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“After labor resistance and Solidarity:
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Caravan builds support
for locked-out workers
Kicks off with sugar workers’ rally in Minn.
Hundreds of sugar workers demanding end to lockout by American Crystal Sugar march to company headquarters Feb. 22, joined by locked-out Cooper Tire Steelworkers and others.
BY FRANK FORRESTAL,
AND LAURA ANDERSON
More than 300 locked-out workers and their supporters rallied Feb. 22 in Moorhead, Minn., where the corporate headquarters of American Crystal Sugar Co. is located. The event kicked off the “Journey for Justice”—a 1,000-mile solidarity caravan from the Red River Valley to Findlay, Ohio.
Four Steelworkers locked out by Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in Findlay were there—Rob Greer, Dave Burns, Teresa Brown and Linda Jones. “This lockout has brought our union closer together,” said Brown, Women of Steel Coordinator for United Steelworkers Local 207L, who has worked at Cooper Tire for 12 years.
More than 1,000 members of the USW were locked out Nov. 28 after rejecting Cooper Tire’s contract demands to cut wages, speed up production, and implement lower pay and benefits for new hires. After the Journey for Justice began, the Steelworkers voted 627-321 Feb. 27 to accept a contract.
The Findlay workers traveled with four workers from American Crystal Sugar—Becki Jacobson, Nathan Rahm, Lee Schlichtmann, and Paul Woinarowicz—who, along with 1,300 other members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union have been locked out since Aug. 1 after rejecting a concession contract by a margin of 96 percent.
Following the rally, locked-out workers attempted to deliver petitions with more than 33,000 signatures demanding American Crystal end the lockout and resume negotiations. But they were stopped by company security. American Crystal did not return calls for comment.
That evening more than 60 people attended an event at the offices of the Minnesota State AFL-CIO in St. Paul, Minn. Organizers announced that more than $5,000 had been raised from local unions. Pat Walker, a retired member of Teamsters Local 120, said he was taking 40,000 pounds of food and supplies to the Red River Valley.
“What both unions face are systematic attacks,” Rahm, who has worked four years at American Crystal’s plant in Hillsboro, N.D., told rally participants. “By banding together, we are stronger. This is the new reality in the U.S.”
The day before, $1,752 was raised in a collection from participants at the Iowa Federation of Labor legislative conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
“This trip is about solidarity of workers against the offensive of the corporations,” Greer, an electrician at Cooper Tire, told 50 workers demonstrating Feb. 23 in front of the American Crystal plant in Chaska, a western suburb of Minneapolis. “There are currently 17 lockouts in North America.”
Participants in the action came from about half a dozen different unions. Ten of the 18 workers locked out at the Chaska plant were there. Other BCTGM workers came from Minneapolis, Mason City, Iowa, and Keokuk, Iowa. The Journey for Justice made two stops in Wisconsin. About 25 people gathered for a luncheon at the International Association of Machinists Lodge 873 hall in Horicon, which represents workers at John Deere. Members of the IAM, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, and Family Farmer Defenders attended.
Sixty people, including BCTGM members from the Nestlé Chocolate plant in Franklin Park, Ill., and the Kraft plant in Chicago marched and leafleted in front of Wal-Mart in downtown Chicago to protest American Crystal’s lockout.
Jorge Rios, a 27-year-old machine operator from Aurora who joined the Chicago rally, said, “If you stay in your own area you don’t see what’s out there, and people here got to learn about their struggle.”
In Woodburn, Ind., outside of Fort Wayne, 20 supporters welcomed Journey for Justice participants Feb. 26 at the Steelworkers Local 715 hall. The union organizes 1,200 workers at the nearby BF Goodrich plant and raised thousands of dollars for the Cooper Tire workers during the lockout.
USW officials announced Feb. 24 that they had reached a tentative contract with Cooper Tire, and cancelled the final events of the caravan, a Feb. 25 National Day of Action at Cooper retailers and a Feb. 27 “hands around the plant” solidarity rally.
“We’ve learned there are many other companies using the recession as an excuse for taking advantage of their workers too,” Lee Schlichtmann said at a gathering organized by the Ohio AFL-CIO at its Columbus headquarters at the conclusion of the caravan. “It’s bullying, and workers shouldn’t have to take it.”
Tom Fiske and Ilona Gersh contributed to this article.
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