Lost Ground :The Decertification in the Chino Mine

Weeden Nichols

20em

20em (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, the workers of the Chino open-pit copper mine east of Bayard in Grant County, New Mexico, voted to decertify United Steelworkers Local 9424-3, successor to International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. During the period 1950-1952 workers of an Empire Zinc underground mine north of Bayard struck due to unsafe working conditions and oppressive and discriminatory practices by the company. Management practices had created the greatest hardship for the Hispanic workers and their families, and it was the Hispanic workers who led the strike. When the men were removed from the picket line as a result of a court order, the women took over. Not only did the striking workers endure economic hardship to win justice, there was physical danger involved. Collective action won from Empire Zinc improved pay and working conditions, which never could have been won by a single worker opposing Big Business. The strike was immortalized by the film “Salt of the Earth,” which was made in 1954 by filmmakers who had been blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy era.

The Empire Zinc mine workers of Local 890 lived at Santa Rita, which no longer exists. Santa Rita has long since been removed for expansion of the Chino open-pit mine.

I initially over-reacted to the news of decertification in thinking that individual and institutional memory must have been lacking regarding what had been won, and at what cost. It may have been that United Steelworkers Local 9424-3 had insufficient institutional memory of the sacrifices and risks endured by their predecessors in Local 890. It may have been that the present workers are too young to have personal memory, and that there were an insufficient number of persons who themselves remembered. (Insufficiency could obtain in two forms – insufficiency of numbers or insufficiency of current passion – most likely a combination of the two. Perhaps also the present workers inferred, because “the company” paid bonuses to workers in non-union mines, that they too would receive bonuses if they decertified the union. Perhaps very few involved in the decision had ever seen the film “Salt of the Earth.” Also involved in my initial reaction was a jumping to a conclusion that decertification had been inadequately resisted. I do not know that to be so, and on further thought, I believe it cannot be so. I can mentally place myself in the back of the union hall and hear in my mind some really impassioned speeches in favor of sustaining certification. Continue reading