"Southwesterly currents have carried taconite tailings discharged by Reserve Mining Company's plant in Silver Bay." EPA Photo. June 1973.
by Jennifer Tuder
Apr 4, 2015, 12:00 AM

The Cycle of Corporate Abuse

I have a neighbor in an abusive relationship.  It seems so clear to me, but she denies it vehemently. I can see it in the way he leaves her when it suits him and comes back when he needs her for something.  I can see it in the way he alternately threatens and courts her. I can see it in the scars he’s left on her body.  She’s been cut open, again and again.  He’s slowly poisoned and suffocated her, only stopping when the law intervenes. Financially, he utterly controls her.  He isolates her, forcing her to depend upon him alone. He tells her she can’t live without him. No one else will want her. She’ll never be able to do it on her own.  He tells others it’s none of their business.  Her snobby friends with their fancy educations think they know what’s best but only he does. The abuse is always someone else’s fault, mostly hers.  She makes him so angry.  She’s so ungrateful.

When the evidence of his abuse gets too obvious or when he’s gone again, she starts to see it.  The people who care about her try to help, but soon he appears again, flowers in hand, sweet words in his mouth about how everything will be different this time.  He’ll be better. It’ll be just like it was before.  She opens her arms to him and it starts all over again.  It’s hard to watch because I am afraid that one day he will hurt her so much she won’t recover.

My neighbor’s name is the Iron Range.

I’m not drawing this comparison lightly or without cause.  The link between violence against women and resource extraction industries has been documented worldwide, from India to Australia[i] to Canada[ii].  Closer to home, the Bakken oil boom has led to a boom in crime, including a marked increase in human trafficking and domestic violence[iii].  So there is a correlation between the rise of resource extraction industries, like mining, and a rise in domestic violence.

However, the real reason I’m making this analogy is because it is illuminates something very real and very troubling about the relationship between the mining industry and the Iron Range.  Consider this description of an abusive cycle, taken from another neighbor’s website, the Mayo Clinic:

“If you’re in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern:

  • Your abuser threatens violence.
  • Your abuser strikes.
  • Your abuser apologizes, promises to change and offers gifts.
  • The cycle repeats itself.”[iv]

The violence, of course, is no longer physical (though it was initially, as the history of labor relations on the Range shows). Now the threats come in the form of financial abandonment, a kind of “I brought you into this economy, and I can take you out of it”. When the mining industry has been called before committees this session, you can see them alternately threatening and courting the Range, often in the same breath.

In the past month, the news of Keetac’s[v] and Minntac’s “idling”[vi] have delivered serious blows to the Iron Range.  It means significant job loss and the continuation of the “slow violence”[vii] that will crescendo in economic and environmental ruin eventually. In fact, many of the commentators and politicians quoted in these stories note the cyclical nature of this financial abandonment:

“We’ve seen this happen before in the ’80s,” (Sen. Al Franken)[viii]

“The domino effect begins, but I knew this was likely coming,” (Mayor Larry Cuffe, Jr. of Virginia)[ix]

“The Iron Range has endured these industry downturns before, and each time has come back even stronger,” he said. “My administration stands ready to do everything possible to help it do so again.” (Gov. Mark Dayton)[x]

“Unfortunately, we get used to this cycle on the Iron Range. […] We’ve been through this before, and we’re going to work through it again. But it’s pretty difficult news for the people that work there.” (State Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing)[xi]

The cycle seems expected, even accepted, by these leaders. As if it’s just the way corporations are, honey.  They’re just obeying their natural urges, to follow their profit-lust wherever it takes them.  How can they resist the lure of those other countries, with their loose regulations and cheap labor costs?  Besides, what did you expect?  You’re too demanding, too needy.  You drive them to it. They’ll come back when they’re tired of messing around.

And it will start all over again:  They’ll show up in suits, with sweet job promises and jovial lobbying. Then they’ll start in at you for yet another tax break or subsidy or regulation rollback.  If you question them or say no, they’ll threaten to leave again, even as they’re enjoying the benefits of your labor.  Finally, when it suits them, they’ll slap you with layoffs and catch the next train out of town.

Why should you take them back?  The good life on the Range was won despite the mining companies, not because of them.  The good old days weren’t when you allowed industry to control you, but when you demanded that industry live up to its promises and act as good stewards of the community.  And any industry that’s unwilling to do that isn’t good enough for you, Iron Range.  You deserve better.

I’m afraid, however, that those days are gone. Any attempt at regulation, including living up to their forty-year-old regulatory commitment to the wild rice standard, has been met with outraged opposition[xii].  You can’t make them change, Iron Range.  Like most abusers, they don’t see their treatment of you as wrong.  In fact, they feel that you owe them.  You should feel grateful for layoffs and pollution and disease.  You should feel grateful for a boom-bust cycle that saps your economic vitality.  Let’s be clear:  an abuser’s ultimate goal is control.  And right now, the mining industry has the Iron Range completely at its mercy. As Iron Range commentator and resident Aaron Brown notes:

“It’s a region of booms and busts. Over the long run, the booms and the busts have an effect on culture, on the economy, on the survivability of communities. […] Iron ore will be back, but the range will suffer in the meantime, so this is a challenge for leaders and community members to try and figure out how to survive this.”[xiii]

The people of the Iron Range are survivors.  They’re tough, hard-working, and well-educated.  I know they could make it on their own.  Leaving an abuser is incredibly difficult and frightening; but if you chose to do so, Iron Range, your neighbors would have your back.


[i] Carrington, Kerry, Alison McIntosh, and John Scott. “Globalization, Frontier Masculinities, and Violence:  Booze, Blokes, and Brawls.” The British Journal of Criminology. 50 (2010):  393-413. Print.

Carrington, Kerry, Russell Hogg, and Alison McIntosh. “The Resource Boom’s Underbelly:  Criminological Impacts of Mining Development.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 44:3 (2011): 335-54. Cengage Expanded Academic. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Tunnel Vision:  Women, Mining, and Communities. Ingrid Macdonald and Claire Rowland, eds. Oxfam Community Aid Abroad. Nov. 2002. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

[ii] Shandro, Janis A., Marcello M. Veiga, Jean Shoveller, Malcolm Scoble, and Mieke Koehoorn. “Perspective on Community Health Issues and the Mining Boom-Bust Cycle.” Resources Policy.  36 (2011): 178-86.

Woo, Andrea. “Study Shows Link Between B.C. Extraction Industries, Domestic Abuse.” The Globe and Mail. 24 Jul. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

[iii] Carter, Troy. “FBI Boosts Bakken Presence With Permanent Office.” Bozeman Daily Chronicle. 6 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Dalrymple, Amy. “Domestic Violence Victims Have Limited Options in Oil Patch, Advocates Say.” Oil Patch Dispatch. 18 Jul. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

[iv] Mayo Clinic.  “Domestic Violence Against Women: Recognize Patterns, Seek Help.” mayoclinic.org. 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

[v] Kraker, Dan. “Keewatin taconite plant to be idled, affecting 412 workers.”  mprnews.org Minnesota Public Radio News. 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

[vi] Dunbar, Elizabeth. “U.S. Steel to idle part of Minntac; 680 layoffs expected.” mprnews.org.  Minnesota Public Radio News. 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2015

[vii] Nixon, Rob. “Slow Violence.” chronicle.com. The Chronicle of Higher Education.  26 Jun. 2011. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

[viii] Dunbar “U.S. Steel”

[ix] Dunbar “U.S. Steel”

[x] DePass, Dee. “700 Could be Affected by Minntac Taconite Plant Idling.” startribune.com StarTribune. 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

[xi] Kraker, “Keewatin”

[xii] Senator Tomassoni strongly implies that Keetac “could shut down” due to their “inability to comply” with the wild rice standard.  Later, Larry Sutherland from U.S. Steel meticulously catalogues the “economic footprint” of the Keetac and Minntac plants, including their contributions to the education funding.  While no overt threat is made, Sutherland’s itemized list of economic contributions doesn’t make sense in the context of hearing unless it is a veiled threat:  if you enforce this regulation, we will leave you and take our economic beneficence with us. Minnesota State Senate. Environment and Energy Committee. “Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Presentation on Proposed Sulfate Standard.”  Hearing. Online audio recording. Senate Hearing Services. 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

[xiii] Dunbar “U.S. Steel”

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.