Locked Out 2010: Premiere of new documentary film is shown first to families in Boron

Joan Sekler receives flowers at the premiere of Locked Out 2010

Filmmaker Joan Sekler receives flowers at the premiere of Locked Out 2010, a new film that documents the struggle for fight for justice against Rio Tinto.

Oct. 30th was a big night for families in Boron. Approximately 300 people came to see the new documentary film, “Locked Out 2010,” which premiered at the Boron High School on a chilly fall evening that failed to deter the big crowd. There was free popcorn, juice, and cookies provided by Local 30 members, but everyone quickly took their seats and became quiet when the lights went down and the film lit up the screen.

Locked Out 2010 is a true-to-life documentary about the struggle between Rio-Tinto Minerals and families from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 30. It conveys the bewilderment felt by union members who tried in vain for months to reach a fair agreement with the company. It eventually became clear that the giant international mining company wasn’t interested in a fair contract but wanted a concessionary deal that would destroy the union.

When their contract expired on Nov. 4, 2009, members ignored attempts by the company to scare workers and trick them into striking. Instead of walking out, they remained on the job and kept working without a contract – using new strategies developed in a day-long training session that emphasized solving problems through collective actions to show unity and get quick results.

Local 30 members made it clear to Rio Tinto that they wanted no part of the company’s concession demands.When Rio Tinto realized that families had no intention of folding, the company locked-out the workers on January 31, 2010 and tried to run the plant with non-union replacement workers.

The film captures the dramatic first hours of the lockout, when hundreds of workers dressed in overalls and hardhats came to the union hall with their families who marched through the desert in the crisp, chilly morning to the locked plant gates. At the gate, families confronted dozens of sheriff’s deputies but continued marching up to the line where they demanded to work, chanting “we want to work.”

Television news cameras and the documentary crew captured that event in terms that would frame the conflict over the next 100 days as a David vs. Goliath struggle, with families in Boron facing down a greedy and powerful international corporate foe. Terri Judd, one of the locked out miners, explains in the film, “It was a real slap in the face when [Rio-Tinto] locked us out. We put our hearts and souls into our jobs.” Many other union workers felt the same way.

Some in the audience laughed, but most hissed when Rio-Tinto General Manager Dean Gehnring was interviewed saying, “We’re just trying to improve the production and quality of our product and to make a better working environment for our employees.” The cameras follow the families for the next three-and-a-half months as they struggle through hardships, but the film also captures the impressive outpouring of solidarity that followed almost immediately after the lockout.

There’s footage of the “Docks to the Desert” food caravan organized by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor that quickly gathered $50,000 worth of groceries – much of it donated by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The food was loaded into four giant semi-trucks donated by the Teamsters Union and the Food & Drug Council that joined with 100 cars and drove in a convoy from Dodger Stadium to the union hall in Boron – making a dramatic show of solidarity as they paraded through the little town with air horns blaring as residents waved back to welcome the support. Those groceries and other deliveries that followed were distributed each week by rank-and-file volunteers who staffed a food pantry that supplied families with “lockout meals.”

The film also shows how cash donations from ILWU locals and other unions helped families avoid foreclosures and medical emergencies during the lockout, thanks to a committee of ILWU members who did their best to allocate the donations in a fair way to the neediest families.

Also captured on film are the outreach and media committees that lined-up community support and kept the media informed with positive stories – putting the families and their struggle in the best possible light. This determination and organizational strategy eventually forced Rio Tinto to back down, reach a settlement and end the lockout. The cameras are there when workers returned to work on May 17, 2010 – but there were no illusions about the damage done by the company to employees and the community.

“We’re glad to be working again, but the trust that was once there has been destroyed. There have been some small changes, but for the most part, things are still the same,” Judd said.

Kim Evans, another locked out union member said, “Since we’ve been back to work, it’s been rocky.” With statements like these, the documentary ends with a sober reminder that the fight for justice continues, even after winning a big battle against a powerful adversary.

Filmmaker Joan Seckler says she got the idea for making the documentary on the first day of the lockout. “I saw the article in the Los Angeles Times when the lockout began and thought it might be a good idea to make a film about what was happening in Boron,” She approached Local 30 officers about her idea, who were supportive, and then started charging her credit cards.

The total cost for making the documentary, including filming, travel, and other expenses came to “around $65,000 of which $8,000 was paid for by a grant,” said Sekler. She financed the rest of it herself, which is where the sale of the DVDs come in. “If I can sell enough DVD’s, then I have a chance of breaking even,” she explained.

After the premiere, when asked how she liked the film, Terri Judd exclaimed, “I loved it!” Raymond Wilkins, another union member who went back to work after the lock-out also enjoyed the film, as did dozens of others who were interviewed for their opinions and feedback.

Locked Out 2010 is more than an important historical document – it’s an entertaining and inspiring blueprint that shows how workers can take on powerful employers – and win.

DVD’s of the documentary are on sale for $20 at the website. www.lockedout2010.org

(Thanks to Patty Orr of the Mojave Desert News who contributed to this article and provided photos.)

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