny, AZ 85137. For strikers at the Amarillo refinery, send to USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy. 136, Amarillo, TX 79108.