7#$7Qj6@ @ @ @ @ @.EJEJEJEJ ETEjEjF<x@F FP*P<@ PF PPQ!IPPPPPP Feb. 97 Union Busting in the 90s

Union Busting in the '90s:

Learn From the Past to Fight It

(Remarks by David Sole, President of UAW Local 2334, opening the Dec. 7, 1996, conference supporting the Detroit newspaper strikers at Wayne State University, Detroit)

It is an often repeated statement in the labor movement that strike breaking and union busting began with PATCO [the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization] and the Reagan presidency in 1980. This is not really correct. Resigning from the top-level Labor-Management Group in 1978, UAW International President Douglas Fraser issued a remarkable statement giving his reasons for refusing to sit across from the CEOs of the biggest corporations.

Before PATCO; before Phelps-Dodge; before Hormel, Caterpillar or the Detroit Newspaper Strike, Fraser wrote: "Leaders of the business community ... have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country - a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old ...

"The leaders of industry, commerce and finance ... have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a past period of growth and progress ... Where industry once yearned for subservient unions, it now wants no unions at all ... I cannot sit there seeking unity with the leaders of American industry, while they try to destroy us and rain the lives of the people I represent ... We ... intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat down in the factories in the 1930s and who marched in Selma in the 1960s."

Already by 1978 it was becoming quite clear that there was a change occuring among the corporate bosses, so much so that for the first time in a long time a top labor leader was talking about class war! What is it about the 1930s that attracts so much attention? There have been many big strikes both before and after.

From the growth of industry after the Civil War until the 1930s American workers made heroic efforts to organize into unions. There were some successes, but most of those decades were strewn with the blood and bodies of labor's martyrs.

In 1877 a nationwide railroad strike turned into a mass labor uprising that was crushed by the National Guard in many states. Remember the Homestead Steel strike, the Pullman railroad strike and the hanging of four leaders who fought for the eight-hour day. The great Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, had a militant 15-year history of strikes in mass industries. It ended in jailings and mass deportations. Racism, lynchings and segregation kept the labor movement divided along racial lines for generations. And the tremendous 1919 steel strike ended in defeat.

The 1929 crash of the stock market and the Depression drove the living standards of all workers down. Millions of unemployed, desperate for work, were used by the bosses as a threat against those still working.

Yet the driving force behind the great struggles of the 1930s was not the leadership of the established unions. The old AF of L was very conservative, based on the skilled trades. The battles that we all remember today were organized and led by militant rank and file workers along with radicals, socialists and communists. This came together in a new formation the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, that succeeded in building the industrial unions we know today.

The Toledo Auto-Lite strike of 1934 was a milestone in the organizing of auto workers. Confronted with scabs, police and injunctions, the picket line was saved when thousands of unemployed workers, organized into the Lucas County Unemployed League joined the strikers. Together they defied injunctions and battled cops and national guard, until victory was won.

The Minneapolis Teamster strike of 1934 saw the workers, at times, virtually in control of the city. They had a daily strike newspaper, food kitchens and unemployed committees. When police violence threatened the strike, the Teamsters organized a workers' militia that battled hand to hand with the cops, guarded strike headquarters and protected union leaders.

The dock workers in San Francisco in 1935 saw two of their members shot dead on the picket line by the police. The entire labor movement of San Francisco rose up in rebellion by holding a two day general strike, almost unprecedented in U.S. labor history.

The greatest battle of all, the Flint sit-down strike of 1937, again, was one that came from below. The top leadership of the UAW and the CIO did not make the plans. If anything, they were fearful of so great a challenge to the bosses and the government. But the seizure and occupation of the GM plant electrified workers across the country. They came from everywhere to help out. Women organized their Emergency Brigade which started with cooking meals and ended with women carrying two by fours battling the cops.

With the victory at GM there immediately followed hundreds and hundreds of sit-downs in factories and offices. The tide had turned. When the Steel Workers Organizing Committee threatened to lead a national strike, the steel bosses, undefeated in unionbusting for 60 years, gave up without a fight and recognized the union!

The workers of the '30's knew that the laws had all been written by the bosses. They knew the cops, the judges, the politicians and the military were all working for the bosses. To win a measure of justice they said to hell with the cops! To hell with the judges and injunctions! To hell with the national guard! And to hell with unjust laws! Many went to jail; many were beaten and gassed; many were injured; and many workers were killed. But their iron determination, their unity and their creative energy created a political crisis for the entire ruling class of this country.

In the end the bosses decided they would rather live with unions then face a full scale civil war, a class war.

For 40 years there was, as Doug Fraser called it, "a fragile, unwritten compact." Sure, there were still strikes, sometimes long ones. There were still struggles and contention. But outright union busting, with scabs, injunctions and mass police attacks, were rare.

Starting with the 1971 Nixon wage-freeze has come the steady decline in the living standard for the average American. It has taken various forms. Contract concessions was one. Inflation, another; co-pays and benefit reductions.

Unfortunately, even though Doug Fraser saw it coming in 1978, the unions soon caved in to the pressure and bought into concessions, labor-management cooperation and supporting the Big Three's downsizing plans. This led to the disaster of the loss of half a million auto workers' jobs over the past 15 years.

But this is a different era than the 1930s when mass industries were expanding. We are in the era of the scientific-technological revolution. We are witnessing the restructuring and downsizing of American industry. Profits rise to record levels while wages decline and millions of union jobs have been lost. Work can be shifted from one plant to another. Entire factories can be shipped overseas.

American labor cannot simply look to the past to reclaim its power. We must come to grips with the issues of international competition, multi-national corporations and restructuring.

Are we, the hundred million workers of America, any less capable or intelligent than the workers of the 1930s? Do we lack their resolve? Their determination? Their courage or inventiveness?

No. If anything, we, the workers of today, are more numerous, more educated, more organized than those of generations past. African American, Latino, other nationalities and women constitute a great and progressive force in today's labor movement.

Yes, there are millions of unemployed, desperate for work especially with the latest round of welfare cuts approved by both the Democrats and Republicans. Sure, we face hostile judges, injunctions and bought-off cops. And, yes, we have too many labor leaders who are timid and fearful of any great confrontation.

But we have no choice. We cannot, and we will not, surrender all that has been gained in the past sixty years. The solution is simple and terrifying. Instead of one-sided class war, where we get beaten up and crushed down, labor must be willing to fight a two-sided class war, where the labor movement unleashes the entire strength of our forces into the battle.

This means a broad program to organize the unorganized, including work-fare workers and even prison labor, into unions. This means fighting all forms of racism, bigotry and anti-immigrant hysteria. This means real international solidarity among workers of all countries.

Just as in the 1930s, not every strike today can become an historic test of wills, a critical political confrontation. But the Detroit Newspaper Strike can. We are in labor's stronghold with 350,000 union members in the southeast Michigan area. The unions here have enormous resources of personnel, funds, equipment, lawyers, media.

Last year, in the week following Labor Day, the newspaper strike stood at the edge of such a great confrontation. All eyes were on the struggle. Thousands of strikers and supporters stood shoulder to shoulder, unafraid of hundreds of riot cops, spitting in the face of injunctions, ready to do whatever it took to win the strike. Behind these thousands stood tens of thousands more workers ready to come forward. Ten union locals, some of the biggest in the UAW, as well as locals on strike, even voted to support the call for a general strike to back the newspaper strike. A real workers' militia was forming in combat operations every Saturday night.

Labor was in a position to declare that union busting was going to be stopped here and now. Does anyone really think that the banks, the corporate bosses or the politicians would have allowed this strike to escalate any further? Do you think they could afford to let things in Detroit get out of hand, setting an example for the many millions of frustrated workers and unemployed around the country? It isn't likely. And if things had escalated it would have meant the re-emergence of a real fighting labor movement.

Labor is not best prepared for long, drawn out strikes. Trying to out-wait the bosses "one day longer" ignores the multi-billion dollar nature of today's corporate giants. That's not a winning strategy that can reverse labor's decline.

Today's leaders were not brought up in the fire of the 1930s. Most had no part in the civil rights battles of the '50s or '60s or in the militant anti-war movement of the '60s and '70s. They are holding back from the edge of the great unknown of class war. But the militant spirit of the rank and file is being felt at the highest levels of organized labor.

Just last year the old Kirkland-Donahue leadership of the AFL-CIO was voted out and Sweeney, Trumka and Chavez-Thompson were put in office. This is only a reflection of what is happening below. It will not be leaders who show the way, just as in the 1930s it wasn't the leaders. It is the mass of rank and file, in alliance with community organizations, who can and must break through all the barriers that stand in our way.

An idea has been circulating for many months now. The idea for a massive, national labor solidarity march to be held in Detroit to support the newspaper workers and say NO! to union busting. 850 strikers began a new appeal for this march. The Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions has now put its support behind it. Workers around the country are always asking, "When will the call go out for us to come to Detroit?" Now we can say the campaign is on to get that call issued soon.

We must all get behind this effort and build it from below. But we need to let our leaders know that we cannot continue as before, that masses of Detroit newspaper strikers ought to be listened to and they are demanding action NOW!

And who is to say what could happen if hundreds of thousands of workers start out in a march? Who is to say what inventive new or OLD tactics wouldn't arise from such a massive mobilization?

The newspaper strike is not dead. The strikers continue to show that they will not disappear. Support continues to pour in from around ine nation. What is needed is a clarion call for ACTION that unties labors hands to give the enemies of labor a taste of our own brand of class warfare.

[For information on the Detroit Newspaper Strike, see "Newspaper Strikers: No Surrender," Letters, 1/97 Progressive Populist. To urge a national labor march on Detroit, write John Sweeney, President AFL-CIO, 815 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006; to support the strikers, write Newspaper Guild of Detroit Local 22, 3300 Book Bldg., Detroit, MI 48226.]

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