BY JANICE LYNN
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - On the 46th day of their strike, some 400 members and supporters of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 850 rallied in front of the Continental General Tire factory here November 5, vowing to remain united "one more day." Striker Rose Sanders declared, "I am so proud of my brothers and sisters for sticking together in solidarity."
Some 1,500 workers walked out at the tire plant over unfair labor practices, wages and pensions that are below industry standards, unfair downtime and incentive practices, outside contracting of union work, and the company's demand for concessions in work schedules, mandatory overtime, health insurance, and seniority. Strikers see this as a fight for dignity and respect.
"Three years ago in '95 we took a concession contract," Local 850 vice president Larry Murray told the Militant. "Now they are making money and all they are offering us is 35 cents over three years."
A letter from USWA Local 850 to Charlotte area friends and neighbors explains, "For nearly 20 years our members have been asked to make massive wage, benefit, and work rule sacrifices in order to save our plant. Again and again, we have agreed to concessions.... Despite all this, the Company not only refused to provide a wage and benefit package comparable to those of its competitors, but it is again demanding a broad array of concessions."
The rally was addressed by District 9 director Homer Wilson and USWA executive vice president John Sellers. "This strike is about the right of workers to have parity with the rest of the tire industry," Sellers said. He announced that charges were being filed that day with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices. The company has refused to provide information necessary for negotiations. He called on the company to get back to the bargaining table.
More than a dozen workers came from USWA Local 959 at the Goodyear plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Formerly owned by Kelly-Springfield, it is reportedly the largest tire plant in the world. USWA members there waged a successful strike last year. "We're right behind you," declared the local president, Gideon Massey, as he presented a check for $1,000.
Dennis Robinson from the Continental General Tire plant in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where workers are trying to organize a union, presented a check for $2,125 from gate collections there. "We will be union by the first of the year," Robinson declared to big applause. "We're behind you and ready to go union."
Other support and donations came from workers at Continental General Tire plants in Mayfield, Kentucky, and Bryan, Ohio, and from the Bridgestone-Firestone local in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Rally participants wore T-shirts that said, "We support Local 850. It's our fight, too." This summed up the workers' unity, determination, and confidence.
A number of truck and bus drivers honked in support as they passed the rally, eliciting cheers from the strikers. The Charlotte cops were also there in force to ensure that scab trucks continued to enter and exit the plant.
"The company just wanted to keep taking," tire builder Michael Fisher told the Militant, "and the profits they're making are on the backs of the workers. They send out literature saying we're among the top-paid workers in the country, but they don't explain the kind of work we have to do."
Many workers described the conditions inside the plant where temperatures often soar to over 100 degrees during the 12-hour shifts, their work with hazardous chemicals, and the heavy weights they must lift. Others told how the company had begun fortifying the plant, even before the strike began September 20. Continental General built a fence, installed floodlights, hired Vance security guards who videotape the strikers, and has police cars on the street.
Several strikers who had been through a number of strikes against the company said this was the first time that this "army of paramilitary guards" as well as replacement workers were brought in. The last strike, in 1989, lasted four months.
Replacement workers and salaried employees are trying to keep some production going. The plant normally produces 33,000 tires a day. According to striker Pierre Monroe, the company claims they are producing 6,000 tires a day. But some trucks seen leaving the plant are actually coming out empty, some of the strikers said.
"I'm impressed with how we've stuck together," Local 850 vice president Murray said. "Black, white, women and men - we're all together."
Janice Lynn is a member of International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 1759. Brian Williams, a member of USWA Local 2609 contributed to this article.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home