ON THE PICKET LINE
By Nicole Colson | October 12, 2001 | Page 15
MINNEAPOLIS--"Come on Jesse, you chicken!" That was the message one striking worker had for Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura as he sneaked into his office through a side entrance on October 4.
Ventura was trying to avoid some of the nearly 28,000 striking Minnesota state employees who walked off the job on October 1.
Strikers--nearly half of all state employees--are represented by AFSCME Council 6 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE).
"This is the largest labor action ever in the state of Minnesota," AFSCME spokesperson Don Dindorf told Socialist Worker. "I saw a banner at one of the universities that read, 'This strike brought to you by the Ventura Administration.' And that's true."
AFSCME, which represents nearly 18,000 of the striking workers, rejected the state's final offer. The state's last offer included a 3 percent pay raise for each of two years, which doesn't even cover the cost of inflation. And the state is also asking for enormous cuts in health care coverage for AFSCME employees. Under the state's plan, employee co-payments would rise as much as 20 percent.
The 10,500 MAPE workers struck following the state's pathetic offer of a single 4 percent raise for two years--which wouldn't even take effect until 2002. With inflation, that would leave workers' real wages lower than at the end of their last contract.
During his election campaign, Ventura made much of the fact that he is a "union man." But that didn't stop him from stabbing workers in the back. He has authorized more than 1,000 National Guard troops to scab for strikers, and he's expected to hire of thousands of temps.
Ventura cynically used the September 11 tragedy to try to pressure the unions into calling off the strike, suggesting that strikers were unpatriotic. "This strike comes at a most unfortunate time," Ventura said. "Our citizens are still hurting from the devastating attack on September 11, we are coping with the possibility of a long and difficult war, and we are facing the prospect of an economy that is on the brink of recession."
But Minnesota workers have a long history of "sacrificing." "We sacrificed back in 1993, when we took a 0 percent raise," MAPE Communications Director Murray Cody said. "They promised that when times got better, they'd take care of us. But they never came through on that."
"It's insulting. We have union members who are veterans," Dindorf said. "We consider the right to strike and to organize to be fundamental rights."
Workers are taking a stand. Thousands of workers rallied on October 1 outside the state capitol, chanting, "Were we right? Yes we were!"
"We don't have to apologize for being out today at all," said AFSCME Executive Director Peter Benner. "We will win this."