BY HARVEY McARTHUR
CICERO, Illinois - Strikers at Lenc-Smith here were dealt a blow January 15 when they were locked out by the company. The attack came after officials of their union, the International Union of Electronic Workers (IUE), offered the company an unconditional return to work. This came one month after strikers overwhelmingly voted down the company's latest demands for pay cuts.
Workers are still picketing, and have begun to discuss how to continue the struggle. "We're going to stick together," said striker Willie Walton. "We've got to."
Lenc-Smith workers walked out July 1, 1998, after the company demanded pay cuts of up to $2 per hour. This would have left many of the workers, who produce cabinets for video games, earning only $6.25 per hour. The strikers include Mexican, Black, and Polish workers, many of them women.
Strikers have maintained daily picket lines at the plant, trying to discourage applicants seeking work as strikebreakers. They organized a contingent to participate in the October 12 immigrants rights march in Chicago, and held a three-day hunger strike in November that drew national and international coverage on Spanish-language television.
Lenc-Smith hired strike breakers and used temporary labor agencies to try to keep production going during the strike. The bosses hired Cicero cops as company guards, who arrested strikers on trumped-up charges of harassing strikebreakers and resisting arrest on several occasions.
On December 19 IUE officials presented another contract proposal, which strikers voted down 72 to 9 as it still contained the big wage cuts the company had demanded. "The union representatives first said the pay cut was only going to be 25 cents an hour," said striker Reyes Flores. "But we asked more questions and finally found out that the 25-cent cut was on top of the cuts the company wanted in July. There's no way we could have accepted this."
On January 13 union officials organized another meeting and, according to strikers, told the workers they had to end the strike. The officials said workers could not vote on ending the walkout, which angered many strikers. One circulated a petition before the meeting, demanding the right to vote on what to do. Strikers leaving the meeting said IUE officials told them the company agreed to take them back under the old wages while negotiations continued. Many workers said they were prepared to return to work on this basis. "It's good. It's all been worked out," was a typical comment.
Others were suspicious of the agreement, noting that they had seen nothing in writing. "I don't buy it," said Lupe Sertuche, a seven-year veteran of the plant. "They just tried to brainwash us in there. We should keep on picketing until we get an agreement."
Some strikers continued to picket the plant for the next two days, waiting for word on when they would return to work.
Having heard nothing from the company or union officials, some 25 strikers met at the plant January 18 and organized a car caravan to the IUE office looking for answers. Union officials then told them Lenc-Smith bosses had declared a lockout.
The discussion among many workers has now turned to how to continue fighting Lenc-Smith and reach out to other workers for broader support.
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