Solidarity in Manitowoc

December 13, 2011

IAM members at the Manitowoc Crane Company have gotten important support from other unions as their strike enters a second month, reports Robin Gee.

MORE THAN 2,500 people packed into a baseball field in the small city of Manitowoc, Wis., for a December 10 rally in support of 200 machinists on strike for almost a month against the Manitowoc Crane Company.

Members of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 516 walked off the job November 15 when their employer tried to force last-minute union-busting language into their contract.

Negotiations had been underway and moving along when the company proposed contract language that would make union membership optional and eliminate the automatic collection of union dues. Emboldened by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's success in ramming through anti-union legislation to strip union rights from public-sector workers, Manitowoc Crane executives attempted to follow the state's example to defund and destroy the union.

Teachers, boilermakers, ironworkers, nurses, firefighters, steelworkers, carpenters, operating engineers, custodians, truck drivers, bricklayers and many more union workers, community members and activists from across Wisconsin braved the coldest day this year to stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in IAM.

Wisconsin workers march in defense of IAM members on strike at the Manitowoc Crane Company
Wisconsin workers march in defense of IAM members on strike at the Manitowoc Crane Company (Aileen Paglio | SW)

The lessons of last February's uprising by Wisconsin's workers were not lost on anyone in the crowd. IAM members came to Madison frequently last winter and stood shoulder to shoulder with others in support of public workers at the capital. IAM Lodge 516 President Steven Garber said he was proud and honored that so many public- and private-sector workers who had been at the capital last winter came out in support of his union.

"Last winter, when things started happening at the capital, I took the day off and went down to Madison to see what it was all about," said Garber. "I was amazed at the solidarity I saw. I rushed back and told my members we needed to be a part of it, and we came down many times. And now, so many are here to support us today. We need to stand together, stay strong together."

Jon Ahrens, who works at a local technical college, said the struggle of the machinists was for all workers. "Fortunately, we can change this," he said. "We have the power--if we are determined to stand together now for our futures. I think this is equally important everywhere in our state, our country and, really, the whole world. This is what it takes to win."

What you can do

To make a donation to the workers’ strike fund, make checks payable to MCI Strike Fund and send attn: Machinist Local Lodge 516, P.O. Box 222, Manitowoc, WI 54221-0222.

Machinist J.C. Shultz told the crowd about his decades of experience as a union member. "I started my apprenticeship when I was 17 years old, and I celebrated my 61st birthday this week on the picket line," said Shultz. "They are not going to break the union...This fight is about our children and our children's children and the kind of society we want to live in. A society where worker's have the right to union representation."

Solidarity has been key in this fight. The company, a division of the Manitowoc Company, employs about 800 people represented by four unions at this location. Just after the walkout, it laid off 150 members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Because the company claims the layoff is due to the strike, the boilermakers are receiving no unemployment benefits. Currently, 119 boilermakers remain out of work.

Yet the company's effort to drive a wedge between the machinists and the boilermakers or any of their other unionized coworkers is failing. "We have had a lot of support from the boilermakers," says Garber. "They have come to the picket to support us." The machinists also have had solid support from the IBEW at the plant.

Further Reading

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