Leading us to defeat - Fred Chase

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An article by Fred Chase about the issues in the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

I'm feeling frustrated. I'm trying to figure out the proper roll for a militant rank and filer in a major labor struggle when the union "leadership" is less than militant. As a Wobbly I of course believe and advocate that only direct action can produce results. There I part ways with the "leaders" of the unions involved in the Detroit newspapers strike. They seem willing to play by the laws established to protect the interests of the ruling class against those of the working class.

As a Wobbly I also believe and advocate that only the workers directly involved in a struggle can and should determine the appropriate tactics. As a supporter of the striking newspaper workers, I can only do what they want me to do to help them. There I part ways with the "leaders" of a leftist sect who are trying to set themselves up as the vangurd of the struggle.

A court injunction has been imposed against mass picketing at the Sterling Heights plant where most of the scab Detroit newspapers have been printed. Prior to the injunction thousands of strikers and their supporters blocked trucks from leaving the plant to a point where the Detroit Newspaper Agency was not meeting its contract with its advertisers for timely delivery of the paper. Some weekends home delivery of the Sunday morning paper didn't occur until Sunday evening when most readers found the Saturday sports scores more than a little stale. Even prior to the injunction Teamster "leaders" were out on the line telling the militant picketers to let the trucks roll rather than risk a confrontation. Then the picketers basically told the "leaders" to go to hell; and the trucks didn't roll for a long time. Since then the injunction has been imposed and the "leaders" have agreed to honor it, without any vote from the rank and file. And a rank and file used to following "leaders" has acquiesced.

A sizeable support coalition has developed consisting of rank and filers from other unions including the Wobblies, students, political activists, and church people. It has overwhelmingly called on the leadership of the six striking unions to defy the injunction. I have to believe that the membership of the striking unions would hold the same position if they were asked. Hopefully pressure from the coalition will force the union "leaders" to rethink their position or better yet to ask what their members think.

The other set of would-be "leaders" is called the Strike to Win Committee, a front group for a vanguard political sect, not to be named here because they have already been the victim of red-baiting by Teamster "leaders" and I don't want to play into that game. They would determine the course of the strike by putting themselves out front, again with little input from the strikers. They call for defying the injunction. So do I. They've engaged in some militant but foolish actions such as throwing things at the Vance security guards and taunting the cops when they didn't have the support of the rank and filers. Some of their actions have given the DNA fuel for a propaganda campaign about the "violence" of the strikers. Of course the DNA propaganda doesn't speak of the use of clubs, tear gas, and pepper gas by the cops, of arbitrary arrests, of the police lieutenant in Sterling Heights who was forced to resign when he was filmed kicking a picketer who lay helplessly on the ground. But the actions of the Committee have not helped in a struggle where consumer support is still a crucial factor and where many a consumer may decide to buy or not buy the paper, to shop or not shop with scab advertisers based on which side looks like the victims and which the culprits. Until the militance and solidarity of the strikers is such that it can stop production, the good will of the consumers is vital.

These same vanguard "leaders" leafletted inside schools in Sterling Heights calling the students to the picket line to trash the goons and the cops. This alienated parents, both consumers and strikers.

In an effort to distance themselves from these characters, and finding a convenient patsy to take the heat for some confrontations in which the participants were in fact militant unionists, "leaders" of the Teamsters have taken to red-baiting, even suggesting that the Committee is infiltrated by Vance Security agents provocateur. "Leaders" going after "leaders," neither group thinking about what's best for the members.

So I plod along on the picket line. I'm "polite" to customers shopping at the stores of scab advertisers as I try to persuade them, with fair success, to shop elsewhere. And I'm muttering under my breath as I think of words attributed to Emiliano Zapata which should ring in the ears of the strikers. "You've looked for leaders. There are none. There is only yourselves."

[The Detroit News is owned by Gannett Publishers, the same company which produces USA Today. If our readers chose to visit their local USA Today box and leave them a message about the strike, it's doubtful that the striking newspaper workers would have any objections. The Union "leaders" have made no comments about expressions of consumer outrage.]

--Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)