Third issue of the Libertarian Workers Group's agitational newsletter.
On the Line Vol. 1, No. 3 (October 1978)
Rank and File Resistance
The strike against the Bandages By Gauze and Effects company by Local 23-25 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union is still going on. The boss, Mermelstein, has been harassing the union organizers and pickets. He even knocked his own glasses off, picked a scab on his cheek so that it bled and then told the police that a union organizer attacked him. The organizer was busted and booked. The police are on Mermelstein's side and they give out tickets and summonses regularly. They don't protect the union people from Mermelstein and his hired thugs. Perhaps Mermelstein is getting nervous because a new season is beginning and there is a lot of work in the shops.
Meanwhile, Sid Gerstein of the ILGWU's Dress Joint Board is coming up for trial. Gerstein is charged with having conspired to bribe an independent union organizer in New Jersey. He comes out of the garment trucking industry which is known for being poorly organized and crime ridden. There have been rumors circulating that ILGWU staff people will have to contribute money for Gerstein's defense whether they want to or not. Such fund raising techniques are illegal but are a regular part of working for the ILGWU.
The ILGWU will be carrying out a series of strikes this fall and winter. Like the strike at Bandages, workers will not be actually organized into the Union, but will become members when the boss is pressured into signing a standard contract with the Union. Local 23-25 will go up against the Echo Bay company again and is determined to win after having lost a battle with Echo Bay last year. The Union lost after having committed large amounts of money and energy and never got a majority of the workers on its side. All in all, workers have very little say in the whole process in any of the strikes. Union leaders like Gerstein are not about to encourage the workers to take an active part in their organization.
Workers at Automatic Data Processing's Corporate Warehouse in Clifton, New Jersey, nearly wildcatted recently when they were asked to work a six day week, 10 to 13 hours a day, plus occasional Sundays. For weeks leading up to this event the warehousemen were forced to take their breaks nearly one half hour before closing, after having worked under incredible pressure for nearly five hours since their lunch breaks. The lunch breaks are "staggered" because the warehouse is understaffed. Other events leading up to the near wildcat are the attitudes of the boss towards the workers and the company's freeze on all raises for another few months. The boss think that the workers are "pawns and soldiers" who can be worked like mules and then be subjected to his dictatorial whims and wishes. The average warehouse-men at ADP only makes $3.90 an hour.
While the threat of a strike only won the workers the right to have an earlier break and delayed the decision about the work hours for the next few months, these warehousemen are, nevertheless, willing to "walk" if they are subjected to a six day (10 to 13 hour workday) week and if the company refuses to grant then decent wage increases.
There was a $12,000 rip off at Scotco, the Sony repair center on 39th Street, several weeks ago. The police suspect that it was an inside job so all of the employees had to take a lie detector test. One worker failed the test and was interrogated by the police for several hours. After he was released he was fired, although he was not charged by police.The boss gave him some severance pay and then had payment stopped on the check after the guy left the shop. A new service manager was brought in to boost productivity and two technicians have been fired recently. The workers at Scotco are too divided at this point to organize themselves, but there is a great deal of resistance to the new manager and frequent discussions about the political situation in South America.
Henry Lewis, a subway motorman for eleven years and a leader of the Coalition of Concerned Transit Workers, a rank-and-file group which had been in the forefront of opposition to the last sell-out transit contract, was arbitrarily suspended by the Transit Authority on August 7. Clearly this action was due to Lewis' militant opposition to the TA bureaucrats and the leadership of the Transit Workers' Union. The leadership of the TWU is mostly white and tends to be pretty conservative while the membership is mostly black and is increasingly angry at being sold out and taken advantage of. We understand that a trial has been held for Brother Lewis and we will have more information on this in the next issue. The Coalition of Concerned Transit Workers can be contacted by writing to: [information removed]
Clerical workers at Barnard College, members of District 65, went on strike on September 5 after the administration of the college refused to budge on basic wage demands. The clerical workers were supported by the maintenance and security workers, who are members of Transit Workers Union Local 264, who refused to cross the picket line. On September 12, the administration issued a memo to the TWU members which ordered them to return to work or lose their jobs. The maintenance and security workers had been working under a contract extension and a state arbitrator had ruled their strike a violation of the contract.
Faced with the college's pressure tactics, the clerical workers returned to work on September 14. Both the TWU and District 65 set a new deadline for negotiations. Both unions will strike on October 15 if both have not settled. In addition, clerical workers at the Teacher's College (also members of District 65) and security workers at Columbia University (who are in TWU Local 241) are also considering joining the October 15 strike agreement. SOLIDARITY PAYS!
Recent developments in the newspaper strike lead us to make two basic observations. First, that the 10 separate unions that represent the various trades, by climbing over each other's back, instead of working together more closely, only succeed in weakening themselves and in making their member's gains less secure. Secondly, that the recent concessions made by Murdoch and The Post was due in large part to the militancy of the Pressman. When they succeeded in stopping the Delivery workers from crossing the picket lines during the March-April Newspaper Guild (reporters) strike they created an element of unity which could be important in re-forming the printing unions in New York. Unity and militancy among workers in the printing trades, in our opinion, can only go forward by moving from the many craft unions to a single industry-wide union. This would be a first step to putting the printing trades workers back on their feet and on the offensive.
As we reported in our last issue, Dave Newman, a shop steward in the Communication Workers of America, Local 1101, New York City, was removed from his position by that local's leadership after he criticized its position on contracts and its conservative outlook in a rank-and-file paper. After attempting to fight this decision through the usual channels, Dave was still not able to get reinstated by the union bureaucracy. The bureaucrats proclaimed that Dave was part of management and therefore did not have the right to criticize his superiors. Newman then took his case to court.
While the case has been in the courts for quite some time, it was only in late July that Judge Knapp issued his findings. Judge Knapp found that Dave was removed from his position simply because he was critical of certain aspects of union policies and union leaders. The judge said that Dave was using his democratic rights and he ruled that there was no evidence that Dave was not performing his duties as shop steward. The judge found that the officers of Local 1101 were guilty of violating Dave's right to free speech, which in turn is a violation of the Landrum Griffin Act. Judge Knapp then issued a permanent injunction which ordered Dave's reinstatement but stayed this order pending an appeal by Local 1101 officers. Funds are needed to continue this struggle in and outside of the courts. Send donations to : [information removed]
Class War in New Mexico
Members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are involved in a battle in New Mexico. The IWW has organized 150 construction workers and 25 office workers wo work for the Rio Grande Conservancy District, a semi-state agency.
Hiring and firing at Rio Grande is based on who you know. Women are subjected to sexual harassment from the bosses. There is a great deal of racial and religious discrimination and many of the workers have been cheated out of pay raises. The workers' response to these conditions has been to set up a branch of the IWW, which is a radical democratic union dating back to 1905.
Funds are needed to help the workers at Rio Grande organize and defend their gains. The construction industry in New York is buying into the Southwest and many workers are leaving the metropolitan area in search of jobs in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Many people are very disappointed when they find conditions as bad as they are at Rio Grande, but they feel powerless to fight back. You can help the fight for decent working conditions by sending donations to: [information removed]
International News: The La Scala Case in Spain
On January 15 of the year, the Scala nightclub in Barcelona, Spain, was destroyed and four workers were killed in a fire supposedly set by molotov cocktails. The police wasted no time in their work and arrested dozens of anarchist-syndicalists. Unable to prove their charges, all of the arrested were released except for seven members of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT). The CNT is a large anarchist-syndicalist union which has lately been protesting the sell-out agreements between the government and other major trade unions. The CNT also has been demonstrating against the government sponsored union elections and has pushed for the rights of the Spanish working class. These demonstrations were the first legal demonstrations by the CNT since the 1930's and the arrest of the CNT members in connection with the fire at the nightclub is an obvious attempt to stop that organization at a time when it can grow and make gains. Anarchist-syndicalists do not believe in terrorism and the CNT maintains its innocence. The libertarians in Spain are continuing to fight for the freedom of their comrades and against the repression.
Who are we? What do we want?
We call ourselves "anarchist-syndicalists" and we have named our group the Libertarian Workers Group. We are a committee of working people who live in the NY metropolitan area. We publish On the Line because we feel that the news and experiences which comes from the many small battles between the bosses and the workers must be shared if the whole class struggle is to advance and if the workers are to someday win.
Basically, we believe that the capitalist class is unnecessary and that government (by which we mean the political state and all of its bureaus) is inherently oppressive. The state and the capitalist class, while not seeing eye-to-eye on everything, are built on exploitation. The capitalists do not produce wealth or render services unless they are forced to. They extend and keep their power because they are able to call the shots in industry and government and because they steal, in a very sophisticated way, what the working person produces. By so "stealing" from the real producers - the workers - and then by selling to consumers - most of whom are also workers - the capitalist is able to male profits and keep power. Landlords and the utility companies steal from workers in a similar way. The government insures that business goes on as usual and even runs some industries. The decisions on what will be produced, how much will be charged as prices and how goods and services will be distributed are made in a "top-down" way in urban and political centers bu bureaucrats and capitalists.
People are taught to play a passive role in society: to take uninteresting and low-paying jobs, to vote for candidates that really have nothing to offer, to experience life through television and movies and to accept racial and sexual oppression as normal. Meanwhile, thousands of people are going to jail, becoming addicts or committing suicide.
It is not enough, we think, to try to reform society. The boss-workers relationship, protected as it is by all of the governments and churches the world over, must be done away with. The capitalist system, in which one person works for another and the lives only to work in the framework, is full of contradictions and shortcomings. The decision on what will be produced and distributed, on how housing and community problems will be solved and on how natural resources will be allocated must be made by the working class on a local level through democratic organizations controlled by the rank-and-file. Education must be available to all and must be combined with technical skills useful in the modern world. Racial and sexual barriers must be abolished. In short, the working class must emancipate itself. We think it can only do so by building democratic organizations in which all workers can participate and from which all workers will benefit. The center of these organizations must be the workplace and the community. The tactics we think are most useful - are the social and general strike - mass civil disobiendience by working people - for rank-and-file control and for neccessary immediate gains. Revolutionary unions must be created to fight for decentralized economic planning and real industrial democracy. Anarchist-syndicalism is the sum total of these objectives and offers the means by which to obtain them.
Subscriptions to On the Line are $1.00 for 6 issues. Send subs to: [information removed]