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Trying to get Teamsters on record against the war
Antiwar voices in our unions

February 23, 2007 | Page 12

IN THE run-up to the January 27 antiwar protests, I tried to pass a resolution in my union, Teamsters Local 70. Although the resolution was ultimately voted down, I learned a lot in the process, and politically speaking, the undertaking was successful.

The first time I introduced a resolution in my local was around Hurricane Katrina, urging a condemnation of the racist response to the disaster and a halt to the Iraq occupation, since the money spent on killing Iraqis could be better spent rebuilding hurricane-stricken areas.

The first thing that went wrong was that the person who agreed to second my resolution never showed up. I decided to go ahead anyway, thinking someone else would agree. Because I did not know the intricacies of Roberts Rules of Order, and never said, "I move we adopt this resolution" after I finished reading the proposal, a particularly conservative business agent moved to deny the proposal, which promptly gained a second.

After one person spoke against my resolution, and one person heckled me in reminder that I only have freedoms because soldiers have died in wars, that same business agent called the question to put the motion to a vote and end discussion. I was the only one voting against.

This time around, I braced myself for humiliation, read Roberts Rules of Order, and made sure I had support. I made the resolution as troop- and labor-friendly as possible. For instance, the argument to bring the troops home was worded: "Whereas, we support our troops and feel the best way to support them is to bring them home to their families safely with the honor and dignity they deserve, including access to full veterans' benefits."

A coworker suggested I use a petition to have as many members from our building sign in support. I work at a large UPS hub in Oakland, Calif., so there are hundreds of members in the building I've never met. I talked to a lot more people than I would have without a petition, allowing me to build more political relationships.

It also meant that instead of stopping after finding someone to second my proposal, I found as many people as I could reach, often engaging in conversations over a period of days, convincing people to come out to the January 27 protests, and selling them Socialist Worker.

On the evening of the meeting, nine of my coworkers attended, five of whom I had convinced to come. When it came time to introduce new business, instead of droning into the microphone, I stood in front of the meeting and loudly read the resolution to command attention. When I finished reading, I made sure to say, "I move we adopt this resolution," and received loud applause and four seconds, including one from Secretary-Treasurer Chuck Mack.

Most of the people who spoke against the proposal did so not on the qualities of the war, but on how politics don't belong in the union. Considering how much money the union throws at the Democrats--and the fact that the Teamsters held rallies at ports across the country against the Dubai Ports deal over "security" concerns--I can only take it to mean that they feel left-wing politics don't belong in the union.

When I got up to speak again to answer those arguments, the same business agent who shut me down the last time, called the question before I had the chance. I knew (from reading Roberts Rules of Order) that in order to limit members' rights--such as calling the question when people still want to speak--the motion needs a second and a two-thirds majority vote.

I considered protesting, but the meeting had already dragged on, and people were leaving, so I allowed the vote to be counted. I had already reached a level of success that surpassed my expectations. Plus, judging from the applause, I thought I had the numbers.

When it came down to it, we lost by two votes. Even though the resolution was defeated, I had succeeded in bringing an open debate into the union and building political relationships with coworkers. I have had excellent follow-up discussions with those who attended the meeting about union politics and why radical politics aren't welcome. Hopefully, they will join me next time in turning out membership in support.

I also learned more about the arguments of the other side, and how better to counter them in the future. For sure, in the next debate, I won't allow a certain anti-democratic business agent to silence me.
Jenna Woloshyn, Oakland, Calif.

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