Workers from five locked-out plants in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota traveled to Bismarck to protest at the special session of the state legislature. Many came by bus. They were joined by union members from the North Dakota Education Association and the North Dakota Public Employee Association.
Earlier in the week, the legislatures Delayed Bills Committee rejected a bill that would have provided unemployment compensation for more than 400 workers locked out by American Crystal in Drayton and Hillsboro, both small towns in eastern North Dakota.
Locked-out workers at American Crystals three plants in northern Minnesota and two smaller processing plants in Chaska, Minn., and Mason City, Iowa, do receive unemployment compensation.
American Crystal spokesman Brian Ingulsrud told Associated Press November 9 that he doesnt support changing the North Dakota law. The company did not return calls from the Militant.
Workers for American Crystal, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, rejected the companys concession contract proposal by 96 percent on July 30. Two days later bosses locked out 1,300 workers at its seven facilities. American Crystal has been running its factories with nearly 1,000 scabs ever since.
On November 1 the union membership voted down a slightly different company offer by 90 percent.
In his speech to the 62nd Legislative Assembly November 7, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple did not say one word about the locked-out workers, but sang praises of how North Dakota is the best economy in the nation, where progress can be seen in all our major cities, in our small towns, and on our farms.
In Hillsboro and Drayton, towns of 1,500 and 700, many of the locked-out workers are falling behind on mortgage payments and are seeking assistance for heating bills, rent, food and medical assistance.
During a visit to the Hillsboro union hall, Jeanie Covert, who has worked for American Crystal for four years, said, Many of us have had to sell furniture and other personal items to get by. You should see the number of listings on Craigslist from Hillsboro.
Many businesses in the two towns are also hurting from the cutoff in income from the main employer in the area.
Cold shoulder from politicians
Sugar workers have gotten the cold shoulder from elected politicians, said Jerry Burdeski, who is locked out from the plant in Moorhead, Minn. The politicians have been horrendous, especially [Democratic Minnesota Senator] Al Franken, who goes around saying he is pro-labor. He should be ashamed of himself. He has been mostly silent and doesnt deserve reelection.
Doyle Heden, who recently retired after 21 years at the plant, dismissed the politicians who claim to be not taking sides. By not doing anything they are siding with Crystal Sugar, he told the Militant. Thats how a lot of us see it.
After 21 years at American Crystal Heden receives a monthly pension of $436. The company has misjudged the workers, he said. When they locked us out, they thought we would back down or vanish into society. We arent going anywhere. Hedon then explained he was going to Menards to pick up some supplies to help winterize the picket shack in front of the Hillsboro plant.
American Crystal thought it could pour boiling water on us, and make us melt away, said Jeanie Colvert, who was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for 30 years before getting hired at American Crystal. Ive never seen the amount of solidarity generated by the lockout, from within the union and from other unions. We didnt realize what we have.
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The dictatorship of capital
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