From just outside the convention hall came the shout "Let’s go!" as soon as the resolution "Aggressive Shop Floor Struggles" had been read. Led by Local 506 Plant Chief Steward David Kitchen, some 100 stewards from the Erie General Electric plant trooped into the hall in two long lines to take their place on and before the stage.
With the convention theme honoring UE stewards as "the beacon of rank-and-file democracy," Kitchen paid homage to Local 506 stewards. And he shared with delegates how stewards organized "aggressive shop-floor struggle" to improve General Electric’s final offer in national negotiations earlier this year.
Workers engaged in "band practice," but not the kind with musical instruments, Kitchen observed: anything not moving or alive got walloped. The noise was overwhelming.
The outside of each of the 20-odd buildings in the Erie complex was decorated with 18x24 placards with original messages. Kitchen noted that management was not happy, particularly with the signs that had comments about GE CEO Jack Welch’s salary. Management wasn’t happy when on break time, workers carried the same signs on picket lines.
To oppose company attempts to slash health care, workers wore band-aids. And Local 506 had T-shirt and button days, Kitchen reported.
"None of this is possible without an organized shop-floor stewards’ system, none of it," Kitchen declared. "Nothing can be gained unless you take it from the boss."
Delegates speaking on this resolution and "Collective Bargaining" had the same message: results at the bargaining table depend on a mobilized membership.
To gain the third contract with Circuit-Wise in North Haven, Conn., Local 299 escalated the level of activity, reported Dorothy Johnson. Whistles and party horns got management’s attention, as did an informational picket line and daily rallies. The outstanding contract was only possible, Johnson said, with "the help of everybody participating in raising as much hell as possible."
The union-represented salaried workers at the Erie GE plant wore band-aids, too — neon band-aids. "Everybody was going around with bright green and bright shocking pink and yellow," said Lynda Leech, Local 618. Her boss even asked for one, to use as fishing lure. "I told him he better start fishing for a better health care program," Leech said to applause.
Local 618 is a small local but makes progress. "We couldn’t do it without the support of our people and our stewards," Leech commented.
Also speaking from their experience with the 2000 GE negotiations, Betsy Potter, Local 618, and Ed Havaich, Local 751, emphasized the importance of communications, especially the daily bulletins prepared by the national office. Local 618 strengthened communications through the stewards system, Potter pointed out.
The stewards, observed Dennis Crawford, Local 506, represent "the blood of Local 506 — they flow through the plant, they flow back to the hall, carrying information."
Lester Koch, Local 112, spoke appreciatively of the backing and communication from the national union in negotiations.
James Jarvis, Local 259, rose to speak in support of the collective bargaining resolution’s call for "resistance to speed-up, measured day work, tighter piecework rates, mandatory overtime, and the scheduling of overtime when workers are laid off."
Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions
• Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE