TUCSON, Ariz. — “We stand before you 100 days into our strike fighting against corporate greed and social injustice,” Alex Terrazas, a worker at Asarco’s Mission copper mine and president of United Steelworkers Local 937, told the crowd at the Martin Luther King Day rally here Jan. 20.
More than 70 strikers and their supporters joined the King Day events that commemorate the fight for Black rights. They were welcomed at the 1,000-strong march, winning broader support for the strike. About 1,700 copper workers went on strike Oct. 13 against Asarco bosses’ union-busting attack at four mine complexes in Arizona and its Amarillo, Texas, refinery.
At the end of the march, strikers and supporters were invited to line up in front of the rally stage when Terrazas was introduced to the crowd.
“We stand in front of you in support of racial justice and economic equality,” Terrazas said. “Dr. King knew deep in his heart that when unions, community and civil rights groups all come together we are an unstoppable force for serving the people and changing the world.”
The copper workers — mostly Mexican Americans, as well as Native American, Caucasian and Black workers — went on strike after Asarco refused to budge on its “last, best and final” offer that freezes wages and pensions for two-thirds of the workers, doubles and triples health care costs, and curtails union rights on the job.
Beverly Hughes and three other workers from the Amarillo refinery drove 700 miles to participate in the contingent and to join the picket lines in Arizona. “Everyone is trying to stay positive, stay strong and fill the picket shifts,” she told the Militant. “People are dropping donations off at the picket shack. They have been very generous.”
“I love to see the solidarity,” Liza Tarango, a tank house operator at the Amarillo refinery, said, “and it makes me proud to be a union member.”
Eight strikers from the Ray Mine and Hayden complex 80 miles north of here marched in the contingent. “Pipefitters from Mesa and Tempe have been by the line,” said Johnny Archuleta, a worker at the Ray Mine. “A United Auto Workers union member brought $250 and GM workers came from Detroit. Area businesses are supporting us.”
Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. Since a brief meeting Nov. 14, where bosses wouldn’t discuss anything of substance, the company has refused to negotiate with the unions. Asarco has kept up some production with supervisors, some workers who crossed the line and newly hired scabs. The Hayden smelter and Amarillo refinery have been shut down since the beginning of the strike.
“We had no choice but to be on strike,” Jesus Alvarado, who works at the Mission Mine, told the Militant. “After 12 years I’m making $18.75 and they want to offer me a 25-cent hourly increase. That’s totally unacceptable. We allowed the company to freeze our wages since 2010 in order that they could expand. Now they say they have nothing for us. But they need us.
“Last Wednesday, I saw an ambulance pass by going to the Mission Mine,” Alvarado said. “I heard that a miner’s hand got stuck in the conveyor. And there have been two accidents, including someone falling from a boom truck. The union at the Mission Mine kept the workplace safe. Now because there’s no union, they are pushing people. Grupo doesn’t care about our rights and our safety. I grew up in Cananea, Mexico, and I have three cousins who were on strike at the Grupo Mexico open pit mine there.”
Francisco Trujillo, a worker at the Mission Mine, said, “I was on strike against Asarco in 2005 and against Phelps Dodge union busting in the 1980s at their Douglas smelter. I hadn’t seen the kind of support we are getting now at these other strikes.”
There is a long history in Arizona of bloody battles between copper miners and mine bosses, and today there is only one other mine in the state that is union besides Asarco. “I’m fighting for the younger workers,” Trujillo said.
These workers need and deserve broad solidarity. Supporters are encouraged to join the picket lines and to get the word out about this important labor battle to unions, church groups and others across the country. For strikers at the Mission and Silver Bell complexes near Tucson, send contributions 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. 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.