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On the picket line

August 2, 2002 | Page 11

National Writers Union
City Colleges of Chicago
Metal Preparations

West Coast dockworkers

By Brian Belknap

SAN FRANCISCO--Delegates from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) last week voted to reject their employers' contract offer as union leaders agreed to extend the old agreement by another three weeks.

That contract, which was set to expire July 1, had been extended on a daily basis. Yet, while the union's longshore caucus gave the negotiating committee the power to call a strike authorization vote, the committee has shown no interest in doing so. Nor did the caucus plan any actions such as the "work-to-rule" tactics that jammed up the ports and forced the employers' Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) to its knees in 1999.

At a solidarity rally June 24, ILWU President James Spinosa did speak out against the federal government threats to intervene, declaring, "The government has to get out of these negotiations." But the problem is what Spinosa has already negotiated himself.

After publicly offering to give away as many as 1,500 of 2,500 clerk jobs--which the PMA rejected as being not enough--further negotiations are being put off until August 13. This waiting only plays into the PMA's hands.

This is the busiest time in the ports, with shipments of goods arriving that are critical to corporations gearing up for the big Christmas shopping season. With balloting for a strike taking three to five weeks, the negotiating committee won't have that authorization until late September even if they called for a vote on the first day negotiations resume.

Worse, militants in the ILWU who are opposed to the disastrous strategy of Spinosa and top union leaders are being harassed and victimized by union officials--simply for speaking their minds. All this from a union that used to pride itself on its fighting tradition.

Some workers in the ports are beginning to organize for a more aggressive approach. If the ILWU is going to be able to stand up to the PMA, it is these militants who hold the key.

Andy Libson and Brian Cruz contributed to this article.

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National Writers Union

By Lee Sustar, delegate, National Writers Union

AMHERST, Mass.--The National Writers Union (NWU) capped a year of intense factional battles at its annual Delegates Assembly here with the two competing camps agreeing to field a united slate in upcoming union elections.

But the key issues in dispute--the union's handling of the collapse of a major union health insurance plan and the fairness of last year's elections--will continue to dominate the politics of the NWU. And the unity deal does nothing to restore the credibility of the NWU leadership, which has been gravely damaged by the actions of NWU President Jonathan Tasini.

The battles began at last year's Delegates Assembly, when delegates voted to cut Tasini's salary in half. This was an attempt to return to the intent of NWU founders, who designed a part-time presidency to be held by a working writer.

A coalition behind Massachusetts-based journalist Steve Simurda then fielded a slate against Tasini and his allies in last year's election. While the differences were often muddled by personalistic attacks, the Simurda slate essentially advocated a less confrontational, more professional approach.

In an aggressive campaign, Tasini argued for anchoring the building of the NWU in the unions--an approach endorsed by Socialist Worker last year. After the Tasini slate won a majority of seats--several by narrow margins--a member challenged the outcome to the union's Oversight Committee, which late last year recommended setting aside the results and holding a new election. Tasini's slate responded by charging the Oversight Committee with pro-Simurda bias. Appeals are now before the UAW.

Simultaneously, another crisis erupted when insurance giant Aetna dramatically raised rates on more than 400 NWU members in Illinois and California. The NWU's third-party health insurance administrator, CSS Inc., replaced Aetna with Employers Mutual LLC, based in Reno, Nev. But Employers Mutual was a sham operation run by veteran insurance crooks.

Despite numerous reports from members of problems, Tasini and the NWU refused to inform members--until voting in the elections was completed last fall. Even then, the NWU and CSS assured members that the problems would soon be resolved.

Ultimately, George W. Bush's Department of Labor shut down the company last December. Scores of NWU members, including this writer, were left with unpaid bills. When questioned at the Delegates Assembly meeting, Tasini simply said that he had referred all matters to CSS--hardly an adequate explanation given many members' repeated attempts last fall to get the union to take action.

Underlying these controversies was the vision of a top-down, "professional" NWU outlined by Tasini in his opening address. That's the same approach that has resulted in bureaucratization and decline across the U.S. labor movement.

Tasini's forces proposed moving the Assembly to every other year--which was voted down--and raising dues, which delegates agreed to put before the membership. Unfortunately, the Simurda forces didn't pose an alternative, choosing instead to meet with Tasini in separate caucuses to negotiate a unity deal.

The result is that, after a year of internal warfare and declining membership, NWU members won't have any choice in this year's executive board election other than to ratify a slate with a built-in pro-Tasini majority.

This is a disservice to members. A discussion of how to build a democratic, fighting NWU should take place in every local of the union.

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City Colleges of Chicago

By Nicole Colson

CHICAGO--Nearly 100 faculty, staff and students participated in a walkout at Truman College on July 24. The walkout was called to support City Colleges of Chicago faculty fighting for a better contract.

Currently, faculty receive no sick pay, no health care benefits and are laid off for four weeks out of each year. Starting pay is a paltry $13,400 per year. "They make a lot of money off of our program," one literacy professor told Socialist Worker. "They just don't want to pay us a living wage. A lot of us are going to have to leave…It's not a job to grow old in."

Chanting "Sí, se puede" and "Hey, hey, what do you say? Teachers deserve decent pay," the group rallied in front of the school. Students from other city college campuses attended to show solidarity--and to talk about the funding cuts at their campuses.

In one year, the City Colleges of Chicago takes in approximately $40 million, yet spends just $13 million on faculty who teach 75,000 students. More than half of revenue is spent on administrative expenses--leaving faculty and students out in the cold.

"The money is there, my friends, but it will take a struggle and possibly a strike in the fall with the unity of the teachers, the students, and our coworkers who I see here," spokesperson Earl Silbar told the crowd.

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Metal Preparations

By Brian Erway

AFTER MONTHS of organizing, workers at Metal Preparations Inc. voted 98 to 63 to join United Auto Workers Local 1097 July 24. Leading up to the vote, more than 60 workers and supporters rallied in front of the plant.

During the last months of the union drive, management fired at least four workers for union activity and threatened others. "A lot of our workers are immigrants," said Susie, one of the fired union activists. "So we had to deal with the language barriers and also abuse and intimidation from the company."

"It's about being treated with dignity and equality, like any other human being," another marcher told Socialist Worker. "I think that's what pushed us to the edge to form the union."

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