Rally for locked out sugar, tire workers

From the March-April 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Rally for locked out sugar, tire workers

Chicago—Locked out workers from American Crystal Sugar plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa joined locked out workers from Cooper Tire in Findlay, Ohio, and came to Chicago on Feb. 25 as one stop in their regional tour to raise support, “From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice.” Workers from Chicagoland met them at Wal-Mart in the West Loop to hear their testimony and march in solidarity in front of the store.

We heard from speakers that American Crystal Sugar workers, beet sugar processors and members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers have been locked out since Aug. 1, 2011. Tire builders at Cooper Tire, members of United Steelworkers 207L, have been locked out themselves since November, after they rejected a tentative contract. Despite the hundreds of miles separating the two companies, both of them contracted with the same supplier of scabs to replace the long-time workers.

Chicago-area workers who came out in support included not only steelworkers in the USW and bakers in the BCTGM, but also electrical workers, teachers, teamsters, grocery store workers and others along with Jobs with Justice. One American Crystal Sugar worker from North Dakota let us know that locked out workers in his state had been denied unemployment benefits, in a state where the governor was one of the largest stockholders in the company. For news of the struggle and to support workers financially, go to crystalgreed.com.

Before the rally word had filtered out about a new tentative contract negotiated by Cooper Tire and USW Local 207L, but Cooper Tire workers at the rally were only about full solidarity for themselves and for the locked out BCTGM workers. The following Monday, locked out tire builders did, indeed, ratify the contract and will return to their jobs.

Wal-Mart was the target because it is the largest distributor of American Crystal sugar, which is now being processed by scabs. Workers and labor supporters had rallied at the same Wal-Mart just nine days earlier, that time in solidarity with 65 fired Wal-Mart warehouse workers. They were fired because they protested to their boss, a Wal-Mart subcontractor, over being paid far less than the minimum wage—unbelievably, $4.62 an hour! Wal-Mart shrugs off responsibility for the wages and working conditions of their suppliers, but squeezing its subcontractors guarantees substandard conditions.

Like the national tour of Hormel strikers of Local P-9 in Austin, Minn., a quarter-century ago, this tour “From Fargo to Findlay” invites solidarity from workers when the news media and many union bureaucrats would like to bury the workers with silence.

—Teamster supporter

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