Tag Archives: Industrial Workers

Industrial Workers Find Their Party: PLP


“When I was a child growing up in Mexico a question occurred to me: Why do some people have more than they need while others have nothing. I always felt this was very unjust; and since my parents had no answer I spent most of my youth with this question in my mind. So when I first read CHALLENGE and met the Party I understood that I was not the only crazy person that wondered about these things.” This is how an industrial worker described his first impression of CHALLENGE at a recent dinner for industrial workers. He was then asked if he considered himself a member of the Progressive Labor Party and immediately replied “Yes, yes!”

In all, two industrial workers joined the Party at the dinner, showing us, as one comrade put it, that workers know that the racism, imperialist war and capitalism are hell for us, but what is missing is the solution: communist ideas and our Party.

Communist ideas were front and center: a comrade opened the dinner with a talk about the importance of CHALLENGE in building for revolution and in the need to have confidence in workers’ openness to communism. He called on everyone to renew their commitment to getting CHALLENGE to as many workers as possible through our networks of family, friends, and co-workers. These networks will form the basis for battles in the streets, factories, barracks, and eventually the taking of state power by the working class.

After dinner a comrade suggested we play a game called three questions. Each person answered three questions and then chose the next person to answer, and so on until everyone had a turn. The questions were: how were they introduced to the Party/Challenge, what their first impressions were, and how their impressions have changed. Workers gave suggestions on how to improve CHALLENGE, how we might utilize and distribute the paper under fascist conditions, and asked for advice on how to distribute it to more workers. We struggled with each other to commit to translating and writing more. Through this discussion, which ran late into the night, we all got to know each other a little better and realized what another comrade summed up at the end: “it seems we all came to be here tonight through our friendships with other workers. That is how the Party has grown and will continue to grow. Our task then is to build more friendships and turn all our friendships and relationships into vehicles for building our CHALLENGE networks and the Party.”

It was a great evening overall. We consolidated our growing industrial base, raised close to $200, and sold all our tickets for the upcoming May Day Dinner. Best of all the Progressive Labor Party now has two more industrial workers fighting for communism.

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INDUSTRIAL WORKERS STRIKE BACK IN THE SOUTH

On February 1, about 2,500 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 struck the Volvo Trucks North America plant in Dublin, Virginia, after failing to reach a new contract. Workers had voted by a 95% margin to walk out. The plant builds all Volvo trucks sold in North America.

Volvo is seeking wage and benefit concessions, and trying to roll back many health and safety protections in the current contract. Layoffs have reduced the workforce by 300 while the strike has put another 650-job cut on hold. A Volvo spokesman told the Roanoke Times, “We’re considering…keep[ing] the plant running as close to full production as soon as possible,” but gave no strike-breaking details.

This battle reflects a reaction to a 20-year movement of U.S. auto production to the South, impelled by a massive investment of European and Asian auto billionaires in the highly profitable U.S. market. Historically intense racism, going back to slavery, has created a huge low-wage region in the South. No wonder that, while Ford, GM and Chrysler plants close in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, Mercedes, Hyundai and Toyota plants are opening in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Since 2000, 15,000 parts-supplier plants have opened in Southern states, according to the UAW National Organizing Department.

This example of the inter-imperialist rivalry rages from China to the U.S. as the world’s auto bosses fight for markets, resources and cheap labor. Imperialism inevitably leads to war, and as this rivalry sharpens, wars are spreading globally. Only communist revolution can end imperialism and its wars for good.

As industry increasingly heads south to exploit cheaper, unorganized labor, attacks will intensify and sharpening class battles will be waged by the region’s industrial workers. Just recently six workers were killed and many injured in a sugar factory explosion in Georgia.

Another fight involves the jobs of the Freightliner Five — Glenna Swinford, Franklin Torrence, Robert Whiteside, Allen Bradley and David Crisco, members of UAW Local 3520 — who were fired at the Freightliner truck plant in Cleveland, North Carolina on April 3, 2007. They had led a strike of 3,000 workers. Four were members of the Voluntary Organizing Committee (VOC) that organized the plant in 2003, the country’s largest manufacturer of the big Class 8 heavy trucks. They’re asking for, and getting support from workers worldwide.

The five were on the 11-member union bargaining committee fired by Freightliner. Six got their jobs back, but had to sign agreements requiring them to be “model employees.” The other five were not offered their jobs on any terms.

In 2002, Freightliner and its parent company DaimlerChrysler, cut wages an average of $1.15/hr and imposed healthcare cutbacks. Between 2003 and 2006, over 6,000 workers joined the UAW at Freightliner plants in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Robert Whiteside, a black worker, was elected shop chair, the union leader on the shop floor. He also headed the Local’s bargaining committee.

The bosses refused to meet with him. Daimler and Freightliner demanded give-backs, despite Daimler’s truck group record $2.6 billion profit in 2006. The bosses broke off negotiations, announced layoffs and voided the union contract and healthcare coverage. The workers followed the bargaining committee’s lead and walked out.

The strike was quickly called off by the Local President, claiming it had not been sanctioned by the UAW International. Workers rejected a tentative agreement that excluded the health and safety gains sought by the bargaining committee. But soon afterwards a similar contract was ratified in a vote held on company property, from which the five fired workers were banned.

The Freightliner Five continue to fight for their jobs. Their unemployment benefits are exhausted and they need help to support their families and to continue the fight.

This fight resembles the struggle of the Charleston 5, members of the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 1422 in Charleston, S.C., who were fired and arrested after police attacked their picket line several years ago. Next month marks the one-year anniversary of the strike of
over 7,000 shipbuilders in Pascagoula, MS, against Northrop-Grumman, a major war contractor.

Slowly but surely, the red flag of communist revolution is being planted in the South by the PLP. With patience and a long-term outlook, by building ties based on struggle and spreading CHALLENGE, industrial workers will lead the way in building a mass PLP. J

For more information about the Freightliner Five, including how to make donations, go to http://justice4five.com.

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Navistar: Warmaker/Strike-breaker

CHICAGO, IL, December 11 — As we go to press, 4,000 Navistar workers are in the 7th week of their strike. Formerly International Harvester, Navistar is the world’s fourth largest truck builder, and the biggest supplier to the Pentagon of the MaxxPro engines for the blast-resistant trucks used in Iraq. In past years, it has closed unionized plants and moved to non-union plants in the South and Mexico. Navistar also entered a joint venture with India’s Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. to build medium- and heavy-duty diesel engines, further driving down wages for all workers.

Not only has the UAW leadership failed to defend its members, it’s also failed to make organizing these non-union plants a strike demand. As is now true in auto, aerospace, steel and coal mining, most of Navistar’s plants are non-union.

The 500 workers at the Melrose Park engine plant, just outside Chicago, build MaxxPro engines. The MaxxPro chassis is built in Garland, Texas, and the trucks are assembled in West Point, Mississippi, both non-union plants. The union and the company are guaranteeing that Melrose Park continues to operate with scabbing supervisors and engineers, ensuring that the racist rulers can continue their imperialist bloodbath in Iraq. A big solidarity rally planned for December 5 was hastily cancelled the night before, partly because the UAW leadership feared it would make it possible for PLP and others to expose Navistar as a war-maker and strike-breaker, and show that U.S. and Iraqi workers face the same enemy and the same fight.
PLP is slowly but surely organizing support for the strike and attempting to build ties with some Navistar workers. Over the past week, groups of workers and students have walked the picket lines, talked to the strikers and distributed dozens of CHALLENGES.

While it’s not a strike against the war, it’s still significant that workers have struck a war profiteer amidst a war. (Last March, 7,000 shipbuilders in Pascagula, MS struck Northrop Grumman for one month.) Workers have given us a very warm welcome. We’ve learned a lot from them, but are just scratching the surface. We’ll do better at raising the strike at our workplaces, schools, unions and churches, not just to build support for striking workers, but to show how the working class has the power to end this war, and all wars, by uniting across all borders and fighting for communist revolution.

(Send statements of solidarity to: UAW Local 6, 3520 W. North Ave., Stone Park, IL 60165-1042)

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Rulers’ Rivalries A Killer for Workers

While working for a building subcontractor operating on site for a major aerospace company, we were again reminded that workers are expendable in the name of speed-up and profit. Last week, a young laborer was seriously shocked while removing a water heater from a bathroom wall, requiring hospital treatment.

The foreman told the young laborer to remove the box rather than follow the proper safety procedure and wait for an electrician. In order to reap maximum profits the bosses cut corners.

The laborer had only worked in construction three weeks. When he asked how to remove the box, the foreman simply said “Take the screws out and pull it off the wall.” He didn’t mention the possible electrical hazard a twenty-year old water heater posed. The 220-volt circuit that fed the water heater had been stripped bare over time. The stripped wiring made contact with the metal casing when the laborer pulled on the box. Since the laborer had both hands on the casing, his body made a circuit. The current held him onto the casing for five seconds before kicking him off.

When the laborer told the foreman what happened and that he didn’t feel good, the foreman laughed. “So you are telling me that you’re a dumbass and that you shocked yourself,” he said. He refused to let the laborer seek medical treatment. Finally, an hour later, a carpenter demanded the laborer be sent to the factory medical center. Factory medical sent him to the local hospital. The project superintendent ran down to the hospital, assuring the injured worker that it was a “freak accident” and “nobody’s fault.”

After the incident, we were forced to attend mandatory safety meetings. The general contractor and representatives from the aerospace company assured us they were going to get to the bottom of this. At first they acted as if people were going to be fired. As it became clear that the foreman was at fault, they decided to be lenient this time and not fire anyone. It came out later that the foreman had suggested a meeting involving only management and that the laborer should be fired for “incompetence.” In the end, the contractor and the aerospace company set up a safety liaison. The person chosen to fill that position was none other than the foreman who had almost gotten the laborer killed.

This was not the first problem we have had with this foreman. He was involved in the racist firing of a black worker just one month prior.

I’ve had a lot of great conversations with my fellow workers about the nature of management and how workplace safety is a joke. When a product can be potentially damaged safety is important, but when a lowly worker is at risk safety is ignored.

Aerospace is important if the bosses want to get serious about competing with the Chinese and Russian war machines. As the push for the “re-industrialization” of America grows stronger, increased fascism at work and in working-class neighborhoods once again reminds us that the bosses need us a lot more than we need them. Hopefully, this incident will help me turn my present-day CHALLENGE sales into a bigger network.

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