The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 23           July 7, 2003  
Socialists part of
increased labor resistance
Socialist workers in U.S.
industrial unions meet, assess
work in unfolding class struggle
NEW YORK—“We function as communist workers in our unions today as they are, as they’re becoming, and with an eye toward the future transformation of them into revolutionary instruments of the class struggle,” said Joel Britton at a meeting at Hunter College here June 8. He was giving his opening political report to a national meeting of members of the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists who work in red meat slaughter and processing plants across the United States. Participants in the gathering work in plants organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) or in nonunion factories. Britton organizes the national steering committee of this industrial union fraction of the communist movement in the United States.

Britton discussed the ways workers seek to collectively confront the competition imposed upon them by the “one against all” divisions that are the bedrock of capitalism. “Communist workers continually look for ways to tap into the fighting sentiment of our co-workers,” stated Britton. “We function together with other vanguard fighters, and help to lead workers getting together to discuss out what can be done and participate with workers in fighting together.”

A packinghouse worker from Los Angeles described the increased line speeds, bathroom break restrictions, and indiscriminate firings that are fueling the sentiment of workers to organize themselves to revive the union at the Farmer John plant where she works. “When a longtime worker was fired, hundreds of workers gathered in the parking lot to demand his reinstatement,” she said. “Later, a union meeting drew 300 who were looking for ways to rebuild the union, which had been severely weakened over the years. A significant number of workers now have joined the union.”

Janice Lynn, a meat packer at the Smithfield plant in the Washington, D.C., area, reported, “We were able to be part of discussions around the need to fight together, to not fall prey to the tactics the company uses to pit U.S.-born workers against immigrants.” Workers in this packinghouse recently petitioned their union officials for a meeting prior to their contract vote. “Right away we sought to become part of this effort with other workers. A meeting took place and workers initially rejected the contract offer. This caught the bosses by surprise. But workers were divided on whether to strike.” The socialists in the plant joined in the sometimes heated discussions about how to advance unity in the workforce in order to better resist the company in the weeks leading up to the second contract vote. Several vanguard workers who went through this fight were among those most interested in reading and buying subscriptions to the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial.

“As resistance among workers begins to advance, a broad vanguard of workers begins to appear,” stated Britton in his report. “Socialists function as part of the broader vanguard, which continually forms and reforms. It plays an indispensable role in the fight, in helping to mobilize the maximum number of workers, the maximum strength of the union, against the company.

“In these struggles, socialists also seek to bring forward the entire union—workers and officials. Some officials will be attracted to the resistance of the workers and will make important contributions to the struggle.”

Britton pointed to the example of the role played by officials of UFCW Local 789 in South St. Paul, Minnesota, in the union organizing drive at Dakota Premium Foods and in the fight to stop the deportation of Róger Calero. Bill Pearson, the now-retired president of the local, serves as a national co-chair of the Calero defense committee. In addition to hosting a January fund-raiser at the Local 789 union hall, he spoke at events in Omaha and Des Moines in March, helping to win new supporters to the case. He and other officers of the local helped to raise thousands of dollars in support of the Calero fight from unions in the Minnesota labor movement.

“Sales of the Militant, Perspectiva Mundial, and Pathfinder books to co-workers is a crucial part of the perspective of the revolutionary transformation of the unions,” stated Britton. The stepped-up resistance pointed to during the meeting was reflected in the successful completion of the spring sales drive. Fraction members surpassed both their Militant and Perspectiva Mundial goals, selling a total of 146 subscriptions to meat packers.

Participants discussed ways to further solidarity with the Tyson strikers, including continuing to work through their union structures to build support for the June 22 solidarity rally in Jefferson, Wisconsin. (see front page article)

The recent victory in the Calero antideportation fight opens up opportunities to deepen participation in the fight for immigrant rights. In the past six months, thousands, including many meat packers, actively embraced this struggle as their own. Róger Calero, who attended the meeting, said, “We will take the response of our co-workers, ‘We won!,’ and place this victory in the hands of all who are looking to fight back.”

Lisa Rottach is a meat packer and member of UFCW Local 271 in Omaha, Nebraska; Tom Fiske is a meat packer in St. Paul, Minnesota.


NEW YORK—“We found a lot of openness, even where there is not agreement, to what we have to say about the war. We have found a lot of questioning among miners about the course of the U.S. government at home and abroad,” said Alice Kincaid, an underground miner in Utah, in her opening report at the national meeting of socialist coal miners in New York on June 7-8. The meeting included socialists working in mines organized by the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) and some working in nonunion mines.

The SWP and Young Socialist members explained that the war drive abroad is an extension of employers’ assaults on miners and other working people in the United States, said Kincaid. As they stepped up this socialist propaganda work, they also joined with their co-workers and fellow union fighters in discussions and actions to defend the union and fight for safety on the job.

The coal miners had attended hearings and protest demonstrations around the country to oppose government efforts to relax coal mine dust regulations and to further erode health and safety protections (see also page 5).

Socialist miners’ victory in the international subscription drive, in which 17 miners bought subscriptions to the Militant and nine to Perspectiva Mundial, ranked as one of their main accomplishments since their last meeting in March, Kincaid said. Co-workers on the job bought the bulk of these subscriptions.

Sales of the Spanish-language monthly registered the growing number of immigrants from Latin America working in the mines, said Jason Alessio from Colorado. In the previous drive, he said, the socialist miners had not even taken a Perspectiva Mundial goal.

Many subscriptions were sold by teams that visited the coalfields in Arizona and New Mexico. Jason Alessio and Francisco Picado, who work at the UMWA-organized Deserado mine in Rangely, Colorado, joined one team. They met with two subscribers from the McKinley mine in New Mexico, near Window Rock, Arizona, who both renewed their subscriptions. One showed the socialists a scrapbook he had assembled on the strikes and struggles of the UMWA local, including copies of Militant articles on these fights.

One of the reasons to go on such trips, said Paul Mailhot, was to get the stories of different developments and struggles into the pages of the Militant. The paper needs more contributions by worker-correspondents in the industrial unions, he said.

The miners discussed the impact on workers and their communities of increased competition among the capitalist mine owners. Some large mining operations are closing with devastating consequences. In Utah, Skyline, a company owned by Arch, the number two coal producer in the United States, is closing, citing the low prices it is receiving for its coal. The mine still contains substantial reserves.

Unemployment rates in many coalfield areas range from 10 percent in Emery County, Utah, to almost 11 percent in Mingo County, West Virgina, where Marrowbone, a union mine, recently halted production.

At the same time other mines are hiring. Operators use the fact that there are surplus miners to intensify labor, drive down wages, and cut corners on safety.

The socialists also discussed the problems faced in mining communities as a result of the bosses’ disregard for the environmental impact of their operations.

In Pennsylvania alone there are 1,700 abandoned mines and 45 uncontrolled mine fires, said Kincaid. Some have been burning for decades. Abandoned coal mines are the leading source of water pollution in Pennsylvania. Kincaid reported growing opposition to plans to restart uranium mining on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, using a method of mining that would deplete the fragile aquifers in that arid region and pollute runoff with radioactive materials.

“The people most affected by these problems are the miners themselves,” said Betsy Farley, an anthracite miner in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Farley pointed to the wide resistance to the dumping of fly ash, the mineral and clay byproduct of burning coal in power plants.

The socialists discussed the importance of taking advantage of increasing opportunities to do work in defense of the Cuban Revolution among miners—especially on the Navajo Nation. They discussed plans for organizing a public meeting for Cuban students in Window Rock, Arizona.


NEW YORK—Resistance to employer attacks is growing among garment and textile workers and increasingly finding expression through the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). This means greater opportunities to participate in the resistance to the employers’ offensive today, part of preparing now for the bigger battles coming which will advance the revolutionary transformation of the unions and create openings for recruitment to the communist movement.

These were conclusions drawn by communists working in the industry at a June 8 meeting that included UNITE members from the SWP and Young Socialists.

Lisa Potash, the organizer of the steering committee of the SWP’s national UNITE union fraction and a sewing machine operator in Chicago, kicked off the discussion. Potash opened her remarks by pointing to the progress socialist garment and textile workers had registered in making their circulation drive goals for the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial—a result of attention to political work with co-workers and fellow UNITE members. It built on the advances by socialist workers in conquering sewing skills necessary to situate themselves on the job to confidently engage in politics with co-workers in the garment industry.

She pointed to ferment among garment and textile workers in places like Chicago, south Florida, and North Carolina. This reflects a widespread desire on the part of workers in these industries to reach out for political answers to the capitalist crisis and to resist attacks by the employers through the organized labor movement.

One example is the ongoing struggle at Point Blank Body Armor in Oakland Park, Florida. The company manufactures bullet-proof vests. It was the scene of a six-month strike that ended in victory in February when a judge ordered the company to rehire 175 fired union supporters. Strike leaders were both Haitian and Latino, including some young Cubans who recently left Cuba. Point Blank opened a second plant in Deerfield Beach, Florida, where it transferred the workers it hired to try to break the strike. Although the bosses intend to keep the union out, some workers in the new plant are already signing UNITE cards. Participants in the meeting described how Point Blank workers have been introduced to the Pathfinder Bookstore in Miami and to the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial. They are finding these to be valuable tools as they discuss questions of union strategy, the fight for Haitian rights, the Cuban Revolution, and other political questions.

Meanwhile, another fight is brewing at Hollander Home Fashions in Chicago, where the UNITE contract is due to expire June 30. The very low pay for many and the fact that the company doesn’t provide family health insurance are key issues. Workers are trying to figure out how to use the union to win a better contract. Chessie Molano, a sewing machine operator at the plant, said, “Workers feel we are the union.” Some have asked her to bring in copies of Militant articles on the 2001 strike at Hollander in California. The victory of Róger Calero against deportation proceedings has also been closely watched. “I want to know how he did it,” a co-worker told Molano.

In Kannapolis, North Carolina, thousands of UNITE members at Pillowtex are discussing what to do in face of the company’s announcement that it is going to sell its mills or “restructure,” a code word for layoffs, speed-up, and wage cuts. After a 25-year fight, Pillowtex workers won UNITE union representation just four years ago, an important victory for textile workers and for all working people in the southeast United States. Socialists in the mill have participated in the discussion, explaining that what workers face is the worldwide capitalist crisis. “There is no ‘Pillowtex solution,’ no ‘American solution,’” said Seth Galinsky, who works at the mill. The fight for a sliding scale of wages and hours, to raise the minimum wage, and back affirmative action are key ideas socialists put forward, along with defending concrete gains won by the union.”

Barry Fatland, a sewing machine operator from the Twin Cities and former Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Senate, described the impact of the imperialist war against Iraq on his co-workers, some of whom are from the Mideast. He said there were no yellow ribbons or flags in his plant in support of the war but some of his co-workers were demoralized by Washington’s quick takeover of Iraq. In this situation, socialist workers respond by agreeing with fellow workers that the U.S. military victory was a blow to working people. At the same time, they point to the next steps in this country and around the world to fight the system of imperialist domination. Fatland reported on the impact of these discussions on the job.

Lea Sherman, a garment worker from Washington, D.C., said that there were quite a few T-shirts with American flags and yellow ribbons in her plant. She went on to describe a UNITE organizing drive at the Linens of the Week industrial laundry, taking place only a few blocks from the Pathfinder Bookstore in that city. UNITE has also launched a nationwide organizing drive at CINTAS, the largest industrial laundry company in North America.

Willie Cotton noted the impact of plant-gate sales of the socialist press at Pillowtex. “Consistency is very important,” he said. Because the socialists have sold regularly outside the plant, “sales increased when the crisis arose,” said Cotton. In just one day, socialists sold 14 copies of the June 2 Militant with an article on the planned sale of the mills and a related editorial at the plant gate.

Cotton also noted that visits with literature to co-workers’ homes have been an effective way to continue discussion. Workers from several other parts of the country reported similar experiences.  
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