69 years ago, on 17 October, workers of the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico, USA affiliated to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers finished their day’s shift and formed a picket line. Workers demanded an end to management’s racist policies that paid Mexican-American workers substantially less than their white colleagues, housed them in separate housing colonies and even provided them less amenities in company housing.
As the strike ensued, workers faced multiple instances of victimisation. Police regularly harassed picketing workers and the company posted eviction notices on company housing units threatening to evict them. Workers were even cut-off from company grocery store. Many cases of police violence were reported especially when the company tried to bring in strikebreakers.
Eight months in, the company obtained an injunction from the local court threatening picketers with fines and jail time. To avoid arrest, wives and children replaced workers at the picket. They raised additional demands which included better living conditions and even indoor plumbing in company housing. Police harassment, however continued unabated, with several women and children arrested. Violence also continued with strikebreakers injuring the picketing women and children and even shooting at picketers wounding one woman. As news of these attacks spread, mine workers in nearby areas joined the picketers in a show of solidarity.
Tensions continued but the determination of the Empire Zinc workers and their families eventually won. In January 1952, 15 months after the picket line was formed, management conceded and agreed to almost all demands. Better wages, benefits and even hot water in company houses was provided.