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On the picket line

January 31, 2003 | Page 15

Cook County nurses
New York City teachers

West Coast dockworkers

By Sue Sandlin

SAN FRANCISCO--Last week, results of the vote on the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) contract were tallied, with members voting overwhelmingly to ratify. Almost 90 percent approved the six-year contract, which was characterized as a "victory" for all by the unlikely trio of ILWU President James Spinosa, Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) President Joseph Miniace and George W. Bush.

But this contract is anything but a victory for longshore workers. The longest in ILWU history, this contract immediately conceded the loss of 400 clerks' jobs, increased disparity in wages between different groups of workers within the union and opened the door to further erosion of longshore jurisdiction.

So why did the membership approve this contract? Jack Heyman, business agent for ILWU Local 10, says it was fear. "The ratification of this contract by such an exaggerated majority shows the level of fear and panic created by government intervention and the national security hysteria of the 'war on terrorism,'" he told Socialist Worker. "Our union leadership was affected by this and cajoled the members into voting yes."

Even before the last contract had expired, Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge called Spinosa to threaten the union with government intervention. The message was: Exercise your right to strike or engage in any kind of job action, and you will face Taft-Hartley or maybe government troops on the docks.

Last fall, the PMA and Bush made good on their threats--despite union officials bending over backwards to avoid a confrontation. The PMA locked out workers for 11 days, and Bush invoked Taft-Hartley to bring the ILWU back to work and force it back to the negotiating table with a gun pointed at its head.

Heyman, whose own local had one of the highest percentages of no-votes, believes that the leadership wasn't prepared for this fight. "One of the motivations [for a yes vote] was that [if concessions were not accepted], we would be hit by repressive legislation like the Railway Act," he said. "The problem is that this still may happen. We can't avoid a fight by sticking our heads in the sand. Capitulation only invites more attacks by the employers."

It's important to see this contract in the context of Bush's war at home, waged simultaneously with the war abroad. Many in the ILWU see this important connection and are mobilizing against the war.

Though the ILWU Coast Caucus rejected--by one vote--an antiwar resolution brought by Local 10, many ILWU members are actively involved in the antiwar movement. They marched as a contingent in the January 18 antiwar rally in San Francisco, and they're speaking at protests all over the world about the connection between the upcoming war on Iraq and the attack on the labor movement.

"We have to be prepared to organize to fight off these attacks," said Heyman. "And that is inevitably going to mean taking defensive actions on the docks."

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Cook County nurses

By Eric Ruder

CHICAGO--Cook County nurses voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize a strike, but the union also announced that it planned to continue negotiations with county administrators on February 10 and 11.

Cook County nurses have been working without a contract since November 2001, and anger at the county is growing because the administrators still aren't making reasonable offers at the negotiating table. "We had 97 percent approve a strike," Tiffany Taylor, president of the Illinois Nurses Association/Local John Stroger Hospital, told Socialist Worker.

Steadily deteriorating working conditions and low wages are at the top of the union's bargaining agenda. "We have more patients and less nurses," said Taylor. "We have a ratio of 3 to 1 [in critical care units]--which is unheard of."

"The hospital offered us a total of 6 percent over three years--even though six out of 10 nurses make less than $46,000 a year. We're asking for 15 percent over three years, which is down from our original demand of 24 percent to make us compatible with the rest of the nurses in the city."

About 1,200 of the 1,800 nurses covered by the contract recently moved from the old hospital building to the new John Stroger hospital. Taylor says that they need 500 more nurses at Stroger to bring staffing up to adequate levels. "We're in a new hospital, and now we find that we have more responsibilities than we had before, less staff and more work," said Taylor. "And administrators are unwilling to hear that nurses are working harder and longer."

Back in July, nurses and many other county workers staged a one-day strike. This kind of solidarity will be essential to stepping up the fight for a decent contract for Cook County nurses.

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New York City teachers

By Danielle Heck

NEW YORK--The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) passed a resolution in January condemning a provision of the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act. This legislation gives military recruiters access to high school students' mailing addresses and phone numbers without consent. This resolution is part of a small, but growing, antiwar sentiment within the UFT and other trade unions.

The No Child Left Behind legislation claims to offer solutions for improving public education for low-income and minority children. But George Bush also slipped his policies on vouchers and private school funding into the law.

The act also increases the already ridiculous amount of weight placed on standardized test scores, which are then used to hold individual schools and overworked and underpaid teachers responsible for the failings of the public education system.

In its resolution condemning the legislation, the UFT also mentions the U.S. plan for "a war with Iraq in which many of our current and former students will lose their lives." The UFT hasn't passed an antiwar resolution as the California Federation of Teachers State Council did last September. But groups such as New York Teachers Against the War are working to build awareness among UFT members by circulating petitions and holding a teach-in.

These efforts are part of creating an opening for passing a UFT antiwar resolution in the future.

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