Protesters gathered outside Strom Engineering, which supplies scab labor to replace American Crystal Sugar employees at five sugar plants in Minnesota and North Dakotas Red River Valley. Workers displaying signs to traffic on the busy frontage road and freeway were met by honks of support.
The 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union have been locked out by American Crystal Sugar since August 1, two days after workers rejected the bosses final offer by a 96 percent margin.
Participants included 15 of 19 locked-out workers from a smaller American Crystal facility in nearby Chaska. Pretty much our whole plant turned out, said Jake Strunk, who has operated a forklift there for a year. It didnt take much to get us here. Jerry Lahr, president of BCTGM Local 265G in Chaska, agreed. Three locked-out workers from East Grand Forks also joined the action.
The rally was organized by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Other unions represented were the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, Teamsters Local 120, IBEW Local 292, AFSCME, and the Minnesota American Federation of Teachers.
Speaking at the rally, Doug Thomsen, a member of BCTGM Local 167G and worker at the East Grand Forks plant for 35 years, thanked the Minnesota Nurses Union for donating $10,000 and ATU Local 1005 for its donation of $5,000. Dorothy Maki, vice president of the ATU local, said, One unions fight is a fight for all of us. Theyre trying to pick us off one at a time.
Its time to fight back, said Maki, who went to East Grand Forks a few days earlier to present the check and visit picket lines.
Although encouraged by the support at the rally, James Hammond, who loads trucks at the Chaska plant and has worked there for five years, said there isnt enough solidarity on the daily picket line. The cops say, You cant make people honk to support sugar workers, Hammond said. They make us turn our signs around. The security guards antagonize us and say things I cant repeat for a newspaper.
Cops are enforcing a noise ordinance in Chaska and plants in the Red River Valley, hoping to isolate workers and weaken local solidarity. Picketers says cops have told them they cant use air horns and to take down signs to honk for sugar workers.
But there was plenty of honking and waves of support September 2, the day after the Strom action, when more than 50 picketers rallied at the Sorlie Bridge in East Grand Forks during evening rush hour. Three Delta Airlines workers from Minneapolis were greeted by locked-out workers with open arms. The Delta workers had collected $200 in break rooms for the American Crystal employees. Rallies are organized at the bridge by BCTGM Local 167G every Friday from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
A collection of $15,600 from BCTGM locals in East Grand Forks and Moorhead was given this week to locked-out workers in Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota, where the state government is denying workers jobless benefits. We are fighting to get unemployment benefits, Gayln Olson, president of BCTGM Local 372G in Hillsboro, told the Militant. An important hearing is taking place in Hillsboro on September 12. The solidarity from the locals in Minnesota is tremendous.
The BCTGM locals are organizing a support ride September 10. Locked-out workers and supporters are meeting at Jerrys Bar in Moorhead at 10 a.m. and will visit all five plants. Funds raised will be donated to the North Dakota locals.
Donations can be sent to the Sugar Beet Workers Fund, 175 Aurora Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103. Write checks to Minnesota AFL-CIO, with BCTGM Lockout 2011 in the memo line.
Frank Forrestal contributed to this article.
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