AUSTIN, Minn. — Dozens of National Guardsmen, riot clubs in hand, formed a human barricade today to close Geo. A. Hormel & Co.'s flagship plant and prevent violence between striking meatpackers and workers crossing picket lines.
Police Chief Donald Hoffman said the decision to block the plant's gates was made jointly by police, the Sheriff's Department and the Guard. Hormel officials did not ask for the blockade, he said.
"I'm not going to have people enter when there's a good chance of people being injured," Hoffman said.
However, state Public Safety Commissioner Paul Tschida said the Guard has no authority to close the plant.
"Their role is to keep the peace, assist local police, but not to be involved in that labor-management aspect of whether the plant is open or closed," Tschida said.
Meanwhile, some pickets from Austin kept workers out of a Hormel plant in Iowa for several hours today. The workers returned to their jobs when the pickets left.
Gov. Rudy Perpich activated about 600 guardsmen on Monday after Austin officials requested help in controlling the strikers. (Story, Page 4.)
The mood among hundreds of strikers and their supporters gathered early today was angry as they came face-to-face with guardsmen. They taunted, jeered and mimicked the Guard members in fatigues and helmets.