Through these initial struggles workers begin to unify, establish ties of solidarity, distinguish between friend and foe, become disciplined and learn lessons on how to advance, Fiske said. They are part of and affected by the broader struggles of our class around the world. And their dynamic forward is part of the working-class march to power.
Bosses aim to demoralize workers
Fiske noted that many recent labor battles are against company lockouts. These include 228 workers who were locked out for 14 months by Honeywell in Metropolis, Ill., and 240 for 10 months by Roquette America in Keokuk, Iowa. In both hard-fought struggles, workers pushed back the bosses assault and strengthened their unions in the process.
Today, 70 building workers remain locked out at Flatbush Gardens apartments in New York City since November 2010; 40 by Emerald Performance outside Henry, Ill., since March; 260 by Armstrong Industries in Lancaster, Pa., since July; and 1,300 by American Crystal Sugar at seven locations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa since August 1. We can also include the fight by members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 in Longview, Washington, Fiske said. Its not technically a lockout, only because the ILWU workers who have an agreement with the Port of Longview were never allowed to start work.
Fiske noted the bosses onerous demands that led to these lockouts: big cuts in wages, pensions, medical benefits and vacation pay, along with union-busting attacks on seniority and plans to contract out work. Pushed against the wall, these workers have shown great capacity to resist, Fiske said. These were severe demands that workers knew they had to refuse. If they had agreed, the unionin other words, the workerswould have become demoralized and ineffective as a fighting force.
That is precisely the purpose of a lockout, Fiske emphasized, to catch the workers unawares; to demoralize and crush them. The bosses and their government are trying to break the ILWU, one of the stronger unions on the West Coast, he said.
The bosses prepare for lockouts. Scabs are lined up and trained. Extra security forces are hired. The company amasses a war chest in anticipation of these costs and lost production.
At American Crystal Sugar, the company provocatively demanded deep concessions at the last-minute during negotiations. This was immediately followed by a media offensive portraying the workers as greedy and spoiled when the company offer was rejected. As in other lockouts, the bosses organized support of the government, their cops and their courts ahead of time. The North Dakota state government has denied unemployment compensation to the workers at the two American Crystal plants in that state.
The sugar workers in the Red River Valley of the Upper Midwest have organized round-the-clock picketing and regular demonstrations, winning solidarity and contributions from workers throughout the region and beyond. Locked-out workers and their supporters have written quite a few effective letters that have been published in local newspapers.
The challenge in a lockout is to affect production, to turn it into an effective strike, and force the company to bring workers back. Along these lines, the sugar workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union are dealing with a number of tactical questions. Among them: how to win support in the community and from other unions, how to effectively confront scabs, how to approach the fight for unemployment compensation in North Dakota, how to win some of the smaller sugar beet farmers to support them in the face of pressure from the large growers.
Workers engaged in intense labor battles are also soon confronted with broader political questions. These include the role of the police, who invariably come up with ways to defend the company. In Drayton, N. D., where the plant is a substantial distance from the town of some 800 people, the cops dredged up a sound ordinance to prevent workers from using a bullhorn or chanting on the picket lines, Fiske said.
Center of class struggle in U.S.
Fiske was in the Red River Valley the previous week. In talking with two sugar workers, they asked him, Who are you? What is the Militant?
Marxists have no special trade-union tactics or strategy, Fiske said. These things can only be worked out by those directly involved day-to-day. But with intensifying class struggle comes a greater need for communist politics. What we bring are the indispensable lessons and history of past struggles of our class as we participate in these current struggles.
These labor struggles are at the center of politics in the United States today, Fiske said. What working people can accomplish at any one time is limited by the level of class struggle nationally and internationally. But we can push back the bosses effort to crush our unions and morale. The most important gauge of whether a fight is successful is if workers come out stronger, more battle tested and organized for the next fight.
Fiske quoted from the Communist Manifesto. Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers.
We prepare for the intensification of the class struggle and anticipate more attempts to crush us, Fiske said. We seek to understand and discuss with other workers the dynamics of the broader class struggle worldwide. We act within the limits of the possibilities of the struggles today. And we respond to opportunities to strengthen the Socialist Workers Party in the coming period.
Midwest sugar workers: Were not backing down
Donations raise spirits of locked-out unionists
On the Picket Line
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