HAYDEN, Ariz. — Workers on strike against copper giant Asarco are winning solidarity in their hard-fought four-month-long battle against the company’s drive to impose steep concessions and bust their unions.
“We’re doing this for the next generation, for those who are getting out of high school,” Gary Jones told the Militant Jan. 21 at the picket line in front of the smelter here, where he’s worked for 25 years. “Even retired people are coming by to talk and bring firewood.”
Some 1,700 workers from seven unions went on strike at four Asarco open pit mining and processing complexes in Arizona and its refinery in Amarillo, Texas, Oct. 13. The company, except for a brief meeting in mid-November, refuses to negotiate with the unions.
Asarco bosses imposed their “last, best and final” contract offer in December. It continues a decadelong wage freeze for most of the miners, triples health care costs for miners and their families, and curtails union rights on the job.
Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. While the strike has shut down the Amarillo refinery and Hayden smelter, the company continues some production at other complexes, using supervisors, nonunion contractors and some workers who have crossed the picket line.
“The Navajo Nation labor federation just gave $5,000 for the striking miners,” Paul Stapleton-Smith, chair of the Pima Area Labor Federation in Tucson, who coordinates solidarity contributions for the strike, told the Militant by phone Jan. 28. “The International Longshore retirees from three different locals in Seattle sent a check for $500. And I just sent a thank-you letter to someone in France who sent $25. Someone said we should ask her to send some yellow vests and we’ll send them union helmets.”
The Navajo Nation group is the AFL-CIO affiliated Nal-Nishii Area Labor Federation based in Farmington, New Mexico.
The copper miners — like their fellow workers in this part of Arizona — are majority Mexican Americans, as well as Native Americans and Caucasians. Some Native Americans opposed a land swap that allowed Rio Tinto- and BHP-owned Resolution Copper to expand its nearby mine onto traditional Apache lands.
And the miners in this area have had to fight many bitter battles against the copper bosses for over a century. There is only one other copper mine in Arizona besides Asarco that is union today.
Stapleton-Smith said the area where the Ray Mine and Hayden smelter are located “are like company towns. It’s very hard for the miners to get other work.”
“The Maricopa Area Labor Federation in Phoenix has adopted Ray and Hayden,” he said, “and has raised $20,000 and taken responsibility for keeping their food pantry and supplies going.”
“Unlike us, the strikers at the Hayden smelter and Ray Mine are in a secluded, rural area,” Eduardo Placencio, a striking miner and the recording secretary of United Steelworkers Local 937 at the Mission Mine south of Tucson, told the Militant. “There are 600 strikers at the Ray Mine and they don’t have the same resources we have. We’re planning on getting more aid and food donations to them.”
The miners welcome supporters to join their picket lines, which they keep up 24 hours a day, as well as donations to their food pantry and strike fund. Solidarity is crucial and well deserved.
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 Mission and Silver Bell mines 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 Amarillo refinery, send to USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108.
Deborah Liatos contributed to this article.