VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) — Miners rallied Monday on northern Minnesota's Iron Range for an end to foreign countries illegally dumping steel in the U.S. and threatening the local mining industry.
Gov. Mark Dayton joined the rally, which drew about 1,500 miners, and urged iron miners to step up the fight, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1pvv6e6) reported.
"The story of the Iron Range is one of standing strong against exploitation and oppression, and too often of a government that will not stand with them," Dayton told the crowd. "Today's enemies are not the companies, but the countries that dump their steel in the U.S. market, depress the prices and take away your jobs."
The miners rallied against alleged illegal steel dumping from Asian countries, and pressed for the federal government to impose tariffs on steel from those counties. The issue is a sore point on the Iron Range, where the steel mining industry has been socked with more than a decade of mine closures and bankruptcies, in part due to pressure from low-cost foreign competitors.
Standing with orange hard hats, the crowd chanted, "Mine it here, make it here!" and "Stand up, fight back! Stand up, fight back!"
In advance of President Barack Obama's visit to Minnesota later this week, state Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, urged the president to return to Washington with a renewed commitment to ending the dumping of low-cost foreign steel.
"Iron mining has been the lifeblood of the Iron Range for four generations, and it can be the lifeblood for four more," Bakk said.
The event took broader election-year implications as Republican candidates have tried to make inroads in an area that has been a stronghold for Dayton and other Democrats.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour's running mate, state Sen. Karin Housley, drove up to attend the rally.
"Scott Honour and I support the mining jobs in northern Minnesota," Housley said. "We are all about mining jobs."
After the rally, Housley toured the proposed copper-nickel mine in Hoyt Lakes, where PolyMet Corp. is seeking approval for a mine that could bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in new investment. But the 20-year mine would also require environmental clean-up that could stretch 500 years.
Republican-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson issued a statement saying Dayton is not leading on job-creation issues on the Iron Range.
"Attending rallies is not leading — it is standing," Johnson said. "When I am governor, I am not just going to stand with people who are losing their jobs, I am going to do everything I can to ensure that mining jobs aren't just protected, they are expanded."
Dayton and other Democrats took aim at Republicans at the rally, saying that the GOP has repeatedly tried to raid special Iron Range funds whenever the budget got tight. Democrats said Republicans' sudden interest in the Iron Range is a fleeting political ploy.
Republicans tried to raid an Iron Range fund, "and we said, 'No way, it's not going to happen.' And it didn't," Dayton said.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com