Freightliner Five Northeast solidarity tour

THE FREIGHTLINER Five solidarity tour moved from North Carolina to the Northeast last month.

In Greensboro, N.C., a March 27 solidarity meeting featured four of the five local union leaders fired for leading a brief strike a year ago--Robert Whiteside, Glenna Swinford, Allen Bradley and Franklin Torrence. Some 22 labor and student activists attended the meeting, held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The workers are all elected officials of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 3520 at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, N.C. Speaking alongside them were Saladin Muhammad of Black Workers for Justice and United Electrical Workers Local 150, as well as Mark Dimondstein of the American Postal Workers Union.

Muhammad stressed that a great part of the Freightliner Five's strength is their emphasis on civil rights as an inseparable part of labor's struggle. Two of the five are African Americans, and four are members of the NAACP.

Two days later, in New York, Bradley and Whiteside spoke alongside Stanley Aronowitz, a pro-labor sociologist at the City University of New York and union activist. About 65 people, many of them union members, turned out to the event, held at the musicians' union hall in midtown Manhattan. About $1,200 was collected for the campaign.

The speakers and audience debated whether unions should seek "card-check" and other neutrality agreements as a means to organize, in exchange for agreements limiting union gains, which the UAW accepted in order to organize the Freightliner plant in Cleveland.

Even with the neutrality agreement, Local 3520 had to contend with so-called right-to-work laws that limit union membership. "Membership in the union in the plant went from 55 percent to 90 percent under our leadership," Bradley said.

Whiteside added, "Our union fought for diversity--we walked the walk, making sure that our leadership was multiracial and that women were represented."

The tour moved to Burlington, Vt., March 30 in a meeting held at the Vermont Workers Center. Bradley and Whiteside appeared alongside Nancy Welch of United Academics, the University of Vermont's faculty union, and Traven Leyshon, president of the Washington/Orange Central Labor Council. More than $500 was raised.

The tour wrapped up in Providence, R.I., on March 31.

Paul Fleckenstein, Peter Lamphere, Ben Lassiter and Jen Roesch contributed to this article.