Decertified Salt of the Earth union remains an inspiration

 

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Detail from poster commemorating the 60th anniversary of the film

To many labor historians and labor activists across North America, it was a heavy blow to learn that Local 890, the union that was the star of the historic 1950s blacklisted film Salt of the Earth, had voted to decertify in September.

One PNLHA member, lamenting the passing of the historical local union, said “the film itself and the struggle it memorializes remain inspiring.” He further noted that the decertification “presents a new opportunity to look back at the earlier inspiration.”

Members of Steel Worker Local 9424-3, the renamed Mine-Mill local in Bayard, NM, voted 236 to 83 to end their union representing workers at Freeport-McMoran, “one of the world’s most profitable companies,” according to a report at http://portside.org. The report also claims that the company has a “history of ultra-violent and often successful union busting campaigns.”

Long an iconic moment in labor history, Local 890’s winning strike in the early 1950s and the subsequent film portraying the union victory over Empire Zinc Company has inspired union activists since those Cold War days.

Particularly inspiring was the role played by the Mexican-American women, members of Mine-Mill Ladies Auxiliary Local 209, who took over the picket lines when the company was awarded an injunction preventing the male workers from carrying on.

Portside writer David Correria said the decertification came as “the culmination of six months of union busting work by Freeport employee Irvin Shane Shores,” adding there is speculation that the company recruited Shores to bust the union. “Shores of course denies this. Any connection between Shores and Freeport-McMoran would invalidate the decertification vote.”

Correria further notes that “prior to coming to Freeport-McMoran, Shores had never worked in a mine. He managed a Pizza Hut in Deming[, NM,] and, more recently owned a doughnut shop that he quickly ran into the ground. In 2009 Shores unsuccessfully pursued a seat on the Luna County Board of Commissioners as an ultra conservative Republican.”

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Original poster advertising the film

For the Portside report go to http://portside.org/2014-10-21/freeport-mcmoran-detroys-famous-salt-of-the-earth-labor-union. Also see Olivier Uyttebrouck, “End of the line for Chino’s storied union,” Albuquerque Journal, October 12, 2014, http://www.kitco.com/news/2014-10-12/End-of-the-line-for-Chino-s-storied-union.html

For further reading on the history of the Salt of the Earth story, see Ellen R. Baker, On Strike and On Film: Mexican-American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Ellen Schrecker, Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism in America (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1998); and James J. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America (Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press, 1999). Salt of the Earth is available for viewing on YouTube.