‘This is a fight for the future,’ Asarco miners say as strike enters fifth month

By Deborah Liatos
February 24, 2020

“We are not crossing the picket line. We will absolutely not cross the line. We’re in full solidarity. If one of us falls, we all fall. That’s the way we see this with the miners on strike,” Chris Cheely, legislative representative of SMART Local 807, told the Militant by phone Feb. 11. The local represents conductors and brakemen at the Union Pacific railroad in the Tucson area. The rail workers have refused to run trains into Asarco’s Mission Mine in Sahuarita since the strike began Oct. 13.

On Jan. 29 Union Pacific rail bosses used an all-management crew to run a train into the Mission Mine to move copper ore for the first time. Miners and rail workers picketed outside to protest the operation. No other train has gone into the mine since, said Cheely.

Some 1,700 workers from seven unions have been on strike for over four months at the Mission and Silver Bell mines near Tucson; two other mining complexes in Arizona; and Asarco’s refinery in Amarillo, Texas. The workers are fighting against a serious union-busting assault by the bosses, who refuse to negotiate. They insist 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.

Workers and others in the surrounding communities see the stakes in the fight are high and are offering solidarity and aid.

“We have a lot of guys who’ll stop by the line for a couple of hours. Many go by on their way to and from work,” said Cheely, noting that a lot of the local’s members live near the Mission and Silver Bell mines. “It’s a lot of hands helping out that gets a lot done.”

Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. Arizona is the center of copper mining in the U.S., with most of the world’s main copper bosses operating there, including Freeport-McMoRan and Grupo Mexico. As markets for copper are growing, there are new mines in development by Excelsior, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

While the strikers have 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.

“This is a fight for our future, for our families,” Alex Terrazas, a striking miner at Mission Mine and president of United Steelworkers Local 937, says in a video posted on usw.org. “We’re the working class. We’re the people that matter. We keep this country going. We’re the backbone.”

“David and Goliath. You know. We will win this,” adds Ruben Gonzales, Local 937 vice president. “What we got to do is expose this company to everybody that’s out there so everybody can see what’s happening.”

“I talked to my girls. It’s a sacrifice for all of us,” Teamsters Local 104 member Adrian Teran says in the video. “Christmas came around and things are tough but we’re getting through it. I told them, ‘Dad will never cross the line.’ I’m trying to teach them that there’s honor and respect here just to fight for what our past brothers have fought for. Until it’s over I will not move on. I will not do anything until this contract is done.”

Others have chipped in to help and express their support. “The business has been good but with the strike going on it has dropped about 50%,” Warren Chester, owner of Eddie Tire in Hayden, Arizona, said on YouTube Feb. 7. “I’ve supported the union all along because I’ve worked with them and everything and it’s a good thing. Especially a mine like this. You have to have the union. Whenever the scabs come, I have a list and I will not let them come in here. I’ll just tell them they’re not welcome.” The video shows his list of scabs’ names.

Solidarity for the strike is crucial — and well deserved. The miners welcome supporters joining their picket lines, and to the dinners and movie nights they organize every week, as well as donations to their food pantry and strike fund.

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 palfchair@gmail.com. For strikers at the Amarillo refinery, send to USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108.