Friday, October 3, 2014

Salt In The Wounds

Sometimes you wonder just how ignorant people can be.

The United Steelworkers Union local in Bayard, NM, heirs to the workers who inspired the classic 1954 film shot in New Mexico, Salt of the Earth, have just voted to "decertify" the union.

They've voted to become non union. Each worker will go it alone against the $30 billion mega international gold and copper mining giant Freeport McMoRan and it's $19 billion in annual revenues that teamed with Indonesian dictator Suharto to murder any worker who wasn't subservient to the company.

The Bayard local is the same local -- although admittedly it's now part of a different, far less radical parent union  -- that risked and gave their lives fighting the mining corporation that paid Hispanics and Natives less than Anglos, that sent Hispanics and Natives into the mine alone, where cave-ins were frequent, while Anglos went down in teams. The same local that stood up against copper mine hired armed militia and against sheriff's deputies paid for by the mine, the members of the local that inspired a group of McCarthy Era blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers to come out here and turn their story of bravery into a classic movie, have just decided to take the bend over and grab your ankles approach to owner-worker relations.

Radical University of New Mexico Professor David Correia tells the outlines of the story in his La Jicarita blog, and the story of the Salt of the Earth film and the fierce struggle for justice behind it.

Freeport McMoRan as part of its union busting scheme has been giving generous bonuses to non union miners at its other mines, and apparently hired a right wing failed Deming businessman, Irving Shane Shores, who posed as a miner, filed the papers that required the vote, talked enough of his co workers into going along, then quit and left the mine.

A Hard Lesson For American Workers

The scary part of this story is that nobody twisted any arms. No one forced the miners at gunpoint to decertify the union. The vote wasn't close: 236-83.

No twisted arms, perhaps, but there are plenty of twisted minds running around out there. Look first in the Democratic Party.

Anita Torrez (Peoples World photo)
The Conservative movement and the Republican Party, of course, have done everything they can to make "union" a dirty word, because they represent the owners, not the workers. But Democrats, the supposed party of the workers, have never pushed back and in fact aid and abet it.

 I've written about how New Mexico's elected Democrats won't even utter the word "union" in public, and about how they go along with every Reaganomics economic and anti worker policy Republicans put forth and every cut to government benefits to help workers, particularly poor workers.

The "Help the Middle Class" Democratic Party is simply the socially liberal wing of the Republican Party, fiscal conservatives who support mainstream feminism and mainstream gay rights; the right to marry who you choose and the right to certain health services like contraception and abortion.

Compare modern pathetic Democrats to Anita Torrez, one of the leaders of the actual 1951 strike in Bayard depicted in Salt of the Earth, pictured above standing before a mural commemorating the film, who as part of the Mine Mill Union's Ladies Auxilliary helped organize the strike and then, after the government made it illegal for the miners to picket and began jailing them, walked the picket lines and kept scabs out of the mine and faced the hired goons and cops.

Compare today's Democrats, who are afraid to utter the word union, who are afraid to say anything that might make their big donors and Capitalist masters uncomfortable, to Torrez and her husband, Lorenzo, who had joined the Communist Party at the height of the Red Scare, and who didn't simply read Marxist literature in their living room but proudly and courageously led the struggle against Capitalism in the workplace.

In the American system, with only two parties able to make policy and only two parties having access to the media, it's up to Democrats to represent the interests of working Americans. It's up to Democrats to counter Conservative propaganda. It's up to Democrats to create the social space for unions. It's to Democrats to pass the Employee Free Choice Act that has has been languishing for years that would remove some of the formidable barriers to union organizing. It's up to Democrats to give voice to the hopes and dreams of working Americans, to inspire them to participate in the system, to get them interested enough so the Democratic Party has the political power it needs to represent working Americans interests. They don't do any of it. Period. They are utter and complete failures.

The film Salt of the Earth should be required viewing in New Mexico public schools, and it would be if there still existed a Democratic Party.

Former miner and current Bayard City Council member, 72-year-old Zeke Santa Maria, sums things pretty well in his comments to a Silver City Sun-News reporter:
Santa Maria said the mine workers voted overwhelmingly against the union, because "greed got to them." He claims mine workers receive a bonus at the Tyrone Mine which workers at Chino Mine did not because they were unionized. Freeport McMoRan did not confirm or deny this statement by press time.

Santa Maria said the mine workers at Chino Mine made a mistake.

"In time it'll work against them," Santa Maria predicted. "The union did a lot for this county."

The decertification vote comes as American workers have not advanced their living standard for 30 years, since the advent of Reaganomics, and as new evidence released today shows American workers losing even more ground. A Wall Street Journal headline of today reads "Job Growth Rebounds, but Wages Lag." An article in Peoples Pundit Daily explains that most jobs being created are at or close to minimum wage and/or part time, and that more workers have given up and stopped looking for work than at the "official" end of the recession. It also mentions that for the first time, retirees have better economic prospects than young people do.

None of this is in the headlines of the mainstream media as it breathlessly trumpets record stock prices, profits and mergers, nor is that fact that the sector doing the most hiring, as it has been for some years now, is the "temp worker" industry.  As Syracuse University professor Gretchen Purser showed in her study of the temp industry, where she actually worked as a temp for three years, workers must show up at the temp agency early in the morning and wait in a filthy waiting room to be dispatched to a job. Only while they are at the job do they receive minimum wage pay. A couple more hours of unpaid labor are spent going back to the agency and waiting for a check for that day's pay. From it the agency deducts transportation costs to and from the job and any other costs like required safety equipment. Workers end up with between $20 and $40 per day. Most live in shelters or on the street. This is the sector doing the most hiring, and how the government can claim the unemployment rate is falling.

We, the American working people, have let this happen to us. We have no one else to blame but us. We've demanded nothing of the Democratic party. We're in the process of learning a hard lesson. Our paid vacations and second homes, our Social Security and Medicare, weren't always there. People fought and died for them. It's probably too late for my generation to do do anything. The trend is established and it's getting worse. It'll be up to the young people who, like the miners in Bayard, NM, saw, will see what life is like when corporations run the country as they please, and when Democrats let them.

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