UAW Saying Goodby to Ford Union Hall
UAW Local 870 was established at Ford Motor Company in East Dallas by an NLRB ruling in 1941. Dr. George Green of UT-Arlington has written a fine description of the violent and ugly union fight at Ford. It was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, successful CIO union locals established in North Texas. In late March or during April, 2000, the District Offices will be leaving the old hall.
The Ford Local purchased the old building from Safeway Grocery Stores in the early 1960s. The Local closed within a few years, but the UAW kept the building for its district office. By that time, UAW members from Ford had organized a number of other locals in North Texas. Through the years, the UAW has opened their East Dallas hall to countless labor actions of many unions.
The March 31, 2000, celebration of Cesar Chavez' birthday was pretty much the the last labor action there, except for the making of yard signs in political campaigns. The 2002 elections were expected to end that.
When Dallas AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Gene Freeland introduced me to Nolene Sykora, AFL-CIO President in Waco, he said that any serious student of Texas labor history should tour her building, since it is the last true labor temple in Texas. We made the tour on March 7, 1998.
The place is indeed full of Texas labor history. For example, the original charters of affiliated unions still hang on the walls. The typographers' charter goes back to 1881 -- Ms Sykora is checking to see if one of their members was famous labor leader Albert Parsons of 8-hour fame. He was a typographer in Waco at that time.
Texas Waterfront Unions Had Turbulent History
Gilbert Mers, Working the Waterfront. The Ups and Downs of a Rebel Longshoreman. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1988.
In a roundabout and talky way, Gilbert Mers gives his eyewitness account of the important events in waterfront unions on the Gulf Coast from the 1930s until recently. Mers held various union jobs, including Local President of a key longshoreman's union during the time when all waterfront workers were trying to combine into one powerful Gulf Coast Maritime Union.
Mers probably played the key role, but it is a little bit hard to tell through all the simple modesty in his book. He devoted himself out of love for the workers' cause.
He also loved his work and his co-workers, plain and simple. A good deal of the book is taken up with careful explanations of how various cargoes were loaded or unloaded on ships. There are also long descriptions of men who worked the docks or dealt with the unions.
Mers' charming gentility almost breaks down only once in the book, when he describes the scabherding and strikebreaking role of the Texas Rangers. He tells how they randomly pistol whipped picketers, threatened unarmed union men with tommy guns, kept scabs as virtual slaves, and generally earned the top position as most hated of all by union men.
The reader begins to care for Gilbert Mers from the very start, and loves him dearly by the time the book ends. At the same time, one begins to feel a reluctant pity while viewing the younger Mers in his union work. He joined various contradictory groups, some of them bitter enemies of one another, in his attempt to live up to his abstract ideal of how a union man
should act. In-fighting eventually killed most of Mers' dream of one big union on the Gulf Coast waterfront.
I shook hands with Gilbert Mers around 1986. He told me that he was a "Wobbly", IWW, Industrial Workers of the World. Since they haven't been an effective labor organization for at least fifty years, it seemed like the natural place for an abstract idealist to end up.
He's a wonderful man who made several real contributions, not the least of which is this book. Dr. George Green of UTA wrote a fine introduction that puts Mers' experiences in perspective with other American labor history on the docks.
--Gene Lantz (around 1990)
[Note: Brother Mers died in the mid-1990s]
* * *
Did Labor Go Wrong in 1947?
In my time as a labor activist and amateur student of labor history, I have never heard a serious two-sided discussion of whether or not American labor went wrong in 1947 after the Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley law over President Truman's veto. One feature of this awful legislation, since found unconstitutional, required all American labor union officers to sign an anti-communist affidavit. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) enforced the new provision with a will. Union memberships no longer had the right to select anybody they chose as officers. The eleven unions that refused to purge their officers were expelled from the CIO and dual unions were set up to grab their contracts and destroy them. Only two unions, Electrical Workers (UE), and Pacific Coast Dockworkers (ILWU) survived until today (1999).
Did the CIO make a costly error when they embraced the witch hunt? Most of the speakers at the Southwest Regional Labor Studies Association conference in San Francisco at the end of April, 1999, thought so.
The association held its 25th conference at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Market Street. The title of the conference was "Labor and the Cold War: A Fifty Year Perspective." The keynote speaker was Ellen Schrecker, author of //ital// Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. She outlined some of the problems that the labor movement had as a result of the turn that the CIO made in the late 1940s.
The luncheon speaker was Brian McWilliams, current International President of the ILWU.
McWilliams began with a warm greetings combined with a warning. He talked about the appropriateness of studying the effects of the cold war witch-hunt today, but added, "I believe we're suffering under the shadow of new red-baiting and union bashing." The ILWU made a typed copy of his speech available. It is reproduced below.
With one notable exception, the 40-50 other speakers at the conference enlarged and expanded on McWilliams' statements about the negative effect of the witch hunt and cold war. Anders Lewis, a graduate student at the University of Florida, said that AFL leader George Meany was right to promote anti-communism. Professors such as Seth Widgerson of the University of Maine, one of the best known and respected labor historians in America, said that it was not necessary to examine the 1980s to see how anti-communism hurt the CIO; it was obvious even in the early 1950s.
Union organizing in the South was particularly doomed by the CIO's anti-communism, according to Michael Honey of the University of Washington, Michael Goldfield of Wayne State, and Charles Chamberlain from Tulane. Other speakers agreed that the CIO either purged or refused to support African American union leaders for fear of appearing to be like the Communist CIO organizers who had been doing so well in organizing the South before WWII. Michael Goldfield told his audience, "If you worked for civil rights, you were automatically communist!"
The effect of re-studying the witch hunt in the labor movement may be far reaching. Even though the AFL-CIO top leadership is in the process of correcting many of the errors of the past, they do not acknowledge that these errors were made. Academicians like the ones at the Southwest Labor Studies Conference may help rectify that condition. When she was being honored at the conference for having created the Association, Sally Miller said, "Labor history is being reclaimed, and it is really a labor of love!"
ILWU President Speaks on Labor and Cold War
Brian McWilliams, President, ILWU (West Coast Dockworkers & Related Jobs)Remarks to Southwest Labor Studies Association Conference Ramada Inn, San Francisco, California
April 30, 1999
This is a rare and important organization, a unique combination of workers and unionists and teachers and activists devoted to exploring and preserving the history of workers and their unions. But I must admit to feeling a bit uneasy about the terrible irony of convening this gathering around the theme of labor in the cold war at the very same time that I believe we are suffering under the shadow of a new era of red-baiting and union bashing.
You may have noticed some of the symptoms: reports and essays and books and interviews by scholars and politicians about who really was or wasn't Red -- often based on the now so conveniently accurate and sacrosanct scriptures housed in the Moscow state archives.
Just recently, as we in the ILWU have been pursuing a proposal to name the plaza in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building after Harry Bridges, some folks -- including some from this organization -- have come forward to claim Harry was really a Red and a closet member of the inner sanctum of the Communist Party. Sound familiar???
I am somewhat reluctant to explore this issue -- it is, after all, touchy business to take to task some good friends -- but at the same time we are hearing ever louder the refrain that, "Joe McCarthy was right... J. Edgar Hoover was right.... Maybe they went a little too far in their pursuit of the Red Menace, but they targeted the right enemy." and, yes, "God was on our side."
We hear that George Meany and the AFL were right in funding anti-Communist programs and police states around the world. That the Rosenbergs were justly executed because they really did spy for the Soviet Union. That the CIO was right -- fifty years ago -- when its anti-Communist leadership expelled the so-called left-led unions from the federation (how ironic that many of those who sat as judge and jury and prosecutor in the CIO courtroom were self-avowed left-wingers themselves, except they were of the anti-Communist stripe).
By the way, I don't know how many of you know that it was the position of the ILWU to fight expulsion from the CIO because we believed, Harry believed, that there could and should and must be room in the House of Labor for all points of view. That solidarity is strengthened by inclusion of diverse points of view -- and is fatally weakened by the repressive purges that accompany exclusion. So like many other progressive rank and file unions, we went through with presenting our case, of challenging the ideology that motivated and
guided the witch hunters, with only the UE and the ILWU surviving the long cold winter outside the House of Labor.
That same ILWU policy that led us to fight to stay in the CIO led us to play a leading role in trying to develop federations of transportation unions in the U.S. and around the world -- first in the Maritime Federation of the Pacific before World War 2, then in the Committee for Maritime Unity and the World Federation of Trade Unions after the war. More recently, this policy of unity and inclusion was affirmed in the 1980s by the AFL-CIO and the International Transport Workers Federation -- which made it possible for us to affiliate with both important -- perhaps essential -- organizations.
At the same time, we are often asked to deal with two charges of the Cold Warriors: That communists were merciless puppets of an evil foreign empire; and excluding them and their fellow-travelers from the workplace and from unions was the right thing to do to protect democracy and the national interest.
You'll forgive me if I don't subscribe to that. Although I am the first ever to admit that many of the directives the ILWU staff gets actually do come directly from Moscow -- Moscow Street in San Francisco that is, where I have lived since 1971.
Because, you see, our history is filled with instances of ILWU members defending the rights of workers on the job, in the community, and within the union regardless of race or ideology -- and even occasionally whether they wanted it or not, the ILWU held and defended a big piece of that moral high ground that speaks beyond pork chops or bread and butter. Were our members misled? Hardly.
Now we're being led to believe Harry duped us all about his membership in the CP. Despite twenty years of prosecution and investigation by a host of police agencies state and federal -- and a parade of informants and inquisitors -- the government could never establish its case. But the alleged diaries of the evil empire -- the Moscow State Archives -- are now being cited to prove a case that could never before be proven. Suddenly the archives of the KGB are considered holy scripture. I hope we're not here to chase our tails over this one -- but let's look at causes and consequences of the new obsession about Harry -- or anyone else for that matter -- "was or wasn't."
I think that what's going on -- back then and right now -- is how people deal with the distorted notions that union representation equals union control, and -- as in our case -- that union control of the waterfront equals worker power. This notion is rooted in the reality that most international commerce at some point cross the docks of the United States. The ability to influence the speed and efficiency of loading and unloading ships' cargo clearly imparts a leveraged strength much larger than the size of the work force engaged in longshore labor. So, depending on how they feel about worker power I believe many scholars and media personalities have played footloose and fancy free with their characterizations of this kind of power, and have played favorites in their characterizations of who controls and wields this power.
These days we see a replay of the media hyperbole that responded to unionization on the docks throughout the early twentieth century like: "The unions are belligerent" or "They are corrupt" or "They are communist or even mob led." The fact is that this kind of power is complex and multi-layered.
Power is itself a drug, and carries with it -- like most drugs -- the ability to do both good and evil. The corruption of power, especially in this economic system, is prevalent. Contesting for power can mean fighting for control of an institution -- like a union or a political organization -- simply for the sake of being in charge. Or it can be an ideological contest, where what is at stake is the policy, the morality, the strategic vision, or a union or organization. When power for the sake of power is the objective, it is easy to use and perpetuate the evils of extortion and criminal activity.
When it comes to longshore, unions are portrayed as either gangsters or reds. It's really a very simple formulation. It is also very misguided and absolutely misleading.
Have you noticed that neither union busters nor red-baiters talk very much about the abuses of human rights by corporate power? About who is really in control? Do they talk very much about federal and state institutions and agencies as instruments of corporate power? We in the ILWU -- and our brothers and sisters in the ILA -- The International Longshoremen's
Association of the Great Lakes eastern and southern seaboards -- are heralded in
some quarters as "The Lords of the Docks." As the ILWU today prepares for longshore contract negotiations, pay attention to how the employers proposals are called "offers" and union proposals are called "demands." We may indeed be more powerful than most groups of workers in this country, but let's not confuse that kind of power -- the power of union representation and worker solidarity -- with who really runs the show.
When unions are perceived by bosses or scholarly analysts as being powerful, the union in question is usually judged by that boss or scholar (and also in the media) as being corrupt and/or bureaucratic -- as being either criminal or communist. The same judgments are made about union leaders of so-called powerful unions. And these judgments are usually made by enemies of progressive and militant trade unionism. And only serve to take away from the conversation we should be having about who really has the power. Not to be confused.
To assess the consequence of this kind of scorekeeping we need to look at the record. We need to ask, for example, did the elected leaders of the ILWU, be it Harry Bridges or Lou Goldblatt, or Jack Hall, or Bill Chester -- or anyone else who represented the policies hammered out by the rank and file in ILWU caucuses and conventions year after year after year -- did these democratically elected leaders deliver the goods? Did the struggles to build and defend the union and fight for its programs benefit ILWU members and other workers and the larger society? Sure we all know that. And it is precisely this heritage - - which is alive today in the ILWU and elsewhere -- precisely what the new red-baiters and the old union busters are trying to undercut. Even if they're not doing it intentionally, they're complicit in the consequences.
It is apparently very difficult for these people to understand the kind of power that has a social conscience -- and to accept that that kind of power can be held in the hands of ordinary people of great integrity who sometimes do very courageous things in the name of justice.
Have you ever thought about why, if we are going to talk about the influences or controls exerted by members of the CP, why similar queries haven't been made about members of the Association of Catholic Trade unionists, the GI Forum -- or the FBI agents that permeated the ranks of workers and their allies? I don't mean to say these are all the same kinds of organizations or that they have similar purposes -- but to suggest they have all existed to help their adherents to influence, if not control, the course of action taken by the ILWU -- and by other unions and organizations.
How terribly ironic it is that the individuals most often spotlighted and vilified for alleged Communist Party membership played the central role of codifying the union's constitution the principles and procedures that provided and protected free and open discussion and debate! Out of these discussions, over the years, evolved the union's legacy of militant, democratic, progressive rank and file unionism -- a legacy perhaps unmatched in this country.
We are proud of our record on Spain, fascism, Vietnam, Civil Rights and civil liberties, international solidarity, racism, world peace, and independent electoral politics. We are proud to hang the hook over scab cargo from Liverpool and Australia, and to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The legacy goes on and on and on. This record was forged and implemented and defended by the rank and file members of the union. Policies in the ILWU were not and are not imposed from the top down. That was true in 1934, and it's true today.
But the new red-baiters would have us believe otherwise. Intentionally or not, they are bringing us closer again to the brink of intolerance and disunity. Worse yet, they would have us ignore or forget the pain and fear of prosecution and persecution that hounded thousands out of house and home and schoolhouses and factories -- and off of ships -- because, god forbid, there really were reds under our beds!
To resurrect the inquisition for whatever reason is to betray and defame the heroic efforts of the men and women who sacrificed so much to build the union and change the world.
So today as we look back at Labor in the Cold War we discover we are still in it. So back to one of the questions at hand:
Was Harry a Red? Frankly, my friends, I don't give a damn!
A WOMAN OF UAW LOCAL 967
by Gene Lantz, October, 1992
Unlike the bookish labor archivist who types these lines for you, Ruth Hise today is not very interested in past struggles. She came to the October Organizing Conference in 1992 at the United Auto Workers' Black Lake Education Center in Upper Michigan to look toward the future. She wants to organize new members and build up her union. Between classes, she consented to spend a few minutes talking to someone who wants to know about the old times...
During WWII, the plant in Greenville was known as Majors Field. Ruth Hise's father was employed there as a fireman. Greenville is known as a difficult city for progressive causes. E-Systems engineer Lenell Geter was wrongly accused of robbery and jailed for some years -- a national disgrace uncovered by television cameras -- basically because he is African American.
Greenville is well known for a large sign that used to be there. It read "The Blackest Land and the Whitest People!" The Ku Klux Klan held a meeting in a public building in Greenville in 1983.
After the war the facilities sat vacant for a time, the property of the city. In 1946 a company named Texas Electrical Manufacturing, later shortened to TEMCO, was organized in Grand Prairie in large manufacturing facilities vacated by North American Aviation Company at the end of World War II. UAW Local 390 was formed by the workers there soon afterward.
TEMCO went on to open facilities in Garland, Texas, and in Greenville.
Local 967 was organized at the Greenville plant around 1951. it has always kept the same number and was never associated with the union at Garland or Grand Prairie. At that time, Ruth Hise was a Greenville schoolgirl. In 1962, Temco became part of the LTV corporation. Local 390 in Grand Prairie and in Garland was combined with Local 893 of the Chance Vought Company and renamed UAW Local 848. For more on LTV, click here.
After being named LTV, the Greenville company became known as Electrical Systems, and finally E-Systems, its present name. Until 1968, the company did military work.
Ruth Hise was working for IBM in 1956 in Dallas. She moved back to her hometown of Greenville. Through a personal friend, she found it possible to get a job offer as a secretary at the aerospace plant; but she insisted on going to work on the line instead.
She began work in the upholstery department. She worked in airplanes right beside the union president, but no one asked her to join. Later on, she dated the president's brother, and he asked her.
As is often mentioned in American labor history, many women lost their jobs in industry at the end of World War II. Those lucky enough to continue found a continuing number of employer practices that were discouraging to women workers. Ruth discovered some of them one by one.
Ruth remembers January, 1959, for two reasons: it was the month that an airplane blew up in the hangar and it was the month that she came back to work after a layoff.
After only a few months, she was laid off again for six months. During those six months, Ruth went back to work at IBM. But she also busied herself in studying her union and specifically the contract at Local 967. She had relatives who were lawyers and felt a lifelong fascination with law.
In 1960, Ruth and another woman were recalled to work by an Arbitrator's decision. The company had claimed that they had no recall rights into the upholstery department because they had never hired women into that department. When the union proved the company wrong, the arbitrator ruled in their favor. Both women received back pay for the six months that they had been illegally laid off. One of the aftereffects was the conversion of Ruth Hise, ordinary worker, to Ruth Hise, Union Activist.
During 1959 Ruth had a girlfriend who had children and was pregnant again. She had to take maternity leave. Unlike men in a similar situation, the girlfriend found that her children had no insurance coverage during the time she was on leave. The union did not seem to be interested in this disparity.
After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, however, Ruth thought she saw a way to correct the insurance problem. She went to the Equal Employment Occupation Center (EEOC), and they referred her to an office in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Building in Dallas. There she filed a legal action against the company. She remembers the action as coming under Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. When the case was won, women workers at E-Systems in Greenville had the same insurance protection as men!
In 1966 Ruth was elected a Committeewoman of Local 967. She was the first woman to be elected to such a high office. While a Committeewoman, she won a grievance for a woman who then became the first woman in the inspection department.
In 1968 Ruth was a delegate to the UAW convention in Atlantic City. There she met both Leonard Woodcock and Walter Reuther. She was shown a model of the planned Education Center at Black Lake. She didn't realize her ambition to see the actual Center until October, 1992.
As years went by and layoffs came and went, Ruth worked in a number of different aerospace occupations: upholstery, electronics, parts control, material handler, and finally she works in warehousing.
UAW Local 967 went through a severe test from February 4 to August 16, 1972. They were forced out on strike. For some of the workers, the conduct of the strike was very unpopular. Persons unknown broke into the union hall and burned its records. The fire gutted the union hall. To this day, union members are believed to have been the culprits. Ruth Hise thinks so, too. No one was ever prosecuted for the fire.
In 1992, Local 967 signed a new contract. Critics of the contract dislike the "flex hours" and the new health care benefits. Fewer than 50% of the bargaining unit is signed up to pay dues. Ruth blames the problem on member apathy. She now lives with her husband in University Park and has to drive over 60 miles to work in Greenville. Other people who live far away may not be active members.
Local 967's determination to become a stronger union is reflected in their having sent 9 elected delegates, including Ruth Hise, to the October Organizing Conference at Black Lake.
Texas labor history students have all heard of the Lone Star Steel strike, but, sad to say, there is no single source that gives a factual review of it. To help remedy that problem, Elaine Lantz and I used our vacation in early November, 1998, to go to Lone Star to dig up the facts. We were rewarded with three excellent interviews, a long list of excerpts from the Longview newspaper, and a cardboard box full of precious documents from a former president of USWA Local 4134.
The local was originally organized during World War II by the UAW-CIO. But they turned it over to the Steelworkers when it was chartered in 1948.
The Steelworkers won a good contract through a strike in 1956, but had trouble getting the company to live up to it. Furious over the backlog of grievances, they rejected a compromise proposal negotiated by their International and went on a wildcat strike on September 21, 1957. Management quickly fired all 2,800 of them and got an injunction against mass picketing at the gates.
Before long, local and state police, including the Texas Rangers, were all over Morris County. Strikers were arrested or sought for curses and threats, beating scabs up, for shooting their cars, for shooting into their houses, for slashing their tires, for throwing dynamite at their houses, for shooting into stores, for putting dynamite in the plant, for dynamiting the gas lines on both sides of the plant, and for blowing up a truck. According to both Loren and W.L. Brantley, both former officers of the local, not one striker was ever found guilty.
Just reading the Longview Morning Journal for the period gives some idea of the solid opposition that the strikers had to deal with. The newspaper lost no opportunity to make management look good nor to make the strikers look bad. When the strike was lost on November 1, they printed a special issue with 2-inch bold headlines proclaiming "Strikers Throw In The Sponge."
It was also revealing to notice that the newspaper railed against school desegregation even more than they attacked the strikers from Lone Star. When the publisher slugged an NAACP representative, he put out a special edition to brag about it! Thus it was obvious that the enemies of civil rights and the enemies of labor have been generally the same people!
The story of the Lone Star strike has a happy ending, but it was a long time coming. They did not regain the advantages of their 1956 contract until another long and bloody strike in 1968. There were 21 shootings and at least one person killed in '68. According to the Brantley brothers, all of the grievances were not resolved until the early 1980s!
We two amateur labor historians concluded that the pending merger between the UAW, the Machinists, and the Steelworkers is going to bring together some very tough union people. We turned all our findings and historical treasures over to Dr. George Green, Labor History Professor at UTA. 21pages of our notes also went into Local 848's archives and are available to the membership.
MLK Spoke to UAW in 1961
UAW Local 848's archives contain a long playing album donated by "Dusty" Rhodes. It contains a speech by Walter Reuther when he was president of the UAW and two speeches by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a transcription of one of King's speeches made by Gene Lantz on January 2, 1991:
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr speech at UAW 25th Anniversary Celebration Cobo Hall, Detroit April 27, 1961
Introduced by Leonard Woodcock, VP of UAW. Woodcock describes the year long boycott of Montgomery buses. King's book Stride Toward Freedom describes one elderly woman who, asked if she was tired, said, "My feet are tired but my soul is rested!"
Addresses luminaries, including President Reuther.
"Delegates and friends of UAW, ladies and gentlemen: I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this evening and to be a part of this auspicious occasion.
I cannot stand here without giving just a word of thanks to this great union for all that you have done across these 25 years. You have made life more meaningful for millions of people and I am sure that America is a better place in which to live as a result of the great work that has been done by UAW. You have given to this nation a magnificent example of honest, democratic trade unionism, and your great president, Walter Reuther will certainly go down in history as one of the truly great persons of this generation.
I bring greetings to you this evening from the hundreds and thousands, yea millions of people in the Southland who are struggling for freedom and human dignity. I bring greetings from the thousands of Negro students who have stood up courageously against the principalities of segregation. For all of these months they have moved in a uniquely meaningful orbit imparting light and heat to distant satellites. And as a result of their nonviolent yet courageous struggle, they have been able to bring about integration in more than 139 cities at the lunch counters. //applause//
And I am sure that, when historians look back over this particular era of our history, they will have to record this movement as one of the most significant epics of our heritage. Now as I think with you tonight and think about this significant occasion, I would like to open by saying "Labor has come a long long way from the days of the strikebreaking injunctions of federal courts; from the days of intimidations and firings in the plants; from the days that your union leaders could be physically beaten with impunity. The clubs and the claws of the heartless anti-labor forces have been clipped, and you now have organizations of strength and intelligence to keep your interests from being submerged and ignored. This is certainly the glorious meaning of your 25th anniversary.
Negroes who are now but beginning their march from the dark and desolate Egypt of segregation and discrimination can gain from you real inspiration and encouragement for the hard road still ahead. But though we have a multitude of problems almost absorbing every moment of our time and consuming almost every ounce of our energies, we cannot be unmindful of new problems confronting labor. And toward these problems we are not neutral because they are our problems as well.
The autoworkers are facing hard core unemployment. New economic patterning, through automation and relocation of plants is dissolving the nation's basic industries. This is to me a catastrophe. We are neither technologically advanced nor socially enlightened as a nation if we witness this disaster for tens of thousands without finding a solution. And by a solution I mean a real and genuine alternative providing the same living standards and opportunities which were swept away by a force called progress. But which for many is destruction. The society that performs miracles with machinery has the capacity to make some miracles for men if it values men as highly as it values machines.
And this is really the crux of the problem. Are we as concerned for human values and human resources as we are for material and mechanical values? The automobile industry is not alone a production complex of assembly lines and steel forming equipment. It is an industry of people who must live in decency with the security for children, for old age, for health and a cultural life. It cannot be permitted to become a blind monster which grinds out more cars and simultaneously snuffs out the hopes and lives of the people by whom the industry was built. Perhaps few people have kinship with autoworkers' labor as Negroes themselves, Because we built a cotton economy for 300 years of slaves on which the nation grew powerful and we still lack the most elementary rights of citizens or workers. We too realize that when human values are subordinated to blind economic forces human beings can become human scrap. Our kinship was not born however with the rise of automation and the birth of your organization as you confronted recalcitrant antagonists you forged new weapons appropriate to your fight.
Thus in the 30s, when industrial unionism sought recognition as a form of industrial democracy, there were powerful forces which said to you the same words we as Negroes hear now: "Never. You are not ready. You are really seeking to change our form of society. You are reds. You are troublemakers. you are stirring up discontent and discord where none exists. You are interfering with our property rights. You are captives of sinister elements who would exploit you." Both of us have heard these reckless charges. Both of us know that what we have sought was simple basic needs without which no man is a whole person.
In your pursuit of these goals during the middle thirties you creatively stood up for your fights by sitting down at your machines, just as our courageous students are siting down at lunch counters across the South. And they screamed at you. //applause//
They screamed at you and said that you were destroying property rights. But nearly thirty years later the ownership of the automobile industry is still in the hands of its stockholders and the value of its shares has multiplied many fold, producing profits of awesome size. And we are proudly borrowing your technique. And though those same old and tired threats and charges have been dusted off for us we doubt that we shall collectivize a single lunch counter or nationalize the consumption of sandwiches and coffee. //applause//
Because you persisted in your quest for the better life, you brought new horizons to the whole nation. Industry after industry was compelled to civilize for the whole nation.
Negroes need the same measures. Even more desperately for so many of us earn less than one dollar and twenty five cents per hour.
Labor needs housing legislation. Labor needs legislation to protect it as a consumer. Negroes need housing legislation also. Labor needs an adequate old age medical care bill and so do Negroes. The list might be extended ad infinitum for it is axiomatic that what labor needs, Negroes need.
Simple logic therefore puts us side by side in the struggle for all elements of a decent standard of living. As we survey the problems of labor from the chilling threat of automation to the needs of housing and social welfare generally we confront the necessity to have a Congress responsible to liberal legislation. And here again the kinship of interests of labor and the Negro people expresses itself. Negroes need liberal congressmen if they are to realize equality and opportunity. The campaign to grant the ballot to Negroes in the South has profound implications. From all I have outlined it is clear that the Negro vote would not be utilized in a vacuum. Negroes exercising of free suffrage would march to the polls to support those candidates who would be partial to social legislation. Negroes in the South whether they elected white or Negro congressmen would be placing in office a liberal candidate, if you will a labor candidate. No other political leader //applause//
No other political leader could have a program possessing appeal to Negroes and these circumstances the campaign for Negro suffrage is both a fulfillment of constitutional rights and a fulfillment of labor's needs in a fast changing economy.
And therefore I feel justified in asking you for your continued support in the struggle to achieve the ballot all over the nation and in the South in particular. We the Negro people and labor, by extending the frontiers of democracy to the South inevitably will sow the seeds of liberalism, where reaction has flourished unchallenged for decades. A new day will dawn which will see militant, steadfast and reliable congressmen from the South joining those from the northern industrial states who design and enact legislation for the people rather than for the privileged.
Now I need not say to you that this problem and all of the problems which we face in the nation and in the world for that matter will not work itself out. We know that if the problem is to be solved we must work to solve it. Evolution may be true in the biological realm but when we seek to apply to the whole of society there is very little evidence for it. Social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work time itself becomes the ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of social stagnation.
So in order to realize the American dream of economic justice and of the brotherhood of man, men and women all over the nation must continue to work for it.
There are certain words that are used in every academic discipline and pretty soon they become a part of the technical nomenclature of that discipline. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any word in modern psychology. It is the word "maladjusted". This is the ringing pride of the new child psychology "maladjusted" now certainly all of us are desirous of living the well adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic and schizophrenic personalities, but if you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, let me say that there are things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I call upon you to continue to be maladjusted //applause//
I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism or the self defeating effects of physical violence.
For in a day when Sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. So I am proud to be maladjusted ///applause//
It may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. So let us be maladjusted. As maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, "Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream".
As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportions, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." //applause//
And I believe that through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom, justice and dignity for all men. If we will continue to work and work with the faith that this dream can be realized, I believe it will be realized. For although the arc of the moral university is long, it bends toward justice. Before this dream is realized maybe some will have to get scarred up. Before the dream is realized maybe some will have to go to jail. Before the dream is realized maybe some will have to face physical death, but if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death then nothing could be more honorable. That is something in this universe ... //applause//
UTA Labor Archives Begun in 1967
On November 8, 2002, five trade unionists and about 40 academics attended an anniversary celebration for the Labor Archives at the University of Texas in Arlington, on the 6th floor of the Library at UTA. Dr George Green said that he and the library director, John Hudson, started the archives after being encouraged by UAW 848 members in January, 1967. He said that the collection now represents the largest labor history storage in America’s Southwest.
Green gave a short history: The 1st American unions started during Washington's 1st term. In the 1830s they pushed for progressive legislation such as public schools and ending debtor's prison. Unions came to Texas during the Republic (1836-48). In 1887, the Texas Legislature passed first its labor reform law. It was overturned in court 1892 by a judge that said, "There must be, as there always has been, oppression of the working class."
Sammy Rudel and Gary Kennedy of the United Transportation Union were there to present dozens of cartons of railroad labor union history to the archives. Gary Spurr, UTA's present labor archivist, discussed "The Variety of Labor Records at UTA."
After the 1969 murders of Black Panther leaders in Chicago and the overall repression, the Panthers established no new chapters. Consequently, when Fred Hampton's cousin, Carl, began a Houston chapter, they had to name it "People's Party II." Carl was nevertheless a militant, and packed a pistol. The group had a headquarters on Scott Street, and was involved in several community projects. One of the important ones was to raise funds for a "people's pharmacy" under the direction of Texas Southern University student Mickey LeLand. Leland moved in moneyed circles to raise the money, but would later claim he was never an actual member of People's Party II.
Another project was to distribute Black Panther newspapers. Houston police tried to stop a newsboy from his sidewalk distribution, and a showdown ensued. Carl Hampton, the TV news reported, had drawn a pistol on a Houston policeman and forced him to let the newsboy go. On the following Sunday evening, August 1, 1970, Houston police quietly surrounded the headquarters. Some of them positioned on nearby rooftops with sniper rifles. The local newspersons, who had been stoking the histeria for sevral days, were brought along. Eventually, Carl came out, and was gunned down.
Pacifica Radio was monitoring police calls and broadcast over and over during the following week the officer's report: "I got one, I think it was the leader!" Bartee Haile, a young white radical and founder of the "John Brown Revolutionary League" in support of civil rights, was also wounded. Haile escaped the scene and sought help from progresive attorney Ben Levy. Everybody else known to have associated with Carl Hampton's group, including soon-to-be State Representative and U.S. Congressman Mickey LeLand, was arrested. Commercial news reporters sided with the police or pretended to be neutral, but the University of Houston student newspaper headline read, "The Houston Police Murdered Carl Hampton!"
A public rally protested the police action. Progressive activists vowed to "pick up the gun" because of the conclusions they drew. Buttons were issued and sold. They had a picture of Carl Hampton and the words, "You can kill a revolutionary, but you can't stop the revolution."
For many years, the residents of the George Loving Housing Projects in West Dallas fought against the RSR lead plant that was poisoning the soil and their children's brains. Eventually, they won out. The plant was finally closed and millions of dollars were pledged to clean up the lead-infested soil. But the city also closed the housing projects and bulldozed the area level!
Labor Changes to Win
In the 1980s and 90s, a few unions, most notably the Steelworkers and the Mineworkers, resumed the kinds of militant and innovative tactics that had made labor great before 1947.
My own local, UAW 848, helped with the trend with a victory after a 15-month struggle in 1984-85.
A good account of one of the Steelworkers' victories is Tom Juravich & Kate Bronfenbrenner, Ravenswood. The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor. ILR Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1999. For my notes click here
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January, 1990: North Texas Jobs with Justice Begun
Nationally, Jobs with Justice was begun in 1987 by five of the largest industrial unions. They asked labor activists to form coalitions with churchpeople, students, civil rights groups, and other progressives to fight for workplace justice. It may have been a coincidence, but some of those same unions had just defied AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland by participating in a national march against the wars in Central America. To all labor activists, it was apparent that changes needed to be made to stop labor’s steady slide downhill, and Jobs with Justice seemed like a good opportunity.
The first big Texas action was in support of a CWA drive to organize cafeteria workers at the college in Nacogdoches. A handful of activists in Dallas asked CWA organizer Sandy Rusher if they could start raising money for a bus. Sandy was able to get permission and the group went. A good beginning had been made; however, there was still no formal and ongoing chapter of Jobs with Justice in Texas.
In 1989-90, Greyhound bus drivers all over the nation struck. The national headquarters of Greyhound was in downtown Dallas. Activists began to collect around the Amalgamated Transit Union for a weekly rally at the bus station. Retired ATU member Priscilla Bell was a stalwart at all public actions.
Soon, mighty Teamsters Local 745 under TC Stone joined in, and the rallies became big (for Dallas, about 75-100 participants) every Friday night. After months of these ecumenical labor actions, Sandy Rusher allowed Elaine and Gene Lantz to call for a formal JwJ chapter. The first meeting was held at UAW 848’s hall in Grand Prairie. More than 30 activists, representing 6-10 unions participated. The first action was to form a contingent for the Dallas Martin Luther King parade.
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GW Bush Era Began in Texas
George W. Bush was first elected Texas Governor when he beat incumbent Democrat Ann Richardson in 1994. Skirmishes with Texas unionists were not long in coming. When labor supported House Bill 1863 to institute “welfare reform” even before the federal law was passed, Texas AFL-CIO President Joe Gunn played a significant role. He did so, he explained later, with the understanding that the Governor would allow the labor federation to continue the long-established policy of picking labor’s commissioner. The new bill provided for only three powerful commissioners to head the Texas Workforce Commission. Only one would be designated the “labor commissioner.” Instead of consulting with labor, Bush chose Dave Perdue, a former president of UAW Local 276 in Arlington. In his application, Perdue had indicated that his view of the future of labor was similar to that of Bush’s (!).
Gunn and the Texas AFL-CIO went on a highly public rampage. Many unionists received posters and buttons accusing Bush of being as big a liar as the famous wooden puppet, Pinnochio. Later on, many American unionists felt that they should have listened to the Texas AFL-CIO.
In 1993, when the immigrant workers at Fojtasek in Irving voted to join the United Needleworkers and Industrial Trades Employees (UNITE!) union, the AFL-CIO was continuing its traditional policy of calling for the deportation of immigrants, not organizing them into unions! UNITE expected, and received very little solidarity efforts from other North Texas unions, although the tiny Jobs with Justice chapter tried to help. Sam Lubke, UNITE! staffer who came in to help negotiate that first contract, told me that the reactionaries in California had inadvertently provided a stimulus to help organize the union in Texas. When California’s governor campaigned for a major anti-immigrant law, Latinos fought back. One of the ways they fought back in the Dallas area, Lubke said, was by joining UNITE! Women’s issues were also important in the drive, Lubke told me.
Fojtasek fought the union all the way, before and after the contract was signed, but the union survived. In 2000, after the big changes in AFL-CIO took effect, the immigrant locals joined the Dallas Central Labor Council and fought side-by-side for immigrant rights.
AFL-CIO Leadership Replaced!
In January, 1995, the largest locals in the AFL-CIO joined together to replace the top leadership. They made a special office for Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, an AFSCME staffer from San Antonio, Texas. She is pictured at left here, with Elaine Lantz, at a Dallas meeting in 1998. Several Texas unions were active in supporting the new leadership, and several unions campaigned on the other side.
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