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A Banner Convention!

Convention Rally


It really was a banner Convention. Delegates learned that UE posted a fifth straight year of organizing gains, often with substantial rank-and-file support. During Monday afternoon's traditional Organizing Report, the Convention greeted a diverse group of new members.

Citing their own experiences, delegates argued UE's longstanding policy of  aggressive struggle remains crucial to collective bargaining, even as they learned that Chicago's Acme Die Casting workers were on strike for a first contract, nearly 10 years after they voted for UE.

Management negligence and indifference should mean jail time and heavy fines for bosses responsible for workplace deaths, argued the rank-and-file leaders of the union.

Another crucial workplace issue: understanding,
recognizing and confronting racism
was addressed on the floor, following a special panel. And delegates called for special action emphasis on education and organizing, even while UE continues to build the Labor Party to gain a real voice for workers.

Convention Speakers

Welfare reform is nothing more than a ‘back-door’ attack on wages, said Wisconsin State Senate President Pro Tem Gwen Moore. When push-came-to-shove, Wisconsin State Rep. G. Spencer Coggs described how he took a stand for workers' right to organize. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gubernatorial Candidate Ed Garvey spoke on his efforts to eject big money from the governor's mansion.

Pulling no punches, 'It's Class War!' declared political commentator and humorist Jim Hightower. Delegates heard union reformer Lewie Anderson argue the AFL-CIO Must Confront Union Corruption. Finally, President Henry Nicholas of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare workers underscored the ugent need to organize for the future.

A Banner Convention


As Conventions go, the 62nd UE Convention here Sept. 21-25 had its share of drama.

The convention began with the conventional, theatrical kind of drama, as the Women and Labor History Project presented a one-act play depicting stirring events and personalities from labor history. Consistent with the convention theme of "United We Stand, Divided We Beg," the play’s Mother Jones called on delegates to be hell-raisers, not humanitarians. Delegates took that advice, bringing a touch of street drama to lunch-hour, downtown Milwaukee with rallies for workers’ rights.

There was also real-life drama on the convention floor.

Delegates were electrified by the news that nearly 10 years after voting for UE, Local 1116 members had struck Acme Die Casting in Chicago to bring their long fight for a first contract to a conclusion.

Speaking during a panel discussion on racism, Shirley Harrison of Local 1135, in highly-charged comments, challenged delegates to examine and confront racism in the workplace.

Vainly fighting back tears, Nomesia Iria of Local 214 told delegates that her plant was closed and may not reopen — and blessed the day UE came to organize Prince pasta. Housekeepers and grounds-keepers from the University of North Carolina who are organizing as UE Local 150— in a state which denies union rights to public employees — received a rousing reception, as did representatives of other newly-organized UE members.


And there were other kinds of drama, as well.

Delegates gave their assent to constitutional amendments that—if ratified by the locals— will reshape UE districts and General Executive Board and restructure the salaries of officers of staff.

Consistent with the five-year plan, the convention recommended that District 11 (currently Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) be expanded to include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and gain a third voting representative on the General Executive Board.

The convention also approved a substantial, one-time salary increase for the general officers and staff to bring their salaries, in conformity with the spirit of the UE Constitution, closer into line with the pay received by UE members in General Electric, and to help retain and hire staff. Several delegates took floor mikes to state their support of the measure. There was no opposition.


UE, said Genl. Pres. John Hovis, "is an organization in transition, a union struggling through difficult times for working people, trying to make the difficult — and sometimes controversial — changes that must be made to take UE members into the next century." In his address, the general president stressed the ability of UE adapt and grow without sacrificing its core principles of rank-and-file democracy and aggressive struggle.

The past year has been a busy, successful and gratifying year for UE, Hovis reported. The five-year plan approved by delegates last year is "up and running and moving steadily ahead," Hovis said. No dinosaur or relic of the past as critics sometimes charge, UE is still "a work in progress."

Economic change makes UE’s continued renewal and revitalization a necessity, Hovis said. Contrasting present manufacturing trends with those of 20 years ago, he pointed out that the engineers who once ruled the shop have been replaced by "bean-counters." Record-setting profit levels and stock market prices are not translating into good times for American workers. Instead, the UE president declared, "the deadly duo of the corporate executive and Wall Street speculator" are holding down workers’ wages.

"To show an even bigger gain in the next quarter, to retain or attract investors, we are downsized, re-engineered, our jobs are combined or eliminated," Hovis said. Increasing numbers of workers are forced to take temporary, part-time or contract jobs.


Fighting today’s ruthless managers requires worker education, well-planned strategies, unity and community support, the UE leader said. "It’s not who makes the best case that prevails at the bargaining table — it’s who has the power and determination to force their will on the other side." Several delegates cited this comment by Pres. Hovis during their own remarks later in the convention.

Hovis spoke approvingly of steps by the AFL-CIO to expand organizing, but identified three areas of continuing concern: internal corruption, union mergers and the federation’s "undying allegiance to the Democratic Party."

Commenting on the Clinton Administration’s embrace of Republican policies, Hovis drew applause when he advised the President to "take a leap" when he finally crosses his bridge to the future. The Labor Party, Hovis said, is "clearly a much better route than the President’s ‘toll bridge.’"

Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark reported to the convention on the five-year plan; he identified cost savings already made and pledged to continue to reduce expenses. He assured delegates that with its financial muscle, UE has the hallmarks of a strong union — the ability to put a boss who’s out of line back in line.


Delegates unanimously reelected the three national officers — Genl. Pres. Hovis, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, and Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley. They also elected as national trustees Barry Rideout of Local 120, Mary Larsen of Local 1111 and Brian McKim of Local 212; Pat Rafferty of Local 506 and Virginia Garrette of Local 767 were elected alternate trustees.

The convention concluded with delegates singing labor’s anthem, "Solidarity Forever," led by Sam Plumeri, Local 1111, Marcy Brim, Local 747, and Mindy Williams, Local 1193.

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UE Organizing Posts
Fifth Year Of Gains


If it’s not broken don’t fix it: UE’s organizing record over the past year is good enough to warrant little change in the 1997-98 organizing plan before the convention, Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley told delegates.

"For the fifth consecutive year we have been able to organize a thousand or more people," Kingsley reported. Although setbacks were encountered earlier this year, UE is now in the midst of a new organizing surge, he said: "As of today, more than 1,200 workers are now scheduled to vote on whether to join your union before the end of 1997."

The union’s officers recommended that the convention reaffirm the union’s "Factories-Plus" approach, combining organizing in UE’s traditional manufacturing base with public and service sector recruitment.

New in the 1997-98 plan, Kingsley said, is added emphasis on sister shops and educational institutions. UE will also seek to continue the tri-national organizing project in the Echlin chain and the new North Carolina organizing project, he said.

The diversity built into the organizing plan is reflected in the union’s newest members, Kingsley pointed out: "They are bus drivers in Iowa and housekeepers in North Carolina. They make paint brushes in New Hampshire and partitions in Pennsylvania. They are from the public, private and service sectors in five different states around the United States."


"We faced the harshest and most inhospitable organizing climate since the darkest days of UE," declared the union officer. "We faced firings in more than half of all substantial private-sector campaigns we ran." These included the three elections lost in a three-week period, each of them by 10 votes or less.

"Bosses are responding to the first hints of organizing more swiftly and more ferociously than ever," Kingsley said. A Dayton factory worker who hosted a meeting of his co-workers was fired the next day, he noted.

Firings are not the only employer response, the UE organizing director commented. "We’re seeing more captive audience meetings, days and sometimes only hours after the first union leaflet or the first small meetings. But we’re also seeing bosses hand out the bucks — in two cases this year, dollar-an-hour raises as soon as serious organizing activity began.

"Employers have heard of the new organizing offensive planned by America’s labor movement and they are ready —ready to threaten, harass and fire, and even sometimes to show us the money in order to stop us in our tracks," Kingsley said.


Nearly 10 Years After Organizing, First-Contract Strike at Acme Die

Delegates were electrified by the news that nearly 10 years after voting for UE in a representation election, workers at Acme Die Casting in Chicago were on strike for a first contract. "It’s been very long and hard," said Mauricio Aguirre, a Local 1116 negotiating committee member, who addressed the convention on the first day of the strike. He thanked delegates for their support and their patience.

The presence of new hires gave the struggle new hope, Aguirre said. "People began to understand that the company did nothing but lie, harass, push around. When they saw their checks, they were ready to join us."

Aguirre acknowledged that this new phase would be difficult; in his heart, Aguirre said, " I know it will be finally completed."

Delegates who were among those who drove to Chicago in the early morning hours of Sept. 24 gave a report on the strike’s first day.

The picket line was already in motion when the caravan arrived, said Jim Cook, Local 623. Given the opportunity to address the strikers, Cook said, "I told them that today they have begun the true war with the boss and drawn a line in the sand, and that 10 years is way too long for a company not to have to negotiate a contract." And Cook left them with a new battle cry.

Maria Vilella, Local 1090, brought words of solidarity from California and the perspective of a local union that mounted a multi-union campaign to obtain a first contract. She counseled "patience and continued unity" as the way to win.

Aguirre was visibly shocked when a convention speaker, Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Workers, presented him with a check for $1,000. Chanting "Who are we? UE!" delegates collected another $1,429. Ray Pompano, Local 243, Joe Chavez, District 10, and Mary Larsen, Local 1111, were among those who stepped up to floor mikes to pledge contributions.

Local 1116 members maintained picket lines for 13 days before decided to continue the struggle inside the shop.

A major accomplishment was the negotiation of 16 first contracts this past year, the director of organization declared. "These new UE agreements cover 3,500 workers from Iowa to Vermont. That’s a greater number of workers to come under first agreements in a single year in more than 20 years. In a busy collective bargaining year for the union, one out of every four contracts successfully negotiated was a first-time UE agreement, he pointed out.

The typical union, having won a representation election, only achieves a first contract about half the time. UE’s first contracts are achieved through tenaciousness: "We win because don’t give up," Kingsley said.

At Acme Die Casting in Chicago, the struggle for a first contract is nearly 10 years old and still continues. Due to UE’s tenaciousness, "more Acme workers support UE today than ever before," Kingsley said. The previous Friday, Acme workers shut down the aluminum foundry with a warning strike and set a strike deadline, he announced.

"That type of commitment, that type of fighting spirit, that type of tenaciousness, speaks volumes about your union because it once again sends out a message to bosses everywhere that if you tangle with UE you better be prepared to fight to the finish, because we’ll grab onto your leg like a junkyard dog, and we won’t let go until a measure of justice is won," Kingsley declared.

The UE director of organization described organizing as "the place where our battle with the bosses begins" and "the great counterpunch to the growing economic inequality which grips our nation." In many respects, he said, organizing is "the hardest thing we do."

Organizing takes place for reasons of self interest, righteousness and power. "It’s about power — the power of the working class in this country, our power to shape this country in our image, toward our interests and not just those of the wealthy and the corporations."


The UE officer praised the more than 200 members from 63 different UE locals who came off the job to assist the union’s organizing efforts. "The heart and soul and energy and drive of this union’s members are the building blocks of this union," Kingsley said. This kind of participation "is what it takes to build a rank-and-file union in this day and age." He also praised the contributions of the UE staff.

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Convention Greets
Diverse New Delegates

Workers from five states, representing more than a thousand co-workers in a wide variety of job classifications in both the private and public sectors, received a rousing reception from delegates as they came to the podium to tell their stories of organization.

Not all of the speakers had completed the typical organizing process that culminates in a representation election. For Jesus Guererro and Vince Peyna from Westwood Aluminum, a Milwaukee area foundry, their Oct. 3 election victory was a little less than two weeks away. But the University of North Carolina employees escorted to the podium by banner-waving District One leaders can expect no election — state law does not recognize their right to union representation and collective bargaining. (see box).

Despite Denial of a Basic Right, They're Determined to Organize!

The housekeepers and groundskeepers employed by the University of North Carolina are determined to build their union despite the state’s denial of union rights to public employees.

In introducing the representatives of Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, Field Org. Saladin Muhammed compared their struggle for union rights to the civil rights movement that toppled the state’s system of racial segregation. Just as African-Americans defied laws that restricted their access to public facilities, “we also don’t intend to follow those laws that say that workers don’t have a right to collective bargaining,” he said.

Local 150 members are not organizing for a contract; their union won’t live or die depending on the outcome of an election, Muhammed said. Instead, workers are building a movement that can make political demands on state government on behalf of UNC employees.

Barbara Prear, a Local 150 leader, described how housekeepers began organizing an association in 1990 to demand dignity and a voice on the job. The housekeepers, who are 80 percent black women, have “always been disrespected” and work under a different set of rules, Prear said. “We’re not turning back,” she declared.


A string of victories in Iowa and Nebraska during the past year brought a series of speakers before the convention. As Intl. Rep. Greg Cross pointed out, "we have organized eight new bargaining units that represent more than 600 workers in both the public and private sectors."

Rick Simons, Local 811, who came to the 1996 convention to report how he and his co-workers had organized into UE, made a return trip with a sequel to last year’s story. When their employer took over a new operation but refused to expand the bargaining unit, Simons signed up each of the new workers by 6 p.m. on the first day. The vote was unanimous for UE in the subsequent election.

A number of the newly organized UE in Iowa are school support staff. Ellen Rowlet, a key member of the UE organizing committee in the Storm Lake School District, is now on the negotiating committee. "Two things I feel we need most from a union like UE is a fair grievance procedure and for people to be recognized by seniority," Rowlet said.

From the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn School District, bus driver Gilbert Webb described how the 80 teachers’ aides, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers and secretaries organized and gained a contract. "We got more money. And they sit up and they take notice of us now," Webb said.

Dave Lehman and Wendy Ganson represented nearly 200 co-workers employed by the Western Dubuque School District; they explained how the district is the largest in Iowa, covering 560 square miles, with seven different departments. For years management has played department against department, worker against worker, but no more. "We went into contract negotiations as a unit, for the first time in the history of our district," said Ganson.


John Ross received a charter on behalf of Local 888, representing 100 industrial, commercial and construction electricians employed by Meisner Electric in Newton, Iowa. An AFL-CIO union made promises to the Meisner electricians which proved to be too good to be true. UE made no promises, Ross said, only an offer "to help us achieve something that we had never had before, which was solidarity and a vastly improved contract." An election victory was followed by extensive contract improvements, including wage increases totaling 23 percent over three years. "We are proud and happy to be members of UE," said Ross.

The decision of Flex-Y-Plan management to impose a 10 percent pay cut spurred union organization at the Erie, Pa. manufacturer of office partitions and office furniture, said Ken Dingus, Local 697. "It took us about eight years to get that 10 percent," he said. With help from District Six locals, Flex-Y-Plan workers withstood a tough anti-union campaign, won their election and are slowly making progress in negotiations.

"A lot of the problem with this company is that they consider us a bunch of ignorant louts,"Dingus said. But the company is learning, he pointed out: "Now they’re starting to respect us, acting like we’re actually people, for a change."

When the new owners of American Brush in Claremont, N.H. announced drastic changes in benefits, Audrey Johnson wasted no time in calling Field Org. Rachel Clough. With the help of District Two locals, especially Local 258, American Brush workers organized as Local 237. But as the two women explained to the convention, the struggle for a first contract, still ongoing, as been far from easy. "We’ve got to make them know they can’t be afraid to fight," Johnson told delegates. "With Rachel’s help and the help of the locals around us, I’m sure we will win and get this contract."

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Delegates Say
Is Crucial
To Organizing


The union’s collective bargaining program came before the convention along with the resolutions "Aggressive Shop Floor Struggle" and "Union Solidarity." Delegates from big locals and small, from the manufacturing and public sectors, agreed that the principles underlying the three resolutions work.

The three resolutions go hand-in-hand, said Doug Whitcomb, Local 258: "You can’t do one without the other."

Earlier this year, his Windsor, Vt. local survived a five-month shutdown and plant buyout. "We found a way to keep the company open and preserve our jobs and preserve our contract," he said.

"Follow your UE principles," Whitcomb declared. "Follow what’s before you in these resolutions and you can’t go wrong."

Delegates from two locals which had faced tough struggles to gain their first contracts told the convention that bargaining went easier the second time around — but it was still a struggle.

"I’m very happy to say that this time we have a second contract without going to the Labor Board and without a 17-month strike," Dorothy Johnson, Local 299 announced to applause. The UE bargaining position at Circuit-Wise in North Haven, Conn. was bolstered by an enlarged and "a very aggressive shop struggle," she said.

"It’s really important that people mobilize their members in the shop so that you can get a fair and decent contract," Johnson declared. She noted that the company was concerned about the possibility of another strike and annoyed by stickers.

Speaking on behalf of the resolution "Union Solidarity," Johnson emphasized that just because a contract is won, the struggle is not over. "We need to stick behind other unions because their fight is our fight."


Speaking through a translator, Maria Villela, Local 1090 credited the solidarity of other unions in the Echlin chain and shop-floor activity for an improved contract for workers at Friction in Irvine, Calif.

A contract support committee, with about 30 members out of the 104 in the shop, was particularly important, Villela said. The committee gathered the signatures of every worker on a petition demanding a decent contract, and presented the petition to management during negotiations. The result? "We got about twice as much a wage increase as we did in the first contract."

David Kitchen, Local 506 traced the development of worker-to-worker rallies within the General Electric chain, beginning with the links established between his local in Erie, Pa. and IUE Local 201 in Lynn, Mass. some 15 years ago, and culminating in the multi-union rally hosted by Local 506 in June. The key to that rally’s success was the commitment of rank-and-file volunteers to making it work, he said. "We were proud of that membership for being able to pull off the biggest rally that Erie has seen in decades."

The support of Locals 506 and 618 made a difference in his local’s negotiations, said Rich Drylie, Local 683. His company does business with General Electric, so when Betsy Potter, Local 618, the president of the GE salaried workers’ union, participated in negotiations, the boss took notice, Drylie said.

For workers employed by St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Milwaukee, their third contract turned out to be their best, reported Mindy Williams, Local 1193. Confronted with the problem of a top scale that no one could reach, Local 1193 came up with a plan to reward long service, low-pay workers.

"It’s an ongoing struggle," Williams said. After signing the contract, Williams said she continued preaching to the membership that it’s not over: "The bosses are always going to come with some underhanded scheme or another."

"We don’t always win but we always fight," said Barb Adams, Local 893. In negotiations with the State of Iowa, Local 893 worked closely with a larger state employees’ union. That cooperation paid off; "but when push came to shove, they folded, they settled a real low-ball contract." UE held out, and won a better deal, Adams said.


Contract struggles can take various forms. When UE-organized graduate employees at the University of Iowa decided to demonstrate to management the kind of work they do, they staged a "grade-in," reported Leslie Taylor, Local 896.

At the Farnam plant in Necedah, Wis., management proposed that seniority be replaced with "skill and ability" — and insisted that this is what workers wanted, Anna Fisher, Local 1107 related. So first-shift workers donned signs reading "We Want Seniority Rights." In turn, so did second-shift workers. The company ordered the second-shifters to remove their signs or go home. Seventy-five went home, Fisher reported to delegates’ cheers. "Skill and ability is now off the negotiations table and seniority does rule," she said to applause.

Given management’s proposals, commented Bill Lynch, Local 262, it seems as if his bosses have read a few books lately. On the table are cellular manufacturing and elimination of the incentive system. "For those of you who think it can’t happen in your shop, keep an eye open because anything is possible," Lynch said.

In California, Gov. Pete Wilson has signed legislation that will eliminate time and one-half after eight hours in non-union shops. Joe Chavez, District 10, said that in the General Cable plant, a fight is shaping up around defense of the eight-hour day.

Speaking to the "Union Solidarity" resolution, Errol Maitland, Local 404 called for assistance. The Pacifica Foundation prides itself on giving voice to voiceless, he said; Pacifica radio covers workers’ struggles like the UPS and Yale strikes. But when dealing with its own employees, Pacifica management is anti-union and anti-workers’ rights, Maitland said.

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Jail Time, Heavy Fines
Needed for Bosses Responsible
For Workplace Deaths


When it comes to health and safety, union protection — and management indifference — can literally be matters of life and death, said delegates speaking on the resolution "For a Safe and Healthy Workplace."

Last November, Local 506 member David Nowosielski was fatally injured on the job in the Erie, Pa. plant of the General Electric Co. when the jitney he was operating overturned. The jitney did not have a seat belt.

David Adams, Local 506, pointed out that a 1990 study identified those areas in the plant lacking seatbelts, but the company did not require managers to obtain seatbelts. Nowosielski, a single parent, was on piecework in an area in which the chief steward had been arguing for new hires to relieve the pressure faced by pieceworkers.

That’s why, Adams said, he supported the resolution’s call for criminal prosecution and heavy fines for bosses who create or tolerate conditions that lead to severe injury or death on the job.

Kim Peniska, Local 1187, agreed. "In most cases in South Dakota, somebody gets killed on the job they charge them $1,500. And the company says, ‘I’ll pay the fine.’ It’s no big deal. I think the bosses should be accountable, put a stiffer fine on them or put them in prison."

Tom Dininny, Local 329, told fellow delegates that at Kennedy Valve in Elmira, N.Y., "we know what death and toxic poisoning is in our plant." Two workers have been killed on the job in the last 14 years, the most recent two years ago. His local has had experience with fighting the boss on lead poisoning and other toxics.

"To me this is one of the most important resolutions in front of you," said Dininny. "You have to fight for the safety of everyone in your plant because you never know what could happen to you."

Employer irresponsibility came under condemnation from Nomesia Iria, Local 214. Management’s failure to repair a defective kill switch cost a diligent co-worker the use of his right hand, she said. In another incident this year, the employer’s responded to an accident by issuing a warning to the injured employee, not by fixing the machine. Following union protests, the warning slip was removed, she said.

Workers at GE’s Fort Edward, N.Y. plant have also been outraged by the company issuing a warning to a co-worker whose hand was caught in a machine, reported Web Chapman, Local 332. His local opposes what union members regard as an inadequate safety inspection program. "We believe in safety. The company’s responsible for safety by our contract. They should have systematic safety inspections by qualified people," Chapman said.

Safety inspections at Circuit-Wise in North Haven, Conn. demonstrate the differences between union and management points of view, commented Tina Jendrzewski, Local 299, a member of the plant health and safety committee. "When we go on our shop tours we look for hazardous situations — wet floors, chemical spills, no guards on machines, outlets without covers and hanging wires." The company looks for employees without safety glasses or gloves — and tries to write them up, Jendrzewski said.

Management also favors games and gimmicks like "safety bingo" condemned by the resolution, Jendrzewski pointed out. "Our committee keeps saying, put your money into improving a safe and healthy workplace and to hell with the games!"

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Speakers Say: Understand,
Recognize, Confront Racism


Education in the workplace and the home is crucial to the struggle against racism, said delegates during the discussion of the resolutions "Build Working-Class Unity" and "Fight the Attacks on Immigrants."

"We face many obstacles in our lives, from negotiating contracts to settling grievances to bringing back fired workers," observed Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark. "But sometimes the most difficult one, especially the way the boss tends to divide us on certain issues, comes around the question of race."

In addition to delegates’ comments, a panel discussion explored racism on the shop floor, the economic basis of racism, and the transmission of racist thinking in contemporary politics. The three panelists stressed that racism must be recognized, understood and confronted.

The only way we can accomplish the union’s goals is to recognize that racism exists in the union, on the job, in everyday life, said panelist Shirley Harrison, Local 1135. With those words, the local president confronted the convention with the hard truth that while management is often racist and sexist, co-workers can also be part of the problem.

At the Tulip Corp. in Milwaukee, the highest-paying jobs in the shop — in the tool room and maintenance department — have been held by whites only, Harrison said. Management insisted there were no qualified black candidates — until union prodding persuaded the company to seriously consider applicants. Three people of color were hired, only to be forced out as a result of harassment by co-workers, Harrison said.

"As the president of the local, what could I tell these members about our union not discriminating on the basis of race?" she asked. Delegates responded to Harrison’s emotionally-charged comments with a standing ovation that expressed their support and respect for her remarks.


"Not only do we have to educate management on their use of racism to divide and conquer us, we also have to educate our members whenever and wherever we see it being used," Harrison declared. "Education is the key — the cause of racism is that we’re not being educated."

While the labor movement has an uneven history in its response to racism, it is nevertheless the only place "where it is possible for us to build our solidarity as working people," commented Adolph Reed, political scientist and Labor Party leader. "The only hope for us, for any of us, is to recognize that on all things that really matter, we as working people are the same."

The most powerful weapon against racism, he suggested, is to treat as a practical reality the old labor motto, "An injury to one is an injury to all."

Reed, a University of Illinois professor, demolished the concept of "race," demonstrating that it has no scientific validity. Racial categories were constructed according to the needs of economic and political systems.

As the nation developed, "whiteness" became a basis for privilege, he explained. But immigration confused the notion of what constituted whiteness. Reed noted that in 1925, a Pittsburgh sheet metal manufacturer maintained a list of 38 different racial populations and the work they weresuited for because of their "race." Race is a "mechanism for assigning people to status categories in a social hierarchy," Reed said.

The nature of racism gives white people an opportunity — as well as a responsibility — to discuss racism with other whites, suggested Leonard Zeskind, the third panelist.

An expert on neo-Nazi and racist groups, Zeskind sketched the differences among far-right groups and traced the transmission of racist thinking from extremists through Pat Buchanan into mainstream politics. In particular, Zeskind examined the career of David Duke.


After years of organizing for the Nazis, Duke decided in the mid-Seventies that his message could be better conveyed through the Ku Klux Klan. "He didn’t change his beliefs, he changed his costume," Zeskind said. In the 1980s, Duke changed his white sheet for a three-piece suit and injected himself into the political mainstream. His core beliefs remained unchanged even as Duke won election to the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Republican.

Duke failed in bids for Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator due largely to the opposition of black voters; Zeskind pointed out that Duke received more than 55 percent of the white vote in both the senatorial and gubernatorial races. The speaker stressed that Louisiana’s black voters "couldn’t have defeated David Duke themselves. They needed a significant number of white people to side with them."

Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan serves as a link between the white nationalists and the Republican mainstream, Zeskind suggested; as a Washington insider, Buchanan translates "Duke’s white nationalist rhetoric into the political culture of the Gingrich/Gramm crowd."

Racists are no so strong that they are invincible, Zeskind stressed. Labor’s role is crucial. "There are fights that occur right on your shop floor," he said, where union members can have effective ways of dealing with racism. "It’s not at all a situation in which we’re powerless."

Delegates who went to floor microphones stressed the importance of education.

Ed Havaich, Local 751, expressed his pride in UE’s stand on the issue, and said that in his family, "humor" at the expense of women and people of color is not acceptable. Anna Fisher, Local 1107, affirmed the goal of a color-blind view of humanity. Vinson Walker, Local 1112, added,"You should educate your kids, teach them they can get along with all races."

Lynda Leech, Local 618, commended Shirley Harrison and added: "If we don’t start educating each other, and if we don’t start standing for each other, than we have no right to stand here at all." Ernie Lewis, Local 151, also agreed with Sister Harrison. "It’s not always the bosses," he said. Within the union there are "divisions on race, members who don’t understand what race is all about."

Butch Pridgen, District One, said that in the context of the global economy, "If we do not eradicate racism in our homes, on our jobs, in our country, and take that same message all over the world, then we’re not going to catch up to the bosses." "Unless we come together and unite — and these words are coming from my ten-year-old daughter, who educated me to this fact — we are not going to survive," said Errol Maitland, Local 404. Genl. Pres. John Hovis stressed the importance of taking the discussion back to the shop floor.

David Quintana, Local 777, raised the issue of human rights violations in the case of Puerto Ricans jailed for advocacy of independence for their homeland.

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Stewards, Delegates Urge
Strong Stand Against
Sexual Harassment


When a union member is accused of sexual harassment, UE stewards should not let their duty to represent their co-worker compromise the union’s strong stand on this issue, said two chief stewards speaking during the discussion of the resolution "Fight for Women’s Rights."

Much of that discussion centered on the resolution’s call to "combat this behavior wherever it is found," to educate members "on the nature, forms and consequences of sexual harassment," and to attempt to resolve problems without involving management.

When Borden management disciplined a union member for sexual harassment — which involved a physical assault — in the Prince pasta plant, Nomesia Iria, Local 214, had two reactions. As a chief steward, "I want this man back to work, because everybody needs a job. But as a woman, I want him dead!" She was appalled that the offender received only two weeks’ suspension; "to me and my fellow workers, that sends a message that’s it okay to harass, it’s okay to assault."

Iria firmly told the plant manager that as chief steward she will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace.

Ed Havaich, Local 751, told the convention that as chief steward in General Electric’s Mahoning glass plant, he has been in the difficult position of defending a co-worker charged with sexual harassment. The worker, Havaich said, had no idea that "his continuous touching, his innuendos and his gross and out-of-line jokes" were regarded as offensive and hostile by female co-workers. The chief steward’s advice: "Don’t put your hands on a female. Keep your hands to yourself."

Havaich added, "There are many males in our shops that just don’t get it. We need to re-educate our male populace that this is no longer acceptable behavior and that they are on notice."

"You wouldn’t like it if your spouse was talked to in that way in her workplace," said Robert Morris, Local 1187. Recommending membership education on sexual harassment, the delegate said, "it causes conflict between your membership and it’s hard to resolve."

Butch Pridgen, Local 120, agreed "it is very important that we raise the educational level within our ranks so that we can adequately deal with these kinds of problems, because it creates a problem for us all. Any kind of discrimination, sexual or racial in nature, only serves the purpose to divide us."

"Women of every color have to endure more than just touching, or slurs or remarks or thoughts," said Anna Fisher, Local 1107. Touching, she added, "should never have been acceptable behavior. Never."

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Action Emphasis On
Education, Organizing

Delegates endorsed proposals calling for greater membership responsibility for organizing and expansion of the union’s educational program, including a new emphasis on young workers.

The convention adopted the recommendation of the Policy Action Committee that each district encourage members to attend the upcoming UE Organizing School and initiate organizing campaigns in their areas.

In addition, each local will be asked to commit to at least one educational workshop (with assistance from the national union), distribute copies of Labor’s Untold Story and Them and Us to libraries and schools and renew efforts to ensure that all members are receiving the UE NEWS.

The National union will circulate copies of the UE history video Leading the Fight to all locals, expand and advertise the UE web page, and assist districts and locals in educating the membership on the importance of the Workplace Democracy Act.

Delegates gave unanimous approval to these proposals and to the report of the Publicity and Education Committee, entitled "Education: Key to Trade Union Success."

This resolution calls on UE locals "to organize youth committees, consisting of young workers aged 16 to 25 already in UE shops both to encourage the participation of young workers in the union and to focus the attention of the union on the problems of young workers."

In addition, the Policy Action plan asks each district to identify one UE member 25 years of age or less for participation in the UE National Leadership Institute, which will take place Dec. 5-7.

Speaking in support of these proposals, Mindy Williams, Local 1193, said her local has already created a youth committee. "If we want this union to grow, we need to involve our young people." So-called welfare reform has forced a number of young women into her workplace who have had no work experience or union background, she said.

Barry Rideout, Local 120, agreed. Many of the younger workers in the workforce do not have an understanding or appreciation of the unions’ role or the importance of fighting collectively for their rights. "So that’s a special challenge for me and the leaders of my local."

"If we’re going to survive and grow as a union, we have to continue to strive to educate our members," declared Betsy Potter, Local 618. As more seasoned local, Local 618 has "adopted" newer locals and assisted them with membership education, she said.

UE needs to project a positive image to the community of what unions do, said Patrick Callahan, Local 506.

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UE Builds Labor Party
To Gain Voice for Workers


The discussion around the resolutions "Independent Political Action" and "Build the Labor Party" included delegates’ comments, observations by a national officer, a special report from two locals leading the way in building the Labor Party and an international panel moderated by a former national officer.

"As we started out this path of creating an alternative party for workers, everyone knew that it would be no easy task," Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark told the convention. "But at the same time, we also knew that we needed a way for our people to express themselves politically."

Clark said he is proud of UE’s contributions to the year-old party: most UE districts and a number of locals have endorsed and paid their affiliation fee and more than 400 UE members have joined.

"It’s important to build this party, because if we don’t, our jobs are going to be on the line," said Duane Yaindl, Local 111, whose local has taken the lead in building the 90-member strong Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Labor Party in eastern Pennsylvania.

"There’s no other party where you can actually own a piece of it," Yaindl said. "In the Labor Party you can. All it take, is to fill out an application and put down $20." Considering the number of working hours in a year, the cost is less than a penny an hour. "A penny an hour can save your job; a penny an hour can keep good wages and working conditions."

Brian McKim, Local 212, said that Robert Rombeiro of his local has a simple but highly effective system for recruiting co-workers into the Labor Party: He asks them to join. "What he does is, he goes around the shop floor, individual to individual," McKim explained. If an individual doesn’t have the $20 membership fee, Brother Rombeiro will take a smaller amount and collect until he has the full $20, then the name and money are sent to the Labor Party national office.

Clark and Ed Bruno reminded delegates that the Labor Party’s founding convention postponed a decision on electoral strategy. A committee is currently studying the party’s options, and will issue a report prior to the 1998 convention, Bruno said.


Speakers from Brazil and Canada were asked to discuss their parties’ experiences.

In the United States for the first time, Paolo Cesar Funghi Alberto came to share with UE convention delegates the experiences of Brazil’s Workers’ Party. Funghi is a leader of both the metalworkers’ union and labor federation in the state of Minas Gerais, where he serves on the executive of the Workers’ Party.

A "teenager," having just reached 17 years of age, the Workers’ Party came into existence while Brazil was still under the heel of a military dictatorship, Funghi said. Today the party boasts 50 representatives in the National Assembly, five senators, 89 state legislators, 115 mayors and more than a thousand city councillors.

A great strength of the party is its involvement in struggles as an ally of trade unions and social movements. "Every fight around the country is reflected in the Workers’ Party," Funghi said. Alliances and involvement of this kind is a fundamental principle, he said; another is permanent political education.

Elected officials are reminded of where they came from by a requirement that they contribute a percentage of their salary — ranging from 1 to 30 percent — to the party. Candidates sign a kind of contract of commitment to the principles of the party. But most important to keeping officials accountable to the party is a permanent activism of the rank and file, Funghi said.


Elaine Bernard, currently director of the Harvard University Trade Union Program and formerly a leader of the New Democratic Party in British Columbia, gave a brief account of that party’s history, stressing its roots in the Canadian labor movement.

Before the New Democratic Party, a farm-labor socialist party called the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) scored legislative successes. In 1958 the Canadian Labor Congress decided to hold discussions with the CCF on the launch of a labor party. Grassroots discussions went on for three years involving trade unionists from a number of unions. The result of these talks, Bernard said, was the founding of the New Democratic Party in 1961.

Today the New Democratic Party is an "ongoing progressive coalition, a disciplined organization of working people seeking to contest power, not simply influence other people who are in power," Bernard said.

Questions came from Ron Flowers, Local 506, Sybil Wong, Local 404, Donna Cramer, Local 506, Butch Pridgen, District One, Carl Rosen, District 11; the questions concerned the NDP’s electoral success, how quickly the NDP fielded candidates, maintaining commitment to the party, the disadvantages of a third-party effort on the national level, what level is the best for fielding candidates.

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Welfare Reform Is
Only A 'Back-Door'
Attack on Wages


In a strong labor state like Wisconsin, anti-union legislation like so-called "right to work" would never come out of committee, never mind pass the full legislature, said State Senate President Pro Tem Gwen Moore. But welfare "reform" legislation, passed both houses overwhelmingly — and will be just as an effective tool in reducing workers’ wages.

Moore labeled welfare reform a "back door approach" to right to work. The Milwaukee Democrat cited Federal Reserve economists who predict that the availability of low-wage workers as a result of welfare reform will force wages down by 20 percent.

Just hours before speaking to the UE convention, Moore had led an unsuccessful fight in the State Senate to require payment of the minimum wage to former welfare recipients in community service jobs. "Workers in low-wage jobs should not be forced to compete against ex-welfare recipients receiving less than the minimum wage," she said.

Wisconsin "leads" the nation in welfare reform, but the legislator made it clear that under the circumstances, this is not a point of pride. Wisconsin is the first state to end Aid to Families with Dependent Children completely. "There is no check."


What this means, she said, "is that three quarters of the people who are on welfare, who are children, are totally and completely dependent upon an uncertain labor market for their survival."

The budget now before the state legislature will eliminate medical assistance for poor children; parents will be required to pay premiums starting at 143 percent of the poverty level. If their parents do not pay children from poor children will not have medical assistance. "This is what we are calling ‘progress,’" she said.

Wisconsin is leading the nation in welfare reform as measured by the reduction in case loads; the state has reduced case loads by 50-60 percent over the last decade. But this does not necessarily mean that welfare recipients have found good jobs, Moore pointed out. Instead changed rules and an unfair review procedure have forced women off the rolls. In the process women have been forced to move, become homeless and lost custody of their children.

"A woman who finds herself homeless and in a shelter is regarded as a success story under our welfare program — because she is not on welfare anymore."

The senator acknowledged that many poor white children will suffer as a result of welfare reform, but stressed that it is a "racist initiative" which will strike children and women of color the hardest. Moore called attention to the alarming disparity of jobs and resources between the suburbs and inner-city Milwaukee, where much of Wisconsin’s African-American population is located.

Those women being forced off welfare must be allowed to unionize to gain a decent standard of living, Moore said. "We’ve got to allow them to unionize, to receive the basic benefit package so that we as organized labor can survive."

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Taking A Stand:
Workers Have the Right!


As a former "angry young man" catapulted into political office by years of union militancy, State Rep. G. Spencer Coggs faced a defining moment of conscience as UE sought bargaining rights and a first contract at Steeltech, a Milwaukee fabrication plant. Rep. Coggs is currently serving his eighth term in the Wisconsin legislature, where he represents Milwaukee’s north side.

Holding public office for several years means having "a chance to hobnob with the big boys," Rep. Coggs said. Among the bigwigs Coggs met was the chief executive officer of Steeltech; he donated money to the legislator’s campaigns and encouraged others to do likewise.

And then Steeltech workers began organizing under the UE banner — and bosses responded with a heavy hand. Company conduct was so bad that the NLRB rejected the results of the election, which the union narrowly lost, and scheduled a new poll. UE asked Coggs for his support.

"And I thought for a minute," Rep. Coggs told UE delegates. "Here I have this very powerful and influential friend who doesn’t want the union, and all these workers who do want a union started.

"Now the choice between a friendship and full rights for workers ain’t even a question," Coggs said to a roar of applause. "It’s always got to be full rights for workers and their families."

Coggs, who became a strong supporter of Steeltech workers, recognized the delegation from Local 1127 (the Steeltech union) present in the hall.

Long before he ever had thoughts of public office, Coggs said, he was a city worker who became active in his union. Eventually he served as chief steward and first vice president of his local.

"Unions are for everybody," the legislator said. "When I got elected I never forgot the union."

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Ejecting Big Money
From the Governor's Mansion


Ed Garvey, former executive director of the NFL Players Association and a labor consultant, told delegates that he is a candidate for governor of Wisconsin "to take on those powers there now that are telling us we’ve got a lot of poor people down here who are causing the problem."

Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson says Wisconsin has eliminated poverty, but that’s not true, Garvey objected. "We may have forced some people off the rolls but we haven’t done anything to help those young children who are now at risk."

Noting that Gov. Thompson has been in state government since 1967, Garvey said he hopes to reintroduce Thompson to the private sector and "give him a chance to work at the minimum wage to see how he likes it, without health care and the advantages he has with office."

He ridiculed the governor’s claim that he couldn’t remember having taken a $14,000 vacation trip to Australia paid for by the Phillip Morris tobacco company — but later called Phillip Morris for advice on whether or not Wisconsin should bring a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

"I’m running for governor so we can once again say to the people of Wisconsin, this is your state government, not the government of the rich and powerful," Garvey declared.

"We’re going out there to tell people we’re going to save the environment and we’re going to work with the UE and those who care about social and economic justice."

At the inauguration in January 1999, "all of you are going to be there," in the governor’s mansion, and the lobbyists will be outside, "scratching their heads, saying, ‘how the hell did they get in there?’ Well, they got in there because we decided people power is more important than the cash constituents who have been running state government too long," Garvey said to delegate applause.

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It's Class War!
Radio Talk Show Host Declares


"We’re in the middle of a class war," declared political commentator and humorist Jim Hightower. "Let’s call it what it is."

Hightower, whose "Chat and Chew" talk show is heard nationwide on the United Broadcast Network, complained that he is accused by establishment pundits of trying to "foment class war" whenever he protests the decline in workers’ living standards.

"Too late for that. There’s already a class war going on — been going on for 20 or 30 years."

As an example of class warfare the talk show host and author offered the balanced budget amendment, which balances the budget on the backs of working people. He said the budget deal cuts job training, education, Medicare and Medicaid but not corporate welfare, and increases tax loopholes for the privileged and expands the already bloated Pentagon budget.

Another example, he said, is "Washington cynically dumping a million welfare recipients into the street," without creating jobs, knowing that this will knock down the wages of those already employed.


"You want class war? How about the fact that tens of thousands of working people are fired every year for the crime of trying to organize a union?" Hightower said.

Thanks to unions like UE, we’re beginning to fight back, Hightower said.

Elected to public office in Texas five times as a Democrat, Hightower says that nowadays he doesn’t recognize his party. What he finds in Washington, D.C. is a party that’s "Republican lite."

Today’s Democratic Party shares the blame for NAFTA and GATT and promotes NAFTA 2, which Hightower says will force workers to compete against "15 cents-an-hour labor in Indonesia, nickel-an-hour labor in Vietnam, slave labor and child labor in China."

Hightower encouraged the UE local leaders to organize around the nation’s basic values. "What we’re fighting for, all across this country, is what America stands for," he said "We’re fighting for the founding values of this country." He identified as basic American values "economic fairness, social justice, opportunity for all people."

Unfortunately, Hightower said, neither major political party is "even talking about these values, much less trying to implement them."

The author encouraged delegates to take this message to the people, to forge coalitions, go on the radio, even create their own radio shows. "Trust yourself. Trust what you believe in. Trust what you want for your family, because that’s what everyone wants for their family."

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Confront Union


Although positive change is underway in the AFL-CIO, the labor movement faces continued decline unless the new leadership tackles the problems of corruption and lack of internal democracy argued union reformer Lewie Anderson in his remarks.

Anderson used the example of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), the AFL-CIO’s largest affiliate, to demonstrate the vital link between union democracy and clean and effective unionism. A former UFCW with decades of experience in the packinghouse industry, Anderson was a founding member of Research-Education-Advocacy-People (REAP), an organization working for reform within the UFCW.

The former packinghouse worker detailed for delegates numerous cases of high-level corruption within the UFCW, including illegal conduct, unethical practices, and grossly high salaries. he contrasted the six-figure salaries of UFCW officials with the low wages of the part time workers who comprise 70% of the union's retail industry membership.

On the local level, numerous officers follow the bad example of the top officialdom. "And we have far too many cases of embezzlement, election fraud, rape, discrimination and political firings taking place on the local level," Anderson charged.

Corruption is possible because the UFCW constitution concentrates power in the hands of the president; this top-down structure is mirrored on the local level.

Corrupt practices and the lack of democracy impact on bargaining, Anderson said. A study by REAP on retail industry bargaining from 1984-1994 found the average UFCW wage increase was just 8 percent, compared to 42.2 percent for all unions, and an increase in inflation of 45.9 percent.

Going into the 1979 merger which created the UFCW, packinghouse workers were among the highest paid industrial workers in the U.S. Today they are among the lowest paid.

"UFCW may be among the worst in the AFL-CIO, but the fact of the matter is there are far too many unions today that follow this pattern and concentrate power into the hands of a few," Anderson declared. "And as long as we have unions in the AFL-CIO doing these things, we’re going to continue to have the working class in this country virtually being sold out, and the corporate exploiters using those inside our ranks to drive wages and benefits down."

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Labor Movement
Must Organize
For the Future


The president, Henry Nicholas, of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Workers, proposed that "as trade unionists we must go beyond our individual organizational concerns and play a leadership role in redirecting and reshaping the future of America’s workers." Unions no longer have the luxury of ducking issues, avoiding responsibility or worshiping "at the altar of the status quo."

Labor and the left would have denounced President Bush for signing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 when remained silent because President Clinton was "our guy," Nicholas said. The union leader described the legislation as "an official government disconnect from poor people in this country" and a "frontal attack against organized labor."

Clinton, he said, "was ‘our guy’ when he signed NAFTA. He was ‘our guy’ when he signed GATT. And he will be ‘our guy,’ if we let him get away with it, when he signs the fast-track legislation. So we must change our political agenda," Nicholas said. "The only way to change the political agenda is to organize so that we can elect labor representatives that will speak for the working people in this country."

Wall Street is prospering, schools are crumbling; vouchers threaten to destroy public schools; and 10 million more Americans have lost insurance. "What side are we on?" Nicholas asked. "We are for a new America, with schooling, health care and jobs for everyone."

The labor leader stressed that union members must be involved in "the debate about tomorrow." He told delegates: "The time has come for us to not only talk union, but to walk union. And when our brothers and sisters are in battle, we must see that as our battle. Every strike must be my strike, your strike. UPS gave the working people of this country something to celebrate, but we can’t let it end there." To cheers and applause, Nicholas declared, "We must create UPS victories over and over and over again."

The pioneering black trade unionist A. Philip Randolph said that "at the banquet table of justice, there are no reserved seats;" Nicholas implored delegates to "organize, organize and reserve our own seats at the table!"

UE News - 10/97

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