Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Two Struggles Deserve Solidarity

One just started, the other long running. One a strike, the other a lockout. One is high profile involving 3500 workers, the majority in a major city, the other just eighty workers in a small town. Both are fighting around issues of concern to all. Both deserve widespread generous support.

University of Minnesota
Three AFSCME locals representing 3500 clerical, technical, and health care employees of the U of M launched a strike this morning (September 5) that centers on wages. The employer wants to count progression step raises rewarding experience on the way to top of wage classifications as part of a none too generous cost of living raise. The union correctly nailed this as a wage cut proposal, condemning U workers to further erosion of living standards through inflation. 72 percent of AFSCME members rejected this insult, and authorized the strike.

University management is a formidable foe. They try to emulate the labor practices of the private sector bosses they so loyally serve. They will try to shift public resentment of government bureaucracy and the outrageous costs of higher education to the workers. They will attempt to frighten students with the disruption of day-to-day services. They can count on sympathetic attention from the mainstream media. They have municipal police at their disposal to reinforce their own security in shows of force. And they hope these mainly moderate wage workers will soon crack under the financial strain of missed paychecks.

The clerical workers in Local 3800 know all this well. They went through a tough 15-day strike in 2003–and won an honorable settlement. The union leadership did a good job both in preparing their membership and in sharing their experience with the other two locals in joint negotiations with them this time around.

Their strike preparations are a model in the best Minnesota tradition. Local 3800 has involved members in committees including picketing, mutual support (financial needs), internal communication, headquarters, kitchen, and community support.

There is also a volunteer Labor and Community Strike Support Committee that came together several weeks ago and organized rallies and other informational events before the strike. These support efforts help get the striker’s side, often ignored or distorted by the mass media, to the working class community.

Steps were taken early on to win support from the students and faculty impacted by the strike. The student staffed campus paper, The U Daily, ran an editorial entitled In Solidarity With AFSCME. The chairs of departments in the College of Liberal Arts issued an open letter to management urging them to make a fair settlement. Some faculty are arranging to teach their classes off campus. There’s a lot riding on this struggle for the entire labor movement of Minnesota–and beyond. The AFSCME strikers are on point for all of us. They deserve our support.

For suggestions of what you, and your union, can do to help visit these web sites:

Labor Community Strike Support Committee

We will, of course, give prominent attention to the Minnesota strike in the Daily Labor News Digest.

Quad City Die Casting Lockout
Eighty members of UE Local 1174 used to come to work every day at this foundry on the bank of the Mississippi River in Moline, Illinois. That stopped in July when the company locked them out. These workers were forced on the street because they rejected the company demand for unlimited use of temporary workers. Local President Rich Nordholm said, “Our contract has allowed them the limited use of temps for years, but now they want unlimited temps, part-timers, outsourcing and insourcing. If we agreed to this we’d all be out of a job.”

Clearly this is not a trend we want to see started. Small time bosses in depressed Midwest towns would love to see a shape up every morning, picking the lucky ones to work for the day--with no benefits and no job security lasting past quitting time. This is the kind of fight our great grandfathers went through in the nineteenth century.

We should not allow small time bosses--usually vassals for major corporations--to pick off small, isolated groups of unionists, releasing such scourge in to our environment.

Visit the UE’s help end a lockout page to see what you can do to help.