The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.59/No.30           August 21, 1995 
Book On 1983 Copper Strike Draws Wrong Lessons  

Copper Crucible does a good job of chronicling the events of the hard-fought strike by copper miners in Clifton and Morenci, Arizona, against the Phelps Dodge mining company, especially the illegal activities of the cops directed against the strikers. The story of the strike, which began in July 1983, however, proves the opposite of some of Rosenblum's conclusions.

Rosenblum longs for a return to the 1960s and early 1970s, before the 1974-75 worldwide recession and the deepening crisis of capitalism. The bosses are now demanding major concessions from the unions and Rosenblum can't understand why.

His reformist outlook prevents him from seeing that the company's conduct during the strike was necessitated by the copper barons' need to drive down wages and break the unions in order to remain competitive.

Were we to believe Rosenblum, the lesson of the Arizona copper workers' fight in 1983 is that strikes cannot be won today because of the Republican Party's influence in Washington and the inability of workers to extend solidarity.

Copper miners in Arizona have a long history of militancy going back to the turn of the century. The large number of Mexican-American miners, the influence of the Mexican revolution, the dangerous working conditions, all these and many other factors contributed to the class struggle history of Arizona copper miners.

Fight to maintain rights
In 1983, Phelps Dodge miners, primarily members of the Steelworkers union but also a number of other unions, went on strike to maintain Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) and to prevent job combinations. During the inflation-racked 1970s, COLA, under which wages increase to match price hikes, helped to protect miners' standard of living.

Phelps Dodge wanted major concessions and the elimination of pattern bargaining. Rosenblum sees Richard Moolick, president of the company, and Ronald Reagan as the "bad apples."

Copper Crucible concentrates on the events in Clifton and Morenci, small towns where mass pickets characterized the beginning weeks of the strike. Rallies of 1,500 and more strikers rocked the Clifton football stadium on more than one occasion.

Six weeks into the strike, the company took out large ads in the Phoenix and Tucson newspapers looking for scabs. This infuriated the rank-and-file strikers, who were determined to prevent them from crossing the line. On Monday, August 8, 1,000 strikers, family members, and supporters mobilized at the gate to the mine in response to these provocations.

Within hours the company canceled production for 24 hours. Those already inside the mine decided to stay there rather than face the mass pickets.

Democratic Party governor Bruce Babbitt immediately flew in. Union officials met with Babbitt who then met with the company. Phelps Dodge then agreed to a 10-day moratorium on hiring "replacement workers." But the strikers were not satisfied. They mobilized the next morning to demand a complete shutdown of the mine by noon.

Rosenblum quotes company spokes man, Patrick Scanlon, as saying, "You could see them moving up to the gate with softball bats, lengths of pipe, chains." Rosenblum himself uses the word "mob" to describe the determined actions of the strikers who wanted to preserve their jobs, their unions, and get a decent contract. At 10 minutes to noon the company cried "uncle" and agreed to shut down the facility for 10 days.

The next 10 days were decisive in the strike. The company, the cops, the National Guard, and the governor prepared to guarantee the gates would be wide open. But the union leadership traveled throughout the state asking people to stay away from Morenci, August 19. This strategy was designed, they said, to embarrass the company and the cops who would be mobilizing a big force against no one.

Phelps Dodge gets help from Babbitt
Rosenblum describes this period as one where Phelps Dodge management and the Republicans in the state legislature ganged up on Babbitt and forced him to call out the National Guard. In fact, Babbitt, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party all fully cooperated with Phelps Dodge to maintain "law and order" and to open the mine by military force.

On the morning of August 19 military vehicles, tanks, Huey helicopters, and 750 armed state troopers and National Guardsmen arrived in Clifton and Morenci to break the strike. Only a handful of strikers were at the gate and busloads of scabs rolled in. This outcome and the events leading up to it were a devastating blow to the strike, which lost momentum from that point on.

Near the end of Copper Crucible Rosenblum writes, "The Phelps Dodge strike is emblematic of the decline of two vital achievements of the American labor movement, solidarity and the right to strike." But to the contrary the union fighters at Phelps Dodge showed that solidarity and the strike weapon were very much alive and the only way to win a fight against the employers and their government servants.

Rosenblum advises the capitalist class to do some "soul- searching, particularly with respect to their duties to their workers and the general community." He looks to Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party, labor management committees, and a return to enlightened management to make advances for working people. This is a dead end.

Out of the worsening conditions the capitalists are imposing today, larger and larger class battles will emerge. A revitalized labor movement, which fights around broad social questions confronting the entire working class and builds unity to stand up to the bosses, will then be possible.

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