Six days ago, members of the United Steelworkers (USW) and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) began “From Fargo to Findlay: A Journey for Justice.” On February 27, the Journey concluded with a roundtable discussion about the most recent wave of greed-motivated corporate attacks on workers and their unions at the Ohio AFL-CIO’s Columbus, Ohio headquarters.
Eight locked-out workers traveled over 1,000 miles from the American Crystal Sugar Company offices near Fargo, ND, to Cooper Tire and Rubber Company’s headquarters in Findlay, Ohio, and participated in rallies, fundraisers, and direct actions with local union members and allies along the way.
Workers who participated in the Journey shared their perspectives on the six-state tour. The Journey was originally intended to wrap with a rally in Findlay, but plans changed when the USW announced last week that it reached a tentative agreement with Cooper and scheduled a ratification vote by the members of Local 207L for Feb. 27.
Participants said that the Journey inspired union solidarity among workers at stops along the route as well as from supporters following the Journey on-line. Supporters followed the Journey via the workers’ weblog, crystalgreed.com/journeyforjustice/, and sent messages of solidarity to the Journey using Facebook and Twitter.
“We’ve seen the power of solidarity at work in bargaining, during the lockout, and on the road,” said USW Local 207L Rapid Response Coordinator Robert Greer. “We all understand that we are stronger together than we are divided.”
That observation was echoed by the other participants, who understand that the fight for fairness and dignity on the job extends beyond the ACS and Cooper labor disputes.
“We are sharing our stories about the ways Crystal Sugar’s lockout is affecting us and our families,” saidLee Schlichtmann, who is currently locked out of ACS’s Hillsboro facility. “We’ve learned there are many other companies using the recession as an excuse for taking advantage of their workers too. It’s bullying, and workers shouldn’t have to take it.”
Journey participants reported that sharing their personal stories about being locked out inspires activism in others because workers know that if companies like American Crystal Sugar and Cooper Tire are successful at driving down wages and cutting benefits, their employers may follow suit.
“The support we’ve received over the last five days has strengthened my resolve to keep up our fight for a fair contract,” said Becki Jacobson, a 30-year ACS employee from Moorhead, Minn. ”If Crystal Sugar succeeds in breaking our union with a lockout, other companies will try the same thing with their union workers.”
In recent months, thousands of workers throughout North America have been locked out of their jobs at Caterpillar, Rio Tinto Alcan, HealthBridge and elsewhere as employers try to drive wages and benefits down so that corporate executives can continue to enjoy bonuses and other compensation worth millions of dollars.
“We set out to spread the message that we must stand together to make a difference, and we sent that message loud and clear,” said USW Local 207L Women of Steel Coordinator Teresa Brown, a 12-year Cooper employee. “Out our fight and the fight for justice for thousands of other workers continues every day.”
The USW represents about 850,000 workers in a wide variety of industries, ranging from glass making, mining, paper, steel, tire and rubber and other manufacturing environments to the public sector, service and health care industries. The BCTGM represents approximately 100,000 workers in bakeries, candy, cereal, sugar, grain mills, tobacco plants, food processing and manufacturing facilities and occupations related to these industries.
For more information, contact: Michael Moore, BCTGM, 651-303-9865; Tony Montana, USW, 412-562-2592
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/unitedsteelworkers/