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On the picket line

October 12, 2001 | Page 15

National Writers Union
Teamsters elections

U.S. Navy out of Vieques!

By Héctor Reyes

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico--On October 4, workers of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques held a three-hour general strike to demand that the U.S. Navy stop bombing their land.

They demanded that the Navy stop its current round of military exercises and that the mayor, Dámaso Serrano, be freed. Serrano is one of two people who remain in jail after entering the Navy's bombing range during the last round of civil disobedience protests.

The strike action was fully supported by unions representing workers at the publicly owned water and energy authorities, where offices were paralyzed. Many other state government offices followed suit, as did the municipal government employees. There were no classes at any of Vieques' public schools.

About 200 people, headed by the mayor's wife, marched to the gates of the Navy's main facilities at Camp García. This is an important action because, after the September 11 air attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the movement to get the Navy out of Vieques lost momentum.

The main groups leading the struggle declared a moratorium on civil disobedience, fearing for the safety of the protesters given the extreme level of alert imposed by the military on all its installations.

However, the October 4 strike clearly signaled that the struggle is not over. The action has served to reignite the movement. The pro-independence Congreso Nacional Hostosiano has scheduled a series of events this month.

The Navy wants to use the air attacks and Bush's war drive to renege on their declared intentions to leave Vieques by 2003.

While Bush prepares for war, supposedly in the name of justice, justice is precisely what the people of Vieques have been denied during 60 years of abuse, expropriation, disease and violence at the hands of the U.S. Navy.

U.S. Navy out of Vieques now!

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National Writers Union

By Lee Sustar, NWU member

THE NATIONAL Writers Union (NWU)/UAW Local 1981 is facing the hardest-fought election contest in its history. Challenger Steve Simurda--backed by many longtime leading union members--is trying to unseat NWU President Jonathan Tasini, who has held the position for more than a decade.

Simurda, a veteran freelance writer and teacher, argues that change is needed because Tasini has stifled the development of broader union leadership and has neglected the financial management of the NWU, which led to a $300,000 bookkeeping error in the union's funds.

The fact that Tasini has alienated longtime allies is significant, and the bookkeeping error--while corrected--is a warning sign.

Nevertheless, the NWU has clearly benefited from Tasini's leadership. He was the driving force in this year's victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit against the New York Times that made it illegal for publishers to resell freelance writers' work electronically without permission. Union membership has increased 50 percent to 7,200, and Tasini has worked to build the NWU's relationship with the UAW and the labor movement.

By contrast, Simurda represents the wing of the NWU that argues that writers should act as "professionals." On his Web site, he states that the union's job is "to educate writers, the publishing industry and the public" about why writers should control their work.

This is a major retreat from the goals of the NWU, which formed because writers recognized that they have opposing interests from publishers. Moreover, Simurda cannot be considered a serious candidate when he "campaigns" by sending postcards from his teaching position in Slovenia.

NWU members should vote for Tasini and his NWU Democracy slate to keep the union moving forward.

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Teamsters elections

By Joe Allen, steward, IBT Local 705

WASHINGTON--On October 9, ballots will be sent out to the nearly 1.4 million members of the Teamsters to decide who will lead the union for the next five years. Tom Leedham's Rank and File Power slate is challenging the incumbent General President James P. Hoffa. The ballots will be counted over the next month, and a winner will be announced on November 15.

Leedham is supported by progressive activists in the Teamsters, including reformers in Teamsters for a Democratic Union.

Hoffa represents the most corrupt, backward forces in the union. He is supported overwhelmingly by Teamsters officers, including former supporters of the reform movement.

Despite lopsided support for Hoffa by Teamsters officials and a large campaign war chest, the Leedham camp is optimistic.

Nearly 200 enthusiastic rank-and-file Teamsters from various locals and industries turned out at a Leedham fundraiser on September 30 in Chicago--the largest gathering of reform activists in Chicago in many years.

The disastrous strike against Overnite trucking is the most glaring example of the failure of Hoffa's leadership, along with a series of mediocre contracts.

These, combined with instances of high-level corruption by Hoffa's top aides and his growing alliance with the Republican Party, have alienated many former rank-and-file supporters.

Leedham still has an uphill battle to win the election. Hoffa may be deflated, but he is still a formidable force.

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By Brian Belknap

SAN FRANCISCO--Some 28,000 grocery workers at Safeway and Albertson's are set to strike across Northern California on October 8. Workers are represented by eight different locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

About 70 percent of the workers are part-time, and the union is fighting to make it 50-50. They also want the weekly minimum number of hours increased to 24 from 20 and raises of between 75 cents and $1.50 per hour each year, with a three-year contract.

Safeway wants to suspend contributions to the pension fund for three years. Safeway has harassed employees and forced them to watch anti-union videos in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Safeway has further inflamed the situation by suing the union over bogus claims of irregularities in the strike vote.

Safeway is in for a fight. Teamsters Joint Council President Chuck Mack has already pledged his union's solidarity. They will not cross picket lines.

During Safeway workers' strike in 1995, Teamsters refused to cross their picket lines, and the parking lots were empty as customers refused to cross as well.

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Due to an editing error, SW mistakenly reported in its last issue that a resolution in support of the Charleston Five was passed at the Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention. No such resolution was raised.

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