The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service hosted a public meeting Tuesday, January 28th at the RiverCenter In St Paul on an environmental review of what’s proposed to be the first copper-nickel mine in the state.
I along with with over 2000 other people attended. Of those 2000 people about half were opposed to the Polymet Mine being proposed in northern Minnesota. The other half were either dressed up in “working class” mining attire replenished with hard hats along with a variety of “suits.” More on that later.
During the public testimony there was an impassioned discussion and debate. Those of us opposed to it gave our testimony when allowed. Some of us noticed something peculiar develop with those “hard hat” “working class guys” when they were chosen to speak. Almost to man they gave up their microphone time to a “suit.” In fact I watched in horror as some of these “hard hat guys” gave up the microphone to representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and management of the Polymet Mining interests.
At this point I feel compelled to give you my own personal and family Trade Union history. I have been a proud member of the ITGWU (Irish Transport and General Workers) the irish version of the Teamsters, IVG&ATA (Irish Vintners Grocers & Allied Trades Association (Irish version of the UFCW) the MNA (Both Michigan and Minnesota Nurses Association. My father was a shop stewart for the Teamsters in California and my uncle Brian was shop stewart for the ITGWU. I was born into Trade Union politics. In Ireland the Trade Unions stand up and fight for working people, all working people. It appears that here in the United states they seem to stand only for themselves, their own narrow interests and for corporation interests. To use the Occupy Wall Street vernacular, the 1% instead of the 99%.
During the public discussion another “hard hat’ gave up the microphone to another suit. This man spoke disparagingly to those of us opposed. He held up a paper bag and told us that “collect your cell phones, computers and car keys.” The simple arrogance of this statement got to me. I stood up in the crowd and gave him the finger. I had no idea who he was.
Turns out it was Tommy Rukavina. Rukavina’s been a milkman, a garbageman and miner. But he’s also spent almost a quarter century in the state House of Representatives. He is currently a staffer for the Rick Nolan for Congress campaign. According to Rukavina “I’ve been around labor unions all my life and I have labor beliefs,”I’ve been around relatives that have been involved in their union and never had a problem with speaking up in defense of their fellow workers, so that’s why I speak up for the underdog.”
So initially my reaction was that I publicly apologize for giving Tommy Rukavina by giving him the finger. I had not known it was him speaking. If I had have known I would have given him both barrels. Both hands extending the one finger salute. However having talked to Trade Union people that I admire and trust I changed my mind. Instead let’s have an honest discussion on the Trade Unions in this country.
From where I sit people like Tommy Rukavina go to the heart and soul of what is wrong with the Trade Union movement in this country, in my own humble but honest opinion. Trade Union “leadership” do not protect the interests of all working people. They do not stand up and fight the corporate interests raving our nation. No instead they “cooperate” with the corporate owners. I call that collaborating with the enemy which is treason.
Earlier I had mentioned a “hard hat guy” giving up the microphone for a “suit” speaking for the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber Of Commerce have always worked against the interests of ordinary working people. Yet this “Union guy” gave up the microphone to them. Now if you do not believe that he did so under the direct orders of his “Union” “leadership’ then I have a bridge for sale, going cheap in Brooklyn. No real Trade Unionist would ever give up the microphone to a representative of the Chamber Of Commerce.
Tommy Rukavina represents that collaborationist mentality that has infected Trade Unions in the United States. So Tommy, here you go. I take back my both barrels of the one finger salute. However my perspective that this collaborationist mentality is what is destroying the Trade Union movement in this country I most certainly do not take back.
Polymet is not going to help the people of northern Minnesota. This Canadian conglomerate will come in, ravage the area, contaminate the ground water for 500 years and then leave. There has never been a sulfide mining process that has done otherwise. Never. The facts speak for themselves.
Instead the people of northern Minnesota will suffer and this mine will probably give some of the children of the region a variety of cancers and other ailments. For the promise of some jobs. None of which are even guaranteed to be union jobs. The health of the children will be put at risk and these corporate powers have never show willingness to protect them. instead they have a history of turning and running leaving their mess behind. Including PolyMet. It is also evident that this mine will indeed contaminate the Boundary Waters which is a Minnesota jewel.
Those of us opposed to this understand that northern Minnesota needs jobs. We just see this mine as a disaster waiting to happen and that it will negatively affect the people of Minnesota as a whole and northern Minnesota in particular. Real sustainable jobs are possible.
Just not with PolyMet or other internationalist corporate powers like them.
As the old trade Union song goes Tommy Rukavina and others like you. What side are you on boys, what side are you on? Take a look at your own Minnesota history with the Farmer Labor Association. These heroes of the past can guide you back to where you belong.