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Vol. 75/No. 14      April 11, 2011

Iowa union rally answers call
to ‘bring Madison to Keokuk’
(front page)
KEOKUK, Iowa—Responding to the call to “bring Madison to Keokuk,” 600 people rallied here March 26 in support of locked-out members of Local 48G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union. The 237 unionists have been locked out of the corn-processing plant owned by Roquette America since September 28.

Workers and their supporters joined the action from six different states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Iowa. Local 48G workers had publicized the march and rally by going to protests against antiunion legislation in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Des Moines and Ottumwa, Iowa, extending solidarity and inviting workers to Keokuk.

Jason White, 35, a gluten operator at Roquette, was at the Ottumwa solidarity rally. “You have to fight for your rights or lay in the mud,” he told the Militant. “It’s good to get out and see others struggling and battling.”

Wade Kehler, 51, a wet corn mill operator at Roquette, attended both the Ottumwa and Des Moines rallies. “They woke a sleeping giant,” he said. “They totally underestimated us. You go to these rallies and you get energized.” Kehler noted the importance of the delegation to the Keokuk rally from locked-out workers in Metropolis, Illinois.

Seven locked-out members of United Steelworkers Local 7-669 at the Honeywell uranium processing plant in Metropolis participated in the rally here. The president of Local 7-669, Darrell Lillie, told the crowd, “They want to take away our rights. If it’s right, it’s worth fighting for, and you’re fighting the right fight. It’s hard but you’re not doing it by yourself. It’s a war on the working class and if we don’t stand up they’ll take us down.”

The Local 48G rally was chaired by locked-out member Todd Miller. He told the demonstrators, “You can sit down and die or stand up and fight.” Steve Underwood, president of Local 48G, said, “We’re here to show unification and solidarity to fight off the attack by corporate America to cut wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

Jethro Head, BCTGM Region 3 representative and the international union’s representative in the negotiations, explained to the crowd that Roquette failed to show up for the last scheduled negotiations in early March. Despite the union offering to meet with them any day during this past month, the company has not responded.

Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, urged participants to vote for the Democratic Party. That sentiment was echoed by other union officials and politicians.

David Rosenfeld, who was the 2010 Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor of Iowa, addressed the rally. “The billionaires own the factories, mines, and mills. They own the government. They own the Democratic Party and Republican parties,” he said. “They talk about ‘equality of sacrifice.’ We say no! Our weapon is solidarity.”

Buddy Howard, a locked-out member of Local 48G and president of the Lee County Labor Council, called for a moment of silence for Brian Stice, a 31-year-old sanitation worker at Pinnacle Foods in nearby Ft. Madison. Stice was killed the night before when his arm got caught while cleaning the spiral auger of a machine. He was a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 617. A number of unionists from Local 617 attended the rally here.

A contingent of workers from BCTGM Local 342 in Bloomington, Illinois, who work at the Nestle candy plant there, came to show their support. They put their cash together to buy $200 in tickets for the 50/50 raffle, hoping to win and give their share back to Local 48G. They won and did just that.

At the end of the rally participants marched down Main Street to honks and raised fists of support from many of those who passed by. Several stores had signs backing 48G and some restaurants and bars offered discounts to the locked-out workers.

Rally participants were offered a benefit lunch at the Labor Temple, where 48G members sold solidarity T-shirts and a local band performed. The day concluded with a large contingent gathering at the Roquette plant gate to walk the picket line and urge scabs entering and leaving the plant to go elsewhere.
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