Copper miners on strike in Arizona and Texas continue to staff the picket lines 24/7 and reach out for support against the union-busting attack of Asarco’s bosses. “We are continuing Sunday dinners at the Mission picket line and Friday dinner and movie nights at the Silver Bell picket line,” Ruben Gonzales, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 937, told the Militant by phone Feb. 4.
Some 1,700 workers from seven unions went on strike Oct. 13 at Mission and Silver Bell, near Tucson; two other mining complexes in Arizona; and Asarco’s refinery in Amarillo, Texas. The workers are fighting against the bosses’ refusal to negotiate and their insistence on imposing steep concessions, including extending a decadelong wage freeze for most of the miners, tripling health care costs for workers and their families, and restricting the unions’ right to protect workers on the job.
Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. Copper company executives say they’re looking at a bright future as production of electric vehicles call for increased use of copper. Over 60% of all copper produced in the U.S. comes from Arizona, with more expected as three large new mines are in the works. A number of the biggest copper companies worldwide operate them, including Freeport-McMoRan, Rio Tinto and Asarco.
The largest mine in the state is the Freeport-McMoRan-run Morenci Mine, formerly operated by Phelps Dodge. A bitter three-year strike there from 1983 to 1986 was broken by a fierce anti-union assault by the bosses buttressed by hundreds of National Guard and sharpshooters sent in by Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who strikers nicknamed “Scabbit.”
After decades of bloody labor battles, most of the copper bosses in the state now run nonunion. Only Asarco and one other smaller mine are organized. This is the central question posed in the battle unfolding today.
The mines are almost all located in rural areas in southeastern Arizona, many near longstanding Native American reservations. A significant part of the mine workforce and the population as a whole are Mexican Americans and Native Americans.
While the strike has shut down the Amarillo refinery and Hayden, Arizona, smelter, the company continues some production at its mining complexes, using supervisors, nonunion contractors and some workers who’ve crossed the picket line.
Confrontation on the rail tracks
On Jan. 29 Union Pacific rail bosses using an all-management crew entered the Mission Mine in Sahuarita for the first time since the strike began, Gonzales told the Militant. “Union members at UP joined our pickets that day protesting the train crossing the line,” he said. “They took in 10 tanker cars that hold dust suppressant and 15 empties to take out ore.”
SMART-Transportation Division Local 807 posted a video of the unionists picketing the UP train on its Facebook page that day. Local 807 “stands in solidarity with striking miners of Asarco,” the union said. “Our members will never cross a line.”
The miners welcome supporters joining their picket lines, and to the dinners and movie nights they organize, 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.