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Letters to the editor

August 30, 2002 | Page 4

How the Teamsters strike in 1997 beat UPS
How they make smokers pay

Trained to kill by the U.S. military

Dear Socialist Worker,

A string of murders over the past two months has left Armed Forces officials at Fort Bragg, N.C., puzzled.

The rash of killings started on June 10 when Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Nieves shot and killed his wife, and then himself, just two days after returning from Afghanistan. On June 29, the wife of Master Sgt. William Wright was strangled. Wright, who had returned from Afghanistan a month earlier, was charged with her death. Then, on July 9, Sgt. Cedric Ramon stabbed his estranged wife and set fire to her home. July 19 saw the deaths of two more people: Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd gunned down his wife, then turned the gun on himself.

These six deaths are not the first seen at Fort Bragg--one of the country's largest and most important military installations. They mirror several other murders committed by Fort Bragg soldiers since the 1970s.

In the wake of these violent outbursts, there is expected to be a review of Armed Forces policy on the "handling" of the families of soldiers returning from Afghanistan--to "hopefully avoid future problems," according to retired Air Force Col. John Carney.

But these seemingly random acts of violence are not unconnected. These are soldiers who were taught to murder, maim and participate in a slaughter in Afghanistan. Is it any wonder that sooner or later they bring that violence home?

These murders are a product of the changes that that a person undergoes when confronted with the horrors of war. Unless we do away with the system that fosters such violence, these sorts of cases will persist.

Justin Southerland, Greensboro, N.C.

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How the Teamsters strike in 1997 beat UPS

Dear Socialist Worker,

In 1997, United Parcel Service (UPS) was hit with the first national strike of its Teamsters employees. UPS was trounced on every front. It lost the public relations battle, with the public supporting workers 2-to-1 over the company. It lost $750 million in lost business. And most importantly, it lost the strike itself, conceding on the key issues.

UPS workers won the best contract in decades. The company was taken off guard largely because it assumed that its workers would not fight back. After all, the union leadership had a long history of collaborating with management. But contrary to management expectations, 95 percent of the workers did not cross the picket line and showed their solidarity.

Since then, however, the company has learned the lessons of the strike. UPS hired a new public relations firm, and this year's UPS advertising campaign, "What Can Brown Do For You?" removes UPS workers from the ads.

For UPS, its drivers are its public face. In 1997, the company could not demonize its workers and call them "greedy" for going on strike because that would have affected business. This year, UPS decided to undo this image.

But a strike was far from Teamsters President James Hoffa's mind. Most union leaders are hesitant to call strikes, preferring the negotiating room where they have more control. Even Ron Carey, a union reformer who led the 1997 strike, was initially reluctant to call for a walkout. It was rank-and-file pressure and raised expectations that led Carey to call the strike.

The lessons for workers are clear. Regardless of who is in the leadership of the union, it is rank-and-file organization that is crucial to winning decent contracts from employers. While UPS spent huge sums of money gearing up for the 2002 contract and drawing out the lessons for its side, our side has not done the same.

UPS workers cannot rely on Hoffa. They need to rely on their own organization and activity to wage a successful fight against UPS.

Dina Roy, Greensboro, N.C.

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How they make smokers pay

Dear Socialist Worker,

I'm outraged by the moral crusade against smoking--and think that socialists ought to oppose it, because it is an attack on working-class people.

Of course, smoking is unhealthy, and cigarette companies rank among the most loathsome peddlers of disease and lies in a rather crowded field. But these companies have teamed up with Hollywood, the U.S. government (which used to distribute free smokes to every soldier) and advertising snake-oil salesmen for decades to sell us this addiction.

Now, working people and the poorest Americans--who comprise the overwhelming majority of the 25 percent who smoke--are being forced to pay for the health care crisis created by the government and Corporate America.

Unfortunately, many progressives support the smoking bans and higher taxes that have driven cigarette prices across the country above $4 a pack and an astonishing $7 in New York City. But for people whose lives are filled with tension, who have too little time and money for leisure, who can't go to a gym or chat with a massage therapist, smoking is one of the few accessible, if fleeting, pleasures.

Perhaps in a better world, people would not feel the need to indulge in unhealthy habits that can kill them. But let's face it, the U.S. government and corporate fat cats are a self-indulgent and arrogant class of moralizers who are addicted to profits at any human cost.

First, we need to break them of their nasty habits of greed and power. Then we can create a healthier world for us to live in.

Sherry Wolf, Chicago

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