DRUM: vanguard of the black revolution

A short history of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, detailing their beginnings as well as their opposition to the United Auto Workers union.

Submitted by Ed on March 13, 2009

(from an article by Luke Tripp which appeared in The South End, the student newspaper at Wayne state University, January 23, 1969)

DRUM is an organization of oppressed and exploited black workers.

It realizes that black workers are the victims of inhumane slavery at the behest of white racist plant managers. It also realizes that black workers compose over 60% of the entire work force at the Hamtramck assembly plant, and therefore hold exclusive power. We members of DRUM had no other alternative but to form an organization and present a platform.

The Union has consistently and systematically failed us time and time again. We have attempted to address our grievances to the UAW's procedure, but all to no avail. The UAW bureaucracy is just as guilty, and its hands are just as bloody, as the white racist management of the Chrysler Corporation. We black workers feel that if skilled trades can negotiate directly with the Company and hold a separate contract, then black workers have even more justification for moving independently of the UAW. While DRUM would appreciate the help of management and the UAW in abolishing the problem of racism that exists, we will put an end to it with or without your help.

Metropolitan Detroit, automobile capital of the world, is the scene of rumblings on the labor front of the black liberation struggle. The many oppressive conditions existing in the auto factories have been steadily increasing since the racist corporations were obliged to open the door to black labor as a result of the labor shortage during World War H. True to the American tradition the racist factory owners relegated the black workers to the heavy and dirty low-paying jobs. Tasks performed by two white workers were assigned to one black worker.

For the past 20 years there has been virtually no vertical movement of black workers in the plants. Not until recently, under the pressure of the civil-rights movement, did the auto firms hire a token number of black men for white-collar positions. And even then most of those positions were static and non-supervisory.

Union racist too
Although the labor union (UAW) claims to be the champion of justice and equality, it did little to check the rampant racism practiced in the factories. As a matter of fact, the union itself was guilty of racism. A casual glance at the officers in the union bureaucracy shows where their equality is at. Thus black workers had to confront both the union and the company. This intolerable situation at Dodge Main led to the development of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM).

On May 2, 1968 a walkout occurred at the Hamtramck assembly plant which stemmed from a gradual speed-up of the production line. The workers set up picket lines around the gates. The company then sent out photographers to take pictures of the pickets. The pictures were used as evidence against some of the pickets and were instrumental in the discharge and disciplining of certain workers who took part in the walkout and picketing. Both black and white pickets were involved. The disciplinary action taken against them and the overall administration of punishment was overwhelmingly applied to black workers.

Black workers were held responsible for the walkout, which was in fact caused by the negative company policy toward working conditions. This wall the specific incident that gave rise to the inception of DRUM. Black workers who were either dismissed or penalized then moved to organize the workers at Dodge Main by using a newsletter (DRUM) as an organizing tool. The contents of the Newsletter dealt with very specific cases of both racism and tomism on the job, and stressed the necessity of united action on the part of black workers to abolish the racial aspects of the exploitation and degradation going on at the plant. The reaction of the workers to the first issue of DRUM was general acceptance. They were somewhat astounded to see the truth in print. Most considered it a move in the right direction.

Naturally the reaction of management was hostile. They were so blinded by their racist stereotype image of the black man that it was hard for them to believe that DRUM. was written by black workers. Management couldn't conceive of blacks' initiating and carrying out an intelligent program.
In the second issue of DRUM several toms at the plant were blown.

The brothers really dug it. DRUM had gotten over in a big way. From then on the brothers looked DRUM every week. Amazingly, not one DRUM could be found thrown away or lying around.

After the third week the brothers began to ask about joining DRUM. Members of DRUM working in the plant proselytized and recruited brothers on the job. The strength and influence of DRUM grew vastly.

Around the sixth week the more-militant workers wanted to go for some concrete action against Chrysler and the UA W. At this point the editors of DRUM decided to test their strength. They called for a week boycott of two bars outside the gate that were patronized by a large number of brothers. The bars didn't hire blacks, and practiced racism in other subtle ways. DRUM received about 95% co-operation. This was achieved without the use of pickets or picket signs.

As a further test of strength DRUM called for an extension of the boycott. Again DRUM received solid support, so they decided to get down.

DRUM knew that most workers would be temporarily laid off during the coming week because of the changeover, the production of the ‘69­ models. There was also a bill-out date at which time a certain number of units had to be produced. So DRUM planned to shut down the plant right before the bill-out time and set back the schedule of the change period. Their purpose was to demonstrate their strength and to show Chrysler that DRUM was not bull-jiving or playing.

DRUM started with the first phase of their program They listed 15 demands which dealt with the following conditions at the Hamtramck assembly plant, where about 60% of the work force is black.

(from DRUM, Volume 1, Number 2)

(1) 95% of all foremen in the plants are white.
(2) 99% of all general foremen are white.
(3) 100% of all plant superintendents are white.
(4) 90% of all skilled tradesmen are white.
(5) 90% of all apprentices are white.
(6) Systematically all the easy jobs in the plants are held by whites.
(7) Whenever whites are put on harder jobs they are given helpers.
(8) Black workers who miss a day's work need two doctors' excuses.
(9) Seniority is a racist concept, since black workers systematically
were denied employment for years at this plant.

On Thursday of the ninth week, DRUM got down! They held a rally in a parking lot across from the plant. A number of groups from the black community were represented at the rally, including a conga group that provided the sounds.

Several leaders in DRUM ran down their thing. They rapped on the wretched conditions in the plant. The response to the raps was nothing less than inspiring. After the raps about 300 of those attending the rally formed a picket line and marched two blocks to UAW Local 3. DRUM had carefully planned the picketing to coincide with the union executive board meeting. When the workers arrived at the local one union flunky tried to prevent the workers from entering the room where the board was meeting. He ran a thing about signing in, closed meeting, etcetera. But the workers didn't stop to address that jive.

They bogarted their way into the "bourgy" air-conditioned room. The sight of a room full of greasy, hard-looking workers shook up the "button-down" executive board. The contrast was striking. Here you had the workers in their "humping" blue coveralls, and their union "representatives" laid to the bone in their mohair suits.

The panic-stricken executive board promptly canceled their meeting and suggested that a general meeting be held in the auditorium. At the general meeting the DRUM leaders laid down a heavy thing. They ran down how the union worked hand-in-glove with the fat corporation, the union's failure to address the workers' grievances, et cetera. Coming behind the irrefutable facts laid down by DRUM, Ed Liska, president of UAW Local 3, tried to defend the union using a weak pro-capitalist line. He ran a foul thing on how Chrysler provides a job for the workers and the powerful position of the company.

Charles Brooks, vice president of Local 3 and an Uncle Tom of long standing, tried to back up his boss by playing out of a "brother" bag.

Seeing that the meeting was futile, DRUM served notice that they were going to fight the UA Wand close up the plant. They then upped and split.

Friday, the next day, at five o'clock in the morning, DRUM and its supporting groups turned black workers away at the gate. No attempt was made to interfere with white workers.

The first few workers to arrive were met by a handful of pickets without signs. The workers were not hip to the shut-down date. After the pickets ran it to them, one worker replied: "Shutting down this motherfucker, whatever the reason, is cool as far as I'm concerned."

An hour later practically all the black workers on the six o'clock shift were milling around the gate listening to the drums and spying the few Toms who went into the plant.

Most of the white workers reported to work after they saw that it was safe for them to go through the gate. Those who stayed out did so for various reasons. Some believed in honoring picket lines, and a few were sympathetic. Still others didn't want to work that day anyway.

Before noon six DRUM members went to the local and met with Ed Liska, the president; a few other bigots; and a smattering of Toms.

In this meeting DRUM again voiced its grievances and stated that racism must be erased both at Chrysler and in the UAW. DRUM let it be known that they were doing the UAW a favor by coming to the local with their grievances.

Liska said he would take the grievances and demands to the local plant manager and international union board. DRUM stated that they came to negotiate from a position of strength and power. They pointed out that there were over 3,000 angry black workers standing outside the gate because they were resolutely opposed to the racist policy of Chrysler and the oppressive conditions in the plant. Production almost stood still that day. Thus the value of their labor was clearly shown.

Before the DRUM members hatted up they ran a thing to Liska that if he didn't get positive results from the meeting with the international board or Chrysler, the only honorable thing left for him and his jive time staff to do would be to respectfully step down. DRUM then split.

The DRUM members then returned to the area at which the black workers were massed. They reported what went down in the meeting with the UA W officials. The demands were read amid roaring applause.

About this time Polish pigs in blue were massing opposite the black workers. After putting on tear-gas masks and tightening their grips on their clubs, the pigs stood at the ready. A Tom detective then came up and ordered the workers to disperse.

DRUM then began to skillfully organize the workers. Car pools were set up to take at least 250 black workers to Chrysler's headquarters in the city of Highland Park, about five miles away.

When the black workers and supporting community groups, including many dressed in African attire, fell on the scene in front of Chrysler headquarters, all paper-shuffling within the building ceased. The loud thump of the drums and the vibration created by brothers and sisters brought every Honky in the building to the windows. The expression on their faces was the same as the expression on the faces of the cavalry in Custer's last stand.

The sisters in their bubas and the brothers dashikied to the bone went for their thing.

Headquarters paranoia came down, and they called for the protection of their property by the Highland Park pigs, who soon showed at the scene armed to the teeth. When they pulled out their gas-warfare gear the brothers were ready. They had come prepared with their surplus army gas masks. During the confrontation a group of representatives of DRUM went into the building and demanded to see the policy makers. The policy makers refused to meet, so DRUM said later. They went back to the demonstration and ran down what had happened. Afterward the demonstration broke up and the pigs fell away. So far DRUM had pursued all their immediate objectives by peaceful means. But DRUM takes the any-means-necessary position in regard to goals.

The militant demonstration jolted both the company and the union. Chrysler's newly-created community-relations department promptly got on the case. The union also reacted. DRUM was cordially invited to attend the Sunday session of the Detroit black caucus of the UAW, which is supposed to be a citywide caucus of black representatives of every UA W local in town.

The leaders of DRUM went to the meeting expecting to find a group of militant black men. Instead they found the caucus to be made up of four old wrinkled-up kneegrows and two young brothers. DRUM's 12 hard black workers dominated the meeting.

One old Uncle Remus from Local 7 rapped about irrelevant things. He talked about what he did "way back then". Another fossil continued the nonsense with a rap on Nineteenth Century unionism and a spot of reminiscence on a first kneegrow theme. The only positive thing to be achieved was an agreement by all to support DRUM in its fight against racism at Chrysler.

On Monday, the following day, DRUM once again demonstrated at the plant. Chrysler officials on toP of the factories were using telescopes, binoculars, and cameras to try to discern who was participating in the demonstration. A few Chrysler flunkies had the audacity to try serving injunctions against the demonstration.

When they tried to hand the John Doe injunctions to individuals, the demonstrators slapped them from their hands, tore them up, and threw the pieces over the fence around the plant.

The pigs in blue showed up and began to break up the perfectly-legal demonstration. The plant was partially shut down that day. And it can be added that they would have been backed up with guns instead of with picket signs.

In the weeks following the demonstration, DRUM has received wide support from the various church groups and other organizations in the black community. They have also won the respect of practically all the black workers not only at Dodge Main, but also at other local plants.

In their efforts to slander and discredit DRUM the UAW has branded DRUM a racist, illegitimate, hate-mongering communist organization. The UAW - with its long practice of racism from its very inception which is reflected by the fact that blacks pay about a fourth of the dues in the UAW, but there are only 72 black International Representatives out of a total of almost 1100.

The UAW can call DRUM illegitimate, when its own "legitimacy· is granted by the company and supported by the courts rather than by the super-exploited black workers.

The UAW calls DRUM a hate organization when it is crystal clear to all that it is the black workers who are the victims of hate.

Playing on the brainwashed psyche of the masses, the UAW is going for its red-baiting thing by branding DRUM a communist organization. If DRUM were truly a communist organization, they would have listed 15 ultimatums instead of 15 reformist demands.

The brothers at the plants are hip to the jive the UAW is trying to run. They can try to use these tactics to stop DRUM if they want to. But such counter-revolutionary activity will only heighten the workers' revolutionary focus and sharpen the contradiction between the UAW and the rank and file. The UAW has messed over the workers for too long. By continually doing so, the only thing they will get in the end is a good ass-kicking.