WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Solidarity in the Gate City

Jan 26, 2012

March 28 marked the six month anniversary for Roquette America locking out roughly 240 union workers in Keokuk.  Hundreds of people from throughout the Midwest met in the southeast Iowa city over the weekend to stand in solidarity with the union.  The event also served as a rallying cry for the working class.

Supporters  honked their car horns as more than 400 people marched along Main  Street in downtown Keokuk.

The  demonstrators marched from  the Keokuk Labor Temple to the intersection  of 14th and Main and  back, carrying signs and chanting.

Todd  Miller organized this latest  rally. It is the third to be held  since he and his fellow members of  BCTGM, Local 48G were locked  out by Roquette America on September 28,  2010.

Miller was  impressed with the turnout on a day when temperatures were in the  low 30's.

"Very nice to see so many people supporting us  and supporting the working class of America," says Miller.

Miller  is a 3rd generation worker at the plant so the lockout is especially  personal to him.

"I  feel betrayed by my company for doing  this to me after my 32 years of  service, my dad's 45 years of  services, and my grandpa's 40 years of  service," says Miller.

That  sense of betrayal turns to pride when Miller talks about his fellow  union members.

"When  you are in a situation like we are,"  says Miler, "sometimes you get  down. This kind of event (though)  just uplifts a person's spirits and  makes them feel better. It  also makes them that there are people  supporting them, not only  from this town or this state, but also from  other states."

The  rally portion of the event lasted about two  hours. More than  a dozen people took to the microphone to lead chants  or to encourage  people to stick together during the lockout.

Buzz  Malone  writes the Iowa Political Jumble blog. He says what is  happening  in Keokuk is happening throughout the United States.

"It's  not just little attacks all over, it's a war against the working  class," says Malone, "On all of us, every one of us. What Roquette  America has done here, what Governor Walker has done in Wisconsin,  and  what "Bumstad" (Iowa Governor Terry Branstad,) has done here  in Iowa,  it's part of a war. It is like they busted through a  window like  thieves in the night and try to steal food of your  families plates."

Malone  says he is tired of waiting for  politicians to do something. He says  it is time for the working  class to stand up and take over.

Wilbur  Wilson says there  is only one way to do that. The retired steelworker  from Des  Moines says pro-union changes start on Election Day.

"You  need to vote and you need to take someone else with you, dragging  and  screaming, to the polls," says Wilson, "Grab them by the belt  and get  them to the polls to vote. Because we are under assault  here people.  This is not merely a one-time deal, this is a long  term plan.)

Wilson repeated the call for the working class  to stick together especially the locked out union members in Keokuk.

He  says that means helping a union brother or sister with groceries  or  simply giving another member a hug when they're feeling down.

Darrell  Lillie says the road ahead may seem long and difficult for the locked  out workers in Keokuk He believes progress is on the horizon.

Lillie  is the president of a union whose members have been locked out for  nine  months in Metropolis, Illinois. He believes progress is  on the horizon  in Keokuk because of recent developments in Metropolis.

"We  went  8 months and the bargaining was none," says Lillie, "it was  either  their way or the highway. I can tell you all now, about  three weeks  ago, we went to the table and they said, we see you  are not going to  give up on your seniority,' and we said no,  we were not.' Since then,  we started talking about seniority  and are in the process of writing up  the language."

Just  getting back to the table is the challenge right now in Keokuk.

It's  been more than one month since union representatives and Roquette  America met and no future meetings are scheduled.

I asked  Roquette America for an interview as part of this story. The company  declined.

Instead  of an interview, Roquette America released  a brief statement  reiterating its focus on six core contract goals  and that the workers  cannot return without a signed contract.

Todd  Miller says, despite everything that has happened, he is ready to  go back to work.

"We  want our company to be prosperous  and we want our company to make  money," says Miller, "but all  we ask in return for our hard hours of  services is to be treated  fairly."

The locked out union workers  in Keokuk were reminded  over the weekend that until they can return to  work, there is  plenty of support for them at home and throughout the Midwest.