BY RAY PARSONS
DES MOINES, Iowa - Some 400 strikers and other unionists joined a noontime march and rally November 5 in support of the two United Steelworkers of America (USWA) locals on strike against Titan Tire. That evening strike supporters at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames hosted a meeting for the Titan workers to explain their fight.
The 670 members of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines hit the bricks May 1 in a fight against forced overtime and two-tier wages and for the restoration of pension and health-care benefits for retirees. In September 500 members of USWA Local 303L in Natchez, Mississippi, joined the walkout when Titan demanded concessions from the union following its purchase of bankrupt Fidelity Tire Manufacturing Co.
The action began at Local 164 headquarters. The workers marched to the Titan plant chanting, "What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!"
The march passed by the strikers' sturdy new picket shacks. An on-duty picket waved a letter he and many other strikers received that day from Titan owner Maurice Taylor, Jr. "It's all lies! He's a liar!" the striker called out. In the letter, Taylor repeats his charges that the unionists are victims of manipulation by their union, and tries to downplay the impact of the strike.
Workers from nearly 20 unions were represented at the rally, including 25 members of USWA Local 310, who work at Bridgestone/Firestone Agricultural Tire in Des Moines. Members of International Association of Machinists Local 2048 from Titan's wheel plant in Walcott, Iowa, were there. Other unionists included United Auto Workers members from John Deere, public service workers, meatpackers, telephone, and construction workers.
The rally was timed to send a message to Titan as contract talks between the company and union were set to resume. Recently, hundreds of strikers signed solidarity pledges that affirm, "We, the members of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines, Iowa, and USWA Local 303L in Natchez, Mississippi, stand in Solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and with our International Union in pursuit of dignity and fairness for all Titan workers." The poster-size petitions will be taken to the contract talks as a reminder for Titan negotiators. The company has opposed union efforts to link the two struggles.
Talks between Local 303L and the company resumed November 6 in Natchez, but ended after a short time. Union negotiators said that the offer presented by Titan was "a major step backward." The two sides agreed to meet again November 20.
In Des Moines, union and company negotiators met November 9 but the talks broke off after an hour because Titan insisted that union members would only be allowed to fill jobs not currently held by replacements.
The strikes at Titan Tire are an example of increasing working-class resistance in the United States and around the world. The employers have been unable to convince working people to accept their demands for greater sacrifice. Capitalist politicians seek to distance themselves, for now, from proposals to slash social gains, and pose as friends of labor.
This was reflected in the November 3 elections in Iowa. In an upset over the Republican Party, the Democratic Party candidate, Thomas Vilsack, was elected governor. It was the first time a Democrat won the seat in 32 years. Vilsack spoke to the Titan workers' rally. The capitalist daily the Des Moines Register reported that current Governor Terry Branstad, who did not stand for reelection, said that Vilsack "should not get involved in labor disputes, taking sides."
Tom King, a member of the Local 164 executive board, spoke before a meeting of college students at ISU in Ames November 5. The event was sponsored by several student groups and by professor Mack Shelley. Some 18 people were part of a lively discussion on the issues of the strike and the union's efforts to win support. ISU student Nicholas D'Amico, 19, helped to organize the campus meeting after visiting the Titan picket lines in October. "I thought it was important to let students hear what the strike is about and let the strikers tell their story," he said. A student reporter for the ISU Daily said she was pleasantly surprised to see the program taking place, and wanted to provide ongoing coverage of the strike.
Tom King closed his remarks saying, "For the rest of your life, when you see a picketer, go talk to them and show your support. You'll make their day and make yourself feel good - for standing up for what's right."
Ray Parsons is a member of United Steelworkers of America Local 310.
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