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On the picket line

May 2, 2003 | Page 11

Tyson Foods
New York City budget cuts
Oakland dockworkers
SEIU Local 32BJ
D.C. janitors

Labor Notes conference

By Paul Grohman and Amy Muldoon

NEW YORK--More than 180 people attended a one-day Labor Notes conference in New York to reaffirm that labor's opposition to the war and Bush is far from dead.

The April 26 conference opened with a morning plenary titled "Troublemaking in Troubled Times: Organizing to Win." Tim Schermerhorn, who's a member of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 and a founder of the rank-and-file group New Directions, assessed TWU's recent battles with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Speaking about the last contract and the failure to strike, he asked, "Did we lose?" "Yes," was his answer, "but what impressed me was how engaging in a fight transformed people."

Workshops on "Racism in the 21st Century" and "Organizing from Below for a Stronger Union" drew large crowds and emphasized how to build struggles around workplace issues in order to rebuild shop floor strength and a political culture inside unions.

A workshop on "Labor Against the War" erupted when panelist Marilyn Albert argued that labor and antiwar activists have to concentrate their efforts on getting a Democrat elected in 2004. Stanley Aronowitz of PSC-CUNY argued that the antiwar movement needs to focus on the class war at home, saying, "I think this is an effort to restructure worker's conditions and perhaps create a Third World state within our country."

Michael Ware, a laid-off Verizon worker and member of the International Socialist Organization and New York City Labor Against War, argued that "the more people associate the cuts that happen here with the war, the stronger we can become."

The final plenary--called "Fighting Cutbacks and Layoffs"--featured Michael Zweig, author of Working Class Majority and Kenneth Riley, president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422.

The spirit of workers' solidarity in the plenary at was inspiring. We need to build on it.

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Tyson Foods

By Barn Rintz and Peter Couvares

JEFFERSON, Wis.--More than 300 people demonstrated their solidarity with strikers from United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 538 outside Tyson Foods last weekend. Workers from UFCW locals as far away as Omaha, Neb., and Denver came to the rally to show their support and contribute money to the workers' strike fund.

Not a single striker has crossed the picket line since it went up eight weeks ago, despite Tyson's refusal to meet at the bargaining table. Pro-union signs fill the yards of houses all over town. We couldn't be as galvanized "without the community behind us," Chuck Moehling, a Local 538 rank and filer, told Socialist Worker.

But the town council is on Tyson's side. The council recently re-zoned a public street that leads to the plant to prevent striking workers from picketing there. And police have begun ticketing strikers for "disorderly conduct" for trying to block scab vehicles.

So far, however, Tyson has been unsuccessful in using scab labor to keep the plant running. Teamster truck drivers refuse to cross the picket line, so the only trucks going in and out are Tyson's own nonunion drivers. "Production is at a standstill," Chuck says. The few food shipments from the plant to other companies have allegedly been rejected due to unacceptable quality, and mistakes by poorly trained scabs have resulted in a dramatic rise in waste.

But there are growing fears among workers that Tyson, a multinational, multibillion-dollar chicken empire, can use its huge size to hold out nearly indefinitely. Strike donations, however, are increasing--and with continued solidarity from workers all around the country, the strikers can win.

Other frustrations have surfaced. Some workers suspect Tyson is using undocumented workers as scabs and want the union to call in the INS and FBI to remove them. But scapegoating immigrants is a union-busting tactic that bosses use against workers every day and will only weaken the solidarity of the strikers. In fact, some of the strongest solidarity at the rally came from Spanish-speaking immigrants from other UFCW locals who drove overnight to show their support.

Victory will require more efforts to build solidarity with other workers--and ultimately to bring the plant to a standstill until Tyson agrees to a decent contract.

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New York City budget cuts

By Tom Barton

NEW YORK--A mass rally of thousands of union members threatened with layoffs was set for April 29, as Socialist Worker went to press. In the run-up to the protest, public-sector unions launched media attack ads targeting Mayor Michael Bloomberg for failing to raises taxes on New York City's rich.

Bloomberg has threatened to fire 15,000 unionized city employees. Among city services to be cut are weekend meal services for the elderly, child health clinics, firehouses and city hospitals.

AFSCME District Council (DC) 37, whose members would take the bulk of the layoffs, finally called for the mass demonstration at City Hall four months after layoffs of DC 37 members began. In January, union leaders had promised fired members "improved severance benefits" and told members the 2004 elections were the best way to fight back.

Tax cuts for the wealthy pushed through by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani--with support from New York's Democratic Party politicians--are about twice the amount of the city's current $3.8 billion budget deficit. But Bloomberg--himself a multi-billionaire--has refused to give consideration to restoring any taxes on the rich.

The DC 37 broadcast ads say, "Now city hall wants to hit you with service cuts and layoffs. But the Mayor has yet to join the push in Albany to close corporate loopholes and restore fair taxes on the wealthy."

At Bellevue Hospital, threatened with 400 job cuts, flyers for the demonstration are flooding the hospital. Union members across the city are working to get out the word and make sure everybody is going to show up.

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Oakland dockworkers

By Amanda Maystead

OAKLAND, Calif.--About 300 union members and activists gathered April 26 to protest the April 7 police attack on dockworkers and antiwar activists. The aim of the protest was to put muscle behind the demand for an independent investigation of the April 7 police brutality.

"They're concerned about terrorism on the docks," Fred Pecker, Secretary-Treasurer for International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 6, told the crowd. "Let's start defining terrorism in real terms. The cost of healthcare being beyond what people can afford…is terrorism!"

Numerous activists and eight ILWU members were injured in the attacks, five of those workers requiring an overnight hospital stay.

Billy Kepoo, an ILWU Local 10 crane operator, has a family. When the cops attacked, his wrist was severely hurt, exposing the bone. It's not clear whether the damage is permanent. He's already been out of work for a month. "My hand is basically my life," he told Socialist Worker. "I need both hands to operate a crane. One moment, I hear everyone talking and then the next--a gunshot. No warning, no nothing."

ILWU Local 10 business agent Jack Heyman was arrested April 7. "I think [Oakland Mayor] Jerry Brown, in collusion with the federal government, wants to send a message to antiwar protesters and the labor movement that the docks are going to be labeled a 'national security zone' where First Amendment rights aren't tolerated," Heyman told Socialist Worker.

Other unions attended the protest to show their solidarity. "April 7 was a way for the bosses to try to instill fear in us, to get us to back down in our negotiations," said Al Leora, president of Service Employees International Union Local 790. "We won't back down, we won't be intimidated!"

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SEIU Local 32BJ

By Frank Laporte

NEW YORK--The Realty Advisory Board (RAB) and 28,000 building workers reached a tentative agreement April 23. The contract provides for 2.8 percent average wage increases per year during the three-year contract and no givebacks.

The janitors had demanded higher wage increases to make up for ground they lost under the leadership of Gus Bevona, a notoriously corrupt union president who earned $400,000 a year while negotiating sweetheart deals with the RAB.

And the RAB could have afforded to pay for better raises. Despite the ailing economy, property values have outpaced inflation by 12 percent, creating fat profits for building owners.

The agreement could have been much stronger, but negotiators seemed to give in to the general climate to accept low raises. As Socialist Worker went to press, it was unclear whether the rank and file would vote down the contract.

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D.C. janitors

By Jesse Hagopian

WASHINGTON--Janitors are taking a stand for their right to health insurance. Janitors from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 82 are demanding that landlords find a solution to the city health care crisis by agreeing to provide health care to the thousands of janitors who keep D.C. office buildings clean.

Nine out of 10 janitors don't receive health care benefits. But commercial landlords together raked in $3.1 billion in rental income last year and have been making fat profits for years. For example, Carr America, one of the largest commercial landlords in the area, earned profits of more than $100 million in 2002, yet says it won't cover health benefits in the janitors' new contract.

SEIU Local 82 represents 7,000 janitors and other service workers in the D.C. area, and they'll vote this week on whether to strike. We need to support their struggle for the right to health care. Justice for janitors!

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