1997

Industrial Worker #1605 (September 1997)

Articles from the September 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Job Corps workers hold the fort - Alexis Buss

An article by Alexis Buss about an IWW campaign at Job Corps, a government-run trade school. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 1997)

Despite desperate attempts by the management of the Keystone Job Corps Center in Drums, Pennsylvania, to stop the IWW union organizing effort, our campaign continues stronger than ever. In the past month, two delegates on Keystone have signed up enough members to charter an Industrial Union branch, student employees have made trips to learn how to be union organizers, and daily reports on the antics of their bosses are called in to the Philadelphia General Membership Branch.

The unfair labor practices of the Keystone Job Corps Center are being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority. In arguing for our charges to be dismissed, Job Corps insists that our fellow workers are "students," not employees entitled to protection under the law. A shocking claim indeed, as Job Corps in their own publication Job Corps In Action (Winter 1997) applauded Centers for describing the young people on their Centers as employees. The article quotes Deb Kelley, a manager of an Oregon Job Corps Center, as saying, "At the beginning it is explained to student employees that the entire center is their work site. Every staff person is their supervisor. They are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week." With hours that long, no wonder our campaign is catching on so quickly.

Keystone Center now chooses to play a linguistic game to cover up its disgusting union-busting activities. What they seem to forget is that even if it turns out our fellow workers aren't defined as "employees," they still have rights - unlike other American workers they will be protected in their practice of free speech and freedom of association. The IWW is on the Center, and our presence will continue to grow no matter what.

Kere Harcourt, a union activist who continued to organize even after Matt Wilson and Joe Marra were suspended for ten days after their first meeting with IWW representatives, was "medically discharged" in late July. Kere had been complaining to the infirmary on the center for more than a month of cramps and severe pains in her stomach. She was told for over a month that she was fine, given water and Motrin, and sent on her way. On Thursday, July 24, Kere was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of Hazelton for emergency surgery. Her gall bladder had swollen to four times its normal size, encroaching on her appendix, which had to be removed.

Kere called the IWW Philadelphia Branch July 27 to let us know what happened and that she was told she had six months to recover and if she was not better within that time, she could not come back. The IWW began a campaign that night to demand that 1) Kere be reinstated to the Job Corps program whenever her doctor says she is again medically fit, 2) full medical coverage be extended to Kere while she is on leave, 3) the infirmary is investigated by an independent third party, and 4) that all employees of the Keystone Center are authorized to call for 911 ambulance service. Your help is needed to ensure that the Keystone infirmary is held accountable to its charge of providing quality health care to the young people on the center and that Kere Harcourt is reinstated.

Scissorbills on parade

A letter to the editor of the local paper in Hazelton, PA, the Standard-Speaker was printed August 6. A Keystone student employee wrote in to insist that the Job Corps helps to "prepare them for their future."

Curiously, her letter begins, "I am writing in response to an article about the Keystone Job Corps Center that was displayed in your newspaper a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of it." When the Standard-Speaker published articles detailing the reasons the union drive was started - the wrongful suspensions and harassment of our activists, the illegal firing of Matthew Wilson, the center security classifying and confiscating our organizing materials as contraband, and the shameful incompetence of the Keystone infirmary staff - all copies of the newspaper were confiscated. Even an article on Keystone's management's unwillingness to bargain in good faith with the union representatives for the residential advisors was censored.

If Keystone would honestly like to prepare the young people on their center for the future, one of the first steps is to develop their critical thinking skills and not control their ability to receive information. Another preparation for the path that the young people are put on by Job Corps after they receive training for low paying, highly competitive jobs is training on how to organize a union - training the IWW is glad to provide.

A 56-page appeal of FW Matt Wilson's termination was filed August 7 at the Office of Job Corps, Region III in Philadelphia. Matt was terminated July 8 by Keystone Center Director June Boswell. Her reasons for terminating Matt have yet to be fully explained; only one sentence and one multiple choice answer on a Job Corps form were provided to Matt for him to base his appeal. It is quite clear that Matt was vindictively brought before the Keystone Center Review Board, a panel of center staff that makes disciplinary recommendations, on unsubstantiated charges in retaliation for his efforts to organize for the IWW. Instead of detailing her real reason for firing Matt, Boswell claims in a July 8 Separation/Transfer Notice that Matt was dismissed for "violence," even though there was not a single shred of evidence presented at his hearing to justify such a claim. The process of termination at Keystone is a circuitous one where the Center Director, who acts as judge, participates in the prosecution. Boswell intentionally denied Matt enough time and information to prepare a defense. She helped compose a memorandum to the Center Review Board to recommend his termination before evidence was even presented. And after the Review Board made its ill-founded decision to terminate Matt with "completion status" (similar to an honorable discharge in the military), Boswell changed the termination classification to "disciplinary discharge" when his appeal of the Center Review Board's decision was heard. This action cost Matt $500 of his readjustment money, which is given to Job Corps student employees when they leave the program.

Who knows how far this appeal must be taken before it lands on the desk of a responsible party which can see Matt's termination for what it really is: as described in his appeal, "an undisguised act of bias and retaliation." As we go to press, Matt's appeal is on the desk of Lynn Intrepidi, the Deputy Regional Director of Job Corps Region III, who is to convene a Board to review his argument and make a decision by mid-month. While we don't hold out much hope in Intrepidi's ability to do the right thing since her office directed Matt's suspension in the first place, the merits of his case and his wonderful record on the Center can't be ignored, even by union-busting Job Corps bureaucrats.

The risks that the organizers in the Keystone Job Corps Center have taken are enormous. They're willing to risk not only their jobs, but also their homes, as the Keystone Center is where they reside. Many of our organizers signed up for Job Corps because they used to have nowhere to turn and wanted to make a better life for themselves. Now, in their efforts to make a better life for themselves and their fellow workers on the Keystone Center, they turn to the IWW. We're there every step of the way and then some -- and will stop at nothing to secure their right to form a union.

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 1997)

Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)

Articles from the October 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Details on 1997 IWW General Assembly

A reportback of the 1997 IWW General Assembly. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)

Nominations

Fred Chase was the sole nominee for General Secretary-Treasurer. Several candidates were nominated for next year's General Executive Board: Tim Acott (Portland), Laure Akai (Moscow), Monica Berini (Oakland), Alexis Buss (Philadelphia), Bright Chicezi (Sierre Leone), Dan Fisher (Tennessee), Liam Flynn (Berkeley), Miriam Fried (Philadelphia), Mark Johnson (Seattle), Steve Kellerman (Boston), Fred Lee (Leicester), Morgan Miller (Portland), John Persak (Seattle), Penny Pixler (Chicago), Bob Rivera (Michigan), Michael Reinsboro (Los Angeles), Scott Rittenhouse (Los Angeles), Robert Rush (Berkeley), Nathan Smith (Asheville), Bob Tibbs Jr. (St. Louis), Pete Wilcox (Honolulu). Note that many candidates have not yet indicated whether they wish to stand for election, nor has eligibility been verified, so the actual ballot will not include all nominees.
Members will also choose between Asheville (North Carolina), Boston, Detroit, London, Madison, Portland (Oregon) and Toronto for the 1998 General Assembly, and vote on whether to hold the Assembly over Labor Day weekend or in May.

Assembly Resolutions

Delegates approved a proposal urging each Branch to take responsibility for covering the full cost of providing services to members, even if this requires special assessments or fundraisers, and a motion calling on the General Executive Board to convene a committee incorporating representatives from countries where the IWW has significant membership to develop more effective international structures and communication. Another motion reaffirms the IWW's boycott against Borders Books and calls on IWW branches to step up organizing efforts against the bookstore chain.
Several proposals were sent to referendum vote of the membership, including a constitutional amendment to clarify minimum dues payments from overseas Regional Organizing Committees, a reorganization of the union's General Defense Committee, and to require IWW branches to furnish copies of all external communications to the IWW Archives at Wayne State University. (The text of the latter specifies that this would include email, web sites, and other non-traditional media; how this would be implemented is unclear.)

Another proposal being sent to referendum would amend the IWW Constitution to clarify the conditions under which non-waged producer cooperatives could be recognized as IWW shops. The proposal would require such cooperatives to not undermine wages in the industry, to honor all unions' boycotts and strikes, and adhere to democratic internal practices.

Also being sent to referendum is a proposal to eliminate the IWW's long-standing practice of imprinting dues stamps to indicate the category of dues (minimum, regular, maximum) being paid; a practice essential to enabling Branches and the General Administration to audit the records of union delegates and ensure that all dues collected are actually paid to the union. Similar proposals have been raised repeatedly over the past few years, with proponents claiming the current practice somehow places a stigma on low-income members. Others insist the current practice is essential to ensure accountability for union funds and protect against misappropriation of funds. This will be the first time members have been asked to vote on the issue.

The full text of all referenda will be published in the September issue of the IWW's General Organization Bulletin.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)

Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Articles from the December 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Mersey dockers reject surrender

An article about the Liverpool dockers dispute. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

After more than two years on strike, the Liverpool dockers have once again confirmed their resolve to stand by union principles, voting overwhelmingly against taking [sterling]28,000 bribes to abandon the Torside dockers (who were fired for refusing unpaid overtime; the Mersey dockers were locked-out when they honored Torside dockers' picket lines) and give up the fight for all their jobs. Fewer than 75 dockers would have returned to work under the proposal. Only 329 of the nearly 500 dockers involved in the dispute were permitted to vote in the ballot ordered by TGWU officials, and only 97 of those voted to give in.

Mersey Docks & Harbour Co. responded with an announcement that it would send each docker a form to sign abandoning their jobs in exchange for the [sterling]28,000 payment.

In the midst of an exuberant picket celebrating the No vote a policewoman instructed a steward to get off the grass and stop shouting at scabs behind the perimeter fence. Fifty pickets quickly crossed the road to join their colleague and an Inspector told his junior officer to move away.

A few days later, traffic in and out of the Port of Dublin came to a standstill October 28 as Liverpool dockers blockaded the main entrance for an hour. When the Gardai arrived the dockers began to circle the roundabout, further disrupting traffic before marching to the Coastal Container terminal where many workers came out to join them and all work stopped for 30 minutes. At the Irish Ferries berth, dockers refused all work on the "Coastal Bay," a Coastal Container vessel owned by Jungerhans.

Dublin handles more Liverpool ships than any other port in the world, including frequent services on Coastal Container Line which is 100 percent owned by MDHC and also serves Belfast, Greenock and Cardiff.

Michael O'Reilly, incoming ATGWU Regional Secretary for the Republic of Ireland, said his members were "trying to show our solidarity and continue a long association with the Liverpool dispute. We are seeking the support of our colleagues from other unions in the Port of Dublin."

In Liverpool dockers are once again confronting the Operational Support Division (riot police) of Merseyside Police on the picket line. Evidently, this is Mersey Dock's response to the democratic decision of sacked dockers to reject their "final offer." Rather than open negotiations, they have called on the authorities and the media to back up their claim that the dispute is now "over." OSD officers prevented picketing of one gate 12 November to enable traffic to enter. Pickets succeeded in closing off the other two main entrances to the Port of Liverpool.

In Oakland, California, where pickets repeatedly blocked efforts to unload scab cargo from the Neptune Jade, loaded in MDHC-operated Thamesport, in October, employers are dragging identified picketers into court on charges of violating a court injunction barring effective solidarity actions. The bosses are also suing for economic damages.

On Oct. 28 the San Francisco Labor Council unanimously adoped a resolution reasserting their support of the Liberpool dockers, and "defending workers rights to picket and exercise their first amendment rights to speech and freedom of association." The resolution condemned the Pacific Maritime Association's lawsuit for damages and an injunction as an effort to intimidate workers and urged contributions to the legal defense of the pickets, at the Liverpool Dockers Victory Defense Committee, P.O. Box 2574, Oakland CA 94614.

When the Neptune Jade arrived in Yokohama October 15, dockers refused to unloadthe seven containers which had been loaded in Thamesport and were supposed to be unloaded in Oakland. But about 200 other containers were loaded and unloaded in Yokohama. Two days later Kobe dockers also resued to unload the containers.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Wobs fight Quaker union-busting

An article by Alexis Buss on an IWW campaign at a Quaker-operated office building in Philadelphia. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997).

Management of Philadelphia's Friends Center, a Quaker-operated office building which houses many Quaker and progressive organizations, has begun a plunge into the depths of union-busting in order to prevent four part-time front desk staffers from organizing with the IWW. Fortunately, the unbecoming attack on workers rights has not gone unchallenged - more supporters linked to the Friends Center come forward every day to encourage recognition of the union.

The four workers, who work evenings and weekends, sometimes in shifts of more than ten hours, decided to join the IWW and seek a binding contract which would secure their job and improve working conditions. They asked for voluntary recognition from their supervisor, Peter Rittenhouse, on September 2nd. Rittenhouse asked the front desk staffers to drop the union, but passed the final decision on to the Friends Center Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors met without being able to come up with an answer to the demand for voluntary recognition. A second meeting was called for September 25th, and front desk union member Susan Phillips asked permission to attend. She explained to the Board of Directors that not only had she and her fellow workers joined a union, but that they are the union and had no reason to reconsider their position. The front desk staff are organized and want come to the table as equals with management to negotiate a fair contract. Many members of the Board of Directors asked Susan questions, and she left the meeting with the understanding that in a few days they would decide their course of action.

Strangely, on October 1st our fellow workers received a letter dated September 17 (eight days before meeting with Susan) stating, "the Board of Directors of Friends Center Corporation is saddened by the realization that some employees feel it necessary to organize themselves as part of a larger labor organization in order for their concerns to be heard and to obtain redress for grievances. As a matter of conscience and faith, we believe that no persons should need an intermediary when discussing concerns, but rather should be able to gather `in the light' to discuss them... It is in the spirit of our belief in `continuing revelation' that we respectfully ask that you reconsider your proposal." This response, one so unfortunately typical of employers that have turn out to be among the most notorious union-busters, was somewhat unexpected after Susan's thoughtful explanations during the September 25th meeting. While citing Quaker principles of openness and free discussion, the Board totally disregarded the most fundamental points the union members were communicating to them.

The Philadelphia IWW filed a petition for an election with the NLRB two weeks after the Board of Directors issued their decision. At the hearing to determine an appropriate bargaining unit, management's attorney argued for including five more workers in the unit. One of the five isn't even an employee of the Friends Center - he wears a Willard uniform and works for a private contractor repairing heaters and air conditioning units at the Center. The Friends Center lawyer took exception to Wobblies' snickering at his absurd suggestion. Another employee management attempted to include supervises the front desk staff.

The Friends Center management, while claiming to be driven by a mission of conscience, has chosen to take full advantage of American anti-labor laws. They stubbornly insisted that we include workers into the unit who do completely different work and have clearly indicated that they have no desire to join the union. These workers share no community of interest with the evening and weekend staffers, and should not be forced to choose to either join the union or stand in the way of their co-workers who want to organize.

Having no faith in the NLRB's willingness to help us keep our unit intact, we tried for many hours to negotiate a settlement. The IWW and management decided on an unusual compromise: if the union can get five authorization cards (one more than the number of part-time front desk staffers) by mid-December, the Center would voluntarily recognize the entire unit management proposed, minus the private contractor.

The front desk staffers, joined by other Wobblies, have leafleted gatherings at the Friends Center to encourage support for voluntary recognition of their union. More than 700 fliers have been distributed in the past week generating an overwhelmingly supportive response. The Philadelphia Monthly Meeting called a "Threshing Session" which called for their representatives on the Board of Directors to reconsider their position. Dozens of supporters wearing bright red IWW buttons attended a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the American Friends Service Committee's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. Quakers and progressives in Philadelphia and around the country have expressed their solidarity by calling the Friends Center.

Your help in our effort to win recognition is appreciated. We're asking that the Friends Center Corporation voluntarily recognize the union of the four evening and weekend front desk staffers and that they stop trying to include workers in the unit who have clearly expressed that they have no interest in organizing. Contact John Blanchard, Chairman of the Board, and Peter Rittenhouse, Executive Director of the Friends Center, by writing Friends Center Corporation 15th & Cherry Streets, Phila. PA 19102, fax: 215/241-7028, e-mail: fco@afsc.org. For more information on the campaign, call 215/724-1925 or e-mail phillyiww@iww.org.

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Borders workers need union... but which one?

An article about a UFCW campaign at Borders Books. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Workers at the Lincoln Park, Chicago Borders approved a UFCW-negotiated contract 29 to 8 October 1st, nearly a year to the day after they voted to join the union. While the UFCW was quick to put union security clauses and dues checkoff on the negotiating table, the issue of workers' pay was put on the back-burner, generating a little confusion at signing time. Borders insisted that they had agreed to a 3.5% pay increase per year, the UFCW said it was a 4.5% increase. Borders caved in, so workers can look forward to an extra $11 or so in their pay each week, before taxes. This pay increase was already in place as a "merit-based" raise, which was seldom denied to employees.

Workers also won the right to work 40 hours per week, as they need all the hours they can get since the average starting pay is $6.25 an hour. Borders had previously scheduled shorter work weeks to discourage overtime. Employees also received a $150 lump sum signing bonus which will be paid in February 1998, and a grievance procedure has been put into place.

Miriam Fried, who was on the IWW organizing committee while she worked at the Center City Philadelphia Borders in 1996 (until she was fired for union activity), said, "I'm disappointed by the results because it falls short of the major goals we had when working on our drive." At the foundation of most of the Borders drives is a demand for a living wage - a pay rate which most employees in retail never see. Borders management made their position clear in an April 1997 company newsletter: "If you desire an enjoyable job while you figure out what to do with your life, this is a good place to be. But if you try to make a career path out of something which can never be a well-paying job, you will be up against an impossible task because of all of the economic constraints in the retail industry."

While many workers at Borders take on second jobs to make ends meet, Borders CEO Robert DiRomualdo was paid $24 million in 1996. Modest in comparison to DiRomualdo, but still dwarfing the wages of their members, the top six International UFCW officers combined earn over $1.4 million, with huge expense accounts at their disposal. It is disgusting to ask workers who take home around $190 in pay for 40 hours' hard work to allow $35 - $40 a month in dues to be taken directly out of their pay, and then have greedy union bureaucrats live high off the hog. Miriam, who remembers the excitement that drove the organizing effort which she was a part of, says, "I hope that the workers at the other locations can maintain the solidarity and enthusiasm needed to get a good raise and that everyone remembers the power of direct action."

Between the time that workers in Chicago voted the union in and when they signed the contract, there was a 45 percent turnover, some of which was due to management's blatant antagonism towards pro-union employees. A local Chicago weekly reported in April that a worker was terminated for allegedly stealing a piece of pita bread from the in-store cafe. Where was the union for this worker? Where was the organized solidarity to prevent incidents such as this from becoming standard behavior at Borders Incorporated?

On the same day that the Chicago contract was signed, the UFCW launched a campaign calling for Borders management act neutrally when they are approached with a request for union recognition, and to drop the union-busting law firm of Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler and Krupman, which was brought on board to fight the IWW effort in Philadelphia and has been Borders' attorneys ever since. Needless to say, Borders declined to agree to these demands. While this strategy seems absurd to a union like ours which believes that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common, UFCW is paying for ads in national magazines to beg for crumbs.

It stands to reason that UFCW should expect Borders to be neutral while they organize, since the UFCW has remained more or less neutral when Borders attacks its workers.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

The Teamsters election: another lesson in corruption - Eric Chester

An article by Eric Chester about corruption and bureaucracy in the Teamsters. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

As we go to press, a U.S. monitor has just barred Teamsters president Ron Carey from standing for re-election, finding him personally responsible for illegally funneling union funds into his campaign. This article was written before the announcement:

The continuing saga of the Teamsters epitomizes the bankruptcy of business unionism. While the recent strike at UPS gained extravagant plaudits from the liberal press, the narrow reelection of Teamster president Ron Carey has begun to come unraveled. Not only has Carey's victory been voided, with a new election scheduled for mid-March, but the new "reform" AFL-CIO leadership is in danger of going down with Carey as the ramifications of a massive scam become clearer.

It would be all too easy to minimize the reports of corruption leaking out into the mainstream press. After all, with the White House selling access like the peddlers of fake Rolexes on the streets of New York, perhaps we should expect the same shady maneuvers from union bureaucrats. But this would denigrate the many years of organizing at the rank and file level, as Teamster truck drivers who had become fed up with mobsters and their pillaging of union pension funds sought to regain some control over their union. Unfortunately, the final result of the Teamster reform movement has been to chuck one set of parasites for another smoother and more sophisticated set of wheeler dealers.

In 1976, Teamsters for a Democratic Union emerged from the consolidation of three small opposition groups, with Ken Paff, a socialist activist, as coordinator. While the situation seemed bleak, a huge bureaucracy with its own goon squad, there were some bright sides as well. The leadership's idea of defeating a rank and file opposition never went beyond physical threats and red-baiting. Furthermore, the Teamsters were under intensive scrutiny for their blatant connections to the Mafia. In addition, the deregulation of the trucking industry, one of President Carter's gifts to the working class, had crippled Teamster power and put wages and working conditions into a free fall.

All of this came to a head in July 1989, when a federal judge placed the Teamsters under trusteeship. The court appointed an elections officer to supervise the next two elections. At this point TDU confronted a critical choice. It could have opted to nominate its own slate of candidates, thereby presenting the rank and file with a genuine choice. Instead TDU decided to back Ron Carey, a local union president and a business unionist with a reputation for honesty. With its opportunistic decision to go for the quick win TDU became the junior partner in a new Teamster leadership.

Carey won with 48 percent of the vote when the Old Guard split its potential vote by backing two different candidates. Over his five-year term in office, Carey has moved cautiously on almost every front. A UPS contract from 1992 was signed without a strike, and with very little gained. When Teamsters were forced into a bitter strike by the Detroit newspaper moguls, Carey and the Teamster board did little, leaving the strikers struggling to survive. The best thing that can be said for the new Teamsters is that it took organizing the unorganized as a serious priority, and yet even here it relied on friends in high places to overcome employer resistance.

The old regime had been an anomaly within the AFL-CIO when it came to playing practical politics. From 1972 through 1988, the Teamsters endorsed every Republican presidential candidate but one. Although Carey had been a nominal Republican prior to his election, the nucleus of his supporters and advisors were oriented toward the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. During the 1992 Democratic convention, Clinton and Carey met privately to discuss Teamster support. This close working relationship deepened after Clinton's victory. Indeed then Teamster political director William Hamilton wrote an internal memo informing the higher echelons of the hierarchy that "we ask for, and get, on almost a daily basis, help from the Clinton administration for one thing or another."

In the spring of 1996, after more than four years in office, the new Teamsters leadership was confronted with another election. This time the Old Guard united around James Hoffa, an obscure lawyer with virtually no track record, but one very important asset, his father's name. That spring, Carey's advisors were stunned to discover that Hoffa had a very real chance of winning. Carey had failed to deliver, and the rank and file knew it. Furthermore, Hoffa was garnering large contributions.

Confronted with a crisis, the Carey camp responded with yet another maneuver. Carey's campaign manager, Jere Nash, worked with Martin Davis, a political consultant who had been acting as liaison with the Democratic National Committee, to devise a plan to funnel large sums of money from the Teamsters treasury into the coffers of the Carey reelection campaign. To hide the true source of the funds, Nash and Davis decided to arrange a series of swaps, creating paper trails showing funds moving from the Teamsters to worthy causes. The money would then flow through a network of intermediaries before flowing back to the Carey campaign, or to one of the firms handling direct mailings or telephone blitzes aimed at the Teamsters membership.

Nash and Davis were eager to cooperate with other operatives skilled in the complex stratagems needed to hide large contributions that violate election laws, and they knew just where to look. In May 1996, Davis approached the Clinton campaign with his proposal. The Teamsters would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic state committees, and in return the Democrats would solicit friendly contributors to divert some of their donations to the Carey campaign.

High officials in the Democratic campaign structure have been quoted as saying that there was nothing wrong with them advising wealthy donors to aid a friendly union president, and yet the election rules governing the Teamsters election were quite strict. Federal law prohibits employers from contributing to union election campaigns. Needless to say, most big time contributors to the Democratic Party are employers.

As the Dec, 10 election date approached, Nash and Davis became more desperate as Carey's defeat seemed increasingly likely. They reached out to a whole array of progressive organizations, seeking to involve them in swap schemes. The AFL-CIO leadership joined in, with a significant portion of a huge contribution from the Teamsters to Citizens Action, a consumer advocacy group interested in electing a Democratic majority in Congress, passing through the office of Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL. In addition, Trumka and other high AFL-CIO leaders are reported to have provided bags of cash to Carey campaign aides. Union leaders have the power to hire and fire, and thus are categorized as employers under the federal law covering contributions to union campaigns.

As this whole sordid mess has unfolded, Carey has steadfastly maintained that he knew nothing. Indeed he has gone so far as to say that if there is "a victim, I certainly am the victim." So far three people, including Nash and Davis, have detailed their involvement to a federal grand jury. Nash and Davis have made it clear that Carey was a knowing participant. Carey's own personal secretary has said that Carey personally approved the $475,000 contribution to Citizens Action. Carey's denials have all of the credibility of the czar's protestations in olden days. The Little Father was so busy watching out for the interests of the poor and downtrodden that he was unable to keep track of the misdeeds of his advisors.

Ultimately, it would appear that the scheme moved more than a million dollars of Teamster funds to third parties, with most of this returning to the Carey campaign. By the end of the campaign, Carey had reported spending more than $3 million, with more than one million of this total listed as coming from anonymous sources. Hoffa raised about the same amount, with $1.8 million coming from unidentified donations.

The Hoffa camp engaged in its own efforts at unethical, and perhaps illegal, efforts to raise money. Bob Wages, the president of the Oil and Chemical Workers, has stated that he was approached by a Hoffa aide, with Hoffa present, and asked to get behind the winning candidate, or risk Teamsters members crossing Oil and Chemical picket lines. When Wages asked for more details, the aide urged him to solicit firms with union contracts for contributions to the Hoffa campaign.

The Teamsters election became a microcosm of the last presidential campaign. With Carey tied to the Clinton forces, and the Old Guard looking to the Republicans, the same corrupt practices were in full swing, as both sides searched for friendly corporate contributors. All of this would be depressing enough without the vocal presence of TDU. This supposed caucus of union militants has given Carey uncritical support throughout the entire debacle.

Battered by the election scandal, Carey supporters have extolled the recent UPS strike as a milestone, the first large step in the creation of a new and revitalized trade union movement. Certainly the 15-day strike marked a significant improvement over decades of quietly accepting one concession- filled contract after another. Nevertheless, the Teamster leadership was never prepared to shut UPS down for a lengthy strike. Instead, it relied on the Clinton White House to cajole UPS from hiring scabs for long enough to disrupt deliveries to the point where the corporation retreated from most of its demands for further givebacks.

The resulting contract was not a disaster, but it was also far from a major victory. For instance, current part-timers, 60 percent of the UPS workforce, received sizable pay increases. Yet with rapid turnover and a five-year contract, the true cost of the contract hinges on the starting wage rate for part-time workers. For 15 years, and this includes the last contract signed by Carey, this rate had been stuck at $8.00. The new contract raises this rate to $8.50. A fifty cent increase represents a total gain of 6 percent over five years. Thus, the real wage of a new part-time UPS worker, allowing for inflation, will continue to fall throughout the life of this contract. This hardly represents a momentous victory.

Neither Carey nor Hoffa deserves our support. We need a very different union movement than either of these bureaucrats will promote. We also need to build opposition caucuses that stand for more than an end to wholesale corruption and the direct election of union officers. As TDU so dramatically demonstrates, without a firm commitment to a radical program, reform caucuses can deteriorate into mere apologists for the more liberal wing of the union bureaucracy. We need to project a vision of a union movement that will mobilize across industries for militant actions that can win future confrontations such as the Detroit newspaper strike. We also need to say loudly and clearly that as long as unions continue to rely on their influence with political bosses working people will continue to see their living standards spiral downward.

-- Eric Chester

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

We need the right to strike!

An article written within the context of the Detroit newspaper strikes about the obstacles facing effective strikes. Originally appeared in Battleground Detroit (October 1997), a publication of the Action Coalition of Strikers and Supporters (ACOSS). Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

As with Gannett and Knight-Ridder in Detroit, employers everywhere are increasingly resorting to lockouts, production by scabs during strikes, and the permanent replacement of strikers.

Anti-labor laws like the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Acts are unjust. They outlaw the measures we need to make strikes effective (including mass picketing, workplace occupations, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes, and general strikes) and help shift the balance of forces in favor of the corporations.

The labor movement needs to win the right to strike by forcing the government to repeal the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Acts and all the other anti-labor laws and to prohibit any interference in the right of workers to strike, picket or occupy our workplaces, on our own behalf or in solidarity with other workers. We need legislation that will guarantee the right to strike, and prohibit employers from hiring scabs as temporary or permanent replacement workers or operating their businesses during a strike.

One way to accomplish this is to mobilize direct action by the unions to make the anti-labor laws unenforceable, particularly organizing political strikes as necessary to back off the government.

Corporate attacks on workers

Corporations like Gannett and Knight-Ridder have tried to maintain their profitability by automating, speeding up and laying off workers in the industrial centers, gutting health, education and social welfare programs, attacking the legal rights and social position of women, racial and national minorities, and immigrants, and shifting production to low-wage regions like the southern US and low-wage countries like Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Korea and China, where repressive governments often add to the "favorable business environment."

A central problem for the labor movement is that the corporations have again made strikebreaking and union-busting key elements of their strategy, not only in poor countries and regions, where this has always been the case, but also in the industrial centers. Driven by their own competition and taking advantage of the competition among workers, the corporations increasingly are trying to crush all resistance.

In the U.S., the corporations, with government support, more and more often reply to strike threats with lockouts and to strikes with continued production by scabs and the permanent replacement of strikers. From PATCO to Hormel to the Decatur "war zone" of Staley, Firestone and Caterpillar to the Detroit newspapers, strikebreaking and union-busting are becoming the norm for U.S. labor relations.

Militant tactics still can win

There are exceptions to this pattern. Where workers are able to stop highly profitable production, even a very large corporation may decide that a lockout or strike is not worth the cost, as in the recent UPS strike and the UAW strikes at GM and Chrysler. But in most cases, if the corporation is big enough and determined enough, the traditional strategy of withholding labor in a particular bargaining unit, even supplemented by a consumer boycott or "corporate campaign," is not enough to win.

The labor movement is still quite strong, however. Key components of industry are still organized, and the unions have tactics that can win against even the biggest, most determined employers. These are the tactics that built the industrial unions in the 1930s and 1940s: mass picketing, workplace occupations, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes and general strikes to back off the government when it tries to interfere.

If the Staley workers had been able to stop the scabs with mass picketing, occupy the Decatur plant, threaten Tate & Lyle with secondary boycotts and solidarity strikes at all its operations worldwide, and block government interference with the threat of escalating general strikes, they would have won within 72 hours. The same applies to the Detroit Newspaper strike.

Not surprisingly, all these tactics are illegal. Having been forced to make major concessions to the unions in the 1930s, reflected in the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act and the 1935 Wagner Act, the employers moved as soon as they could to outlaw the unions' most potent weapons. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act and the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act codified their key victories, supplemented since then by a stream of court decisions, administrative rulings, and arbitration awards tracing the labor moment's retreat into business unionism.

Unions today must win the right to strike by nullifying the anti-labor laws and redressing the balance of economic forces. We must learn from the employers. Their method is to divide and conquer by bringing their concentrated economic, legal, and police power to bear on separate groups of workers. They begin with the more vulnerable sectors of the working class: African Americans, Latinos, women, youth, the unskilled, the unorganized, and the unemployed. When they take on the unions, they try to limit the conflict to one bargaining unit at a time, although behind that employer stands the corporate empire of which it is part and behind that the employing class as a whole and the government that serves it.

The unions must overcome the divisions the employers exploit by organizing the unorganized, starting from the current base of industrial, government and skilled workers and reaching out to workers in the South, service workers, the unskilled, Black and Latino workers, women workers, youth, and the unemployed. We must rebuild the labor movement from the ground up, with a strong presence on the shop and office floors and active democracy in the union halls. And we must bring the power of all the unions and all the workers to bear in any struggle, making a reality of the principle, an injury to one is an injury to all.

The right to strike will be won first of all on the picket lines and in the streets. The bosses will not give up their power voluntarily. Workers will win their rights only by exercising their power. The labor movement must free itself from the illusion that it can overcome unjust laws by obeying them.

So long as the employers and the government can keep the unions fighting bargaining unit by bargaining unit and obeying the anti-labor laws and injunctions, they can continue to inflict defeats which rob us of the public support we would need to repeal the laws and end the injunctions. The unions will repeal Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin and end injunctions only by making them unenforceable.

Originally appeared in Battleground Detroit (October 1997), a publication of the Action Coalition of Strikers and Supporters (ACOSS). Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)