Copper strikers standing firm

TUCSON, Ariz. — Copper workers on strike against Asarco are resolved to stick it out. The mine and smelter workers walked off their jobs July 1 in protest of Asarco’s (and parent company Grupo Mexico’s) refusal to bargain in good faith with the coalition of unions representing 1,500 workers in Arizona and Texas.

Asarco had agreed to meet with the unions on Aug. 2, but the bosses cancelled that session. Instead, they sent threatening letters to all striking families, pleading poverty. They then agreed to meet with the unions on Aug. 12, but two days before the meeting they filed for Chapter 11 reorganization under the bankruptcy law.

Tony Mesa, president of USW Local 886, which represents workers at the Hayden, Ariz., smelter, was disgusted with the company for refusing to sit down and talk. Mesa said that the Aug. 12 meeting produced nothing new, since the company will not budge from its takeaway demands and refused to consider union proposals.

Mesa emphasizes that copper workers only “want to be treated with respect and dignity, with a fair and equitable contract for our members.” The USW accused Grupo Mexico of deliberately bankrupting its U.S. copper Asarco unit in an attempt to escape its obligations to workers and communities.

A union statement said that Grupo Mexico’s asset-stripping and poor management of Asarco set the stage for the bankruptcy filing.

“Numerous communities, many of them predominantly Latino, are suffering the consequences of Asarco’s century-long pollution binge,” said Manuel Armenta, USW sub-district director. “Rather than cleaning up its mess, Grupo Mexico is attempting to exploit U.S. bankruptcy law in order to shift the cost of cleanup to U.S. taxpayers.”

“It’s no secret what’s happening here,” said USW District 12 Director Terry Bonds. “The robber barons running Grupo Mexico set the stage for this by stripping Asarco of its profitable Peruvian assets in 2003. They believe that it will be cheaper to bankrupt Asarco than it would be to meet Asarco’s tremendous environmental, asbestos and retiree obligations.”

Meanwhile, support for the strikers is growing. USW Local 915’s union hall in Kearny, Ariz., has been crammed full of food donated by California supporters. Pima County Democrats have also been collecting food and groceries. Green Party members from Tucson joined with Jobs with Justice activists on the picket line at the Silverbell mine, and the Arizona AFL-CIO state convention turned into a solidarity rally for the copper strikers with buckets of money collected and more support promised.