Labor Briefing: Voice of Detroit Stikers is Silenced

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On July 13, 1995, 2500 newspaper workers in six unions struck the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. Four months later the striking unions launched a weekly paper, the Detroit Sunday Journal.

According to an AFL-CIO news release, “The final edition of the Detroit Sunday Journal will be published Nov. 21, the fourth anniversary of the award-winning interim strike newspaper’s first issue. The Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions said the paper, which once had a circulation of 300,000 and averaged 48 pages during its first year, faced a continuing loss of staff as workers were called back to work … or took jobs elsewhere.”

The council’s six unions unconditionally offered to return to work in February, 1997. The reader and advertiser boycott against the Free Press and the News will continue “until new contracts are ratified by the six locked-out unions,” the council said. Left unsaid was that many of the workers called back to their jobs often wind up with half of their old pay.

In the strike’s first months, the strikers were joined on their picket lines by several thousand other workers, many from Detroit’s auto plants. They battled cops and private security thugs.

Then a judge issued an injunction and the union officialdom called a speedy halt to the workers’ street fight. A national solidarity day, legal maneuvers, four years of strike pay, along with defiant rhetoric by union officials and countless sacrifices by the ranks could not overcome the effects of the decision to bow down to the injunction.

The workers’ resistance has cost the papers hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and lost circulation.

What the strike’s outcome has cost to workers-not just the newspaper workers but all workers looking for an answer to downsizing, part-time jobs, speed-up and such is much harder to measure. But surely, it is much greater.

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Miners Relying on the Wrong Byrd

Once, coal miners took canaries deep into mine pits and shafts. When the birds couldn’t breathe easily or died, it was time to scramble to the top.

Now, unwittingly, coal miners themselves are providing a warning that organized labor has reached a political dead end. That thought is suggested by reports of West Virginia miners in Washington, D.C., protesting a federal judge’s decision against mountaintop strip mining.

The New York Times (Nov. 10), reported that “Senator Robert C. Byrd (the West Virginia Democrat) rallied more than 500 coal miners outside the Capitol today. … Senator Byrd beamed at the rally as he heard leaders from the AFL – CIO and a dozen unions pledge solidarity with the coal miners.

“Outside in the crowd, the miners pledged retribution on Vice President Al Gore’s presidential run if he supported the court decision. … ‘It’s going to shut our job plumb down, going to put us out of work,” Mark Davis, a 38-year-old mountaintop miner, said of the ruling.”

The court ruling that may well strip Davis and many other miners of their dangerous jobs found that West Virginia “had violated federal mining and clean water laws for years by permitting the blockage of hundreds of miles of vital valley streams with mountaintop rubble. … The coal industry, the miners union, and virtually all government officials have attacked the court’s ruling as economically ruinous.” (The New York Times, Nov. 7.)

Critics of the coal companies say that dynamited, decapitated mountains in four Appalachian states are becoming barren “moonscapes,” and attempts at reclamation are like “lipstick on a corpse.”

One of those critics is a retired miner, Jim Weekley, who joined the successful lawsuit. Weekley says, “I ran free in this hollow all my life …. This fight is not about money. It’s about being for the future.”

As for Senator Byrd, Weekley says that Bobby Byrd’s just like all the politicians here-they’re coal company men.

Of course they are, and they invariably have coal company answers to job problems, environmental problems, union problems, and problems of life and health. That explains both why mining is the deadliest occupation, and why nonunion mines are opening up, even as unionized mines shut down.

Why are the miners lining up behind company stooges? The short answer is that the United Mine Workers Union has no union solutions to miners’ problems. So miners are left with the choice of trading their hollows and streams, along with their lungs and their labor, for a days pay. Pay that ends for sure the day the mountaintops are no more.

Socialist Action News

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