The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 38      October 24, 2011

Sugar workers battling
lockout are ‘not alone’
Unionists, youth join Fargo demonstration
(lead article)
FARGO, N.D.—Waving picket signs saying “End the lockout” and “Support sugar workers,” about 75 people demonstrated on the Veterans Memorial Bridge here October 8 in support of workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar in the Upper Midwest. Passing cars and trucks honked in support.

“We came out to support the sugar workers,” said Linda Pederson, chief steward of the Minnesota School Employees Association. “We see what’s happening all around us. They are trying to destroy our unions and our rights.” Pederson, who came with about 15 other school workers, explained that their union is under attack too. “We are now into our second year without a new contract.”

The Minnesota School Employees Association released a statement urging its members to participate in the action: “The lockout began August 1st, pushing these hardworking folks out onto the streets since that time. The Moorhead units’ initiative shows the importance of strength and unity across all unions. If it happens to them, it could happen to us.”

By a margin of 96 percent, more than 1,200 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union at sugar plants concentrated in the Red River Valley region of Minnesota and North Dakota voted to reject the company’s “final” offer July 30. The contract included concessions in wages and health benefits as well as stipulations that would allow the company to increasingly contract out union jobs.

In response, American Crystal locked out all union workers at its five factories in Minnesota (Crookston, Moorhead, and East Grand Forks) and North Dakota (Hillsboro and Drayton), as well as two small plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa.

Before the lockout began, the company made plans with Strom Engineering, a scab-herding outfit, to bring in hundreds of replacement workers, who have been working in the plants for more than two months now.

Several postal workers came to show their support on the bridge. “Right now the government is threatening to close 66 post offices down in rural Minnesota,” said Richard Veller, a mail clerk and member of the American Postal Workers Union. “Many retired workers and farmers depend on the post office. That’s where a lot of them get their medicines.”

Several young people involved in recent protests in “Occupy Fargo-Moorhead” also came to show their solidarity.

“American Sugar is trying to shove this contract down our throats,” said Terry Johnson, who works at the plant in Moorhead.

One of the main issues for workers is American Crystal’s drive to weaken the union by contracting out jobs. American Crystal is pressing for the right to subcontract work in situations where “the Company does not own equipment to perform the work,” where union members lack necessary skills, and where there are not enough union workers—instead of simply having the equipment and training and hiring union workers.

“If we accepted this language, it would destroy the union,” said Brad Nelson, vice president of the BCTGM local in Drayton.

The sugar beet industry in the Red River Valley is dominated by large capitalist farms, providing the company a substantial base of support among beet farmers.

Nonetheless, last week the Militant reported than an anonymous farmer donated 2,000 pounds of potatoes to the union. Since then this farmer has donated another 2,000 pounds, which the union delivered this past week to embattled workers in Drayton and Hillsboro where the state government denies unemployment compensation to locked-out workers.  
Sugar workers win solidarity
The BCTGM union continues to reach out for and receive solidarity. The workers are sending delegations to speak before the Minneapolis and St. Paul Regional Labor federations October 12.

“A motion was made and carried at our last union meeting that we will be sending a $1,000 donation,” said Stephen Lech, who was a leader in the fight by United Steelworkers Local 7-669 against a 14-month lockout by Honeywell at its uranium plant in Metropolis, Ill.

“It’s important for the members of the BCTGM locals in Minnesota and North Dakota to know they’re not alone in their struggle. We didn’t forget about the solidarity shown to us during our lockout and we want to show the same solidarity to the sugar workers.

“We learned that our 14 months on the picket line wasn’t in vain. We were proud to take a stand and have no regrets we held out. We’re aware of their struggle and we’re thinking about them.”

Donations can be sent to BCTGM Local 167G, 100 N 3rd, Suite 50, Grand Forks, ND 58203. Write checks to BCTGM 167G with “2011 BCTGM lockout” in the memo line.
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As UK bosses skirt new law, agency workers turn to unions
Hundreds protest school aide layoffs in New York
Marietta Armstrong workers: ‘We’re still fighting’
Coal miners fight Peabody’s attempts to block union
Paprika workers in New Zealand fight layoffs  
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