On the picket line
November 7, 2003 | Page 11
Teamsters for a Democratic Union
DETROIT--More than 200 Teamster members and officials met October 24-26 at the annual convention of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). TDU is the largest and longest-running organization of rank-and-file militants in the American labor movement.
The convention highlighted some of the successful organizing of the past year. Jona Fleurimont, a school bus driver in Teamsters Local 854 in New York City, spoke about how he and dozens of other drivers have stood up to violent threats from both union and company officials to elect their own shop steward and take control of their union.
Other Teamsters reported on the fight against the cutbacks that Teamster president James Hoffa Jr. is overseeing in the Central States and Western funds. TDU has organized meetings and committees to fight these attacks, drawing hundreds in places like North Carolina.
The convention also reflected the serious setbacks TDU has suffered under the employers' offensive and Hoffa's weak resistance. Northwest flight attendants in Local 2000 were a longstanding base of TDU support, but earlier this year they regrettably voted to decertify from the Teamsters after years of negligence and harassment from the International.
Other reformers have been victimized or isolated. Hoffa invokes patriotism and the "war on terrorism" to justify the union's collaboration with Bush and employers.
But the convention continued its practice of not addressing political questions such as the war in Iraq or the 2004 elections. The atmosphere was sober, but the convention was marked by a determination to continue the long struggle to push the union in a more confrontational direction. To that end, TDU announced plans to launch a series of leaflets and a Web site to aid UPS shop stewards to help organize on the shop floor.
CHICAGO--More than 150 people attended U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) meeting October 25 to organize for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Representatives from 99 labor organizations attended, including officials, staff and members from a variety of local and international unions as well as ad hoc labor antiwar committees.
The largest contingents included teachers and members of the Service Employees International Union. A highlight of the event was an eyewitness report from a recent labor delegation to Iraq by journalist David Bacon and Clarence Thomas, former secretary-treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
In a mission statement adopted at the meeting, USLAW called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, staking out a firm position in the debate taking place in the antiwar movement. There was controversy over the 2004 elections, although for legal reasons, USLAW can't endorse any candidates.
USLAW co-convenor Bob Muehlenkamp--who also serves as a labor adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean--used his presentation to call for "regime change" in the U.S. in next year's vote--a formulation that was challenged by a number of delegates. Muehlenkamp also called on USLAW members to challenge the AFL-CIO's official silence--not only on Iraq, but on all foreign policy issues.
This apparently doesn't extend to Israel and Palestine, however. The conference lacked even a discussion of the Palestinian issue for educational purposes, let alone policy. Those shortcomings notwithstanding, USLAW emerged from the weekend better equipped to carry out antiwar and anti-occupation organizing in the unions.
NEW YORK--Chanting "No contract! No work!" and "!Sí, se puede!" more than 400 waiters, dishwashers and bartenders held a fiery march October 28 outside Four Seasons, 21 Club and other well-known restaurants. As the October 31 contract deadline came and went, restaurant workers in Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 100 were still at work--despite a strike authorization vote last weekend of more than 400 to 22.
As Socialist Worker went to press, it still wasn't clear whether workers would strike, shutting down the city's ritziest restaurants. The restaurant companies are looking to double co-payments to $20 and cut the maximum yearly coverage in half to $500,000.
But workers aren't backing down. "I don't want to be out here like this," said one waiter who has worked at Four Seasons for 27 years. "But we have no other choice." That spirit of defiance was also evident at the rally as workers, many of them immigrants who toil behind the kitchen doors, angrily chanted at the front entrances of their posh employers.
BURLINGTON, Vt.--After working without a contract for three-and-a-half months, service and maintenance workers at the University of Vermont (UVM) are taking action. United Employees (UE) Local 267 organized a November 1 rally and march on the UVM president's house.
Nearly 150 people formed three separate marches--one with community members, one with unionized faculty and unorganized staff, and one with students--and then converged on the president's house in order to demand a fair contract.
"The president doesn't actually live in this residence, but is given a $22,000 a year stipend to live in a house he built on Lake Champlain in an adjoining suburb," said UE organizer Heather Reimer. "Meanwhile many of our workers don't even make $22,000 a year to support entire families."
Lester, an electrical worker, said he was at the rally because "they can pay a livable wage--and they should." Workers are also demanding an end to the practice of firing injured workers who can't return to full duty within six months of their injury.
Union president Carmyn Stanko spoke of the need to "give voice to those who can't come out here. "Many don't speak English, they aren't confident about what their rights are, and they are in powerless positions. We're here to give them a voice. It's energizing to see the community support. It fills your tank to do even more."