Reflections on the UE Workers Victory Tour

Rick Feldman of the Boggs Center shares his reflections on the UE Workers Victory Tour:

Let me share last night’s celebration (organized by Jobs with Justice) with the workers from UE and the recent inspiring sit-in of the Chicago Republic Window workers. The IEBW Hall was filled with probably 500 folks.

There was some music of union songs, surviving Sit Downer participants from Flint (1937) and from the Hunger March in Detroit. They are on a 15 city tour and they have a 15 minute DVD which shares the energy and events of the struggle. There was not much on the preparation or the work before this decision and successful event.

This was the Republic Windows Workers Resistance and Recovery Tour. I want to start with the recognition that leadership and struggle will take many forms in this movement moment. I also fundamentally start with Grace’s recent comment in the Citizen: “The recent inspiring sit-in of the Chicago Republic Window workers is unlikely to spark a similar wave, not only because the number of workers has shrunk so drastically but because today’s economic crisis is inseparably tied to the crisis of our planet, our cities, our communities, our schools-and our souls.” This does not minimize their resistance or actions.

The union leadership and the Latino rank and file leadership were both very clear that real change comes from collective action from below. “The Republic Workers moved from the face of victims to the face of resistance.” It was a magical moment for those involved and significant that the President Elect of the US made a statement of solidarity. There were many demonstrations at the Bank of America and 1,000 folks demonstrated in Chicago in solidarity.

During the post DVD viewing a comment was made by the leader of the strike that they were now investigating possible ways to keep the factory open. They were clear that they cannot rely on the government or the corporations for their future.

The program moved from honoring the 1937 sit downers to the Republic Window sit down with no comments about the changing economy, the changing America, the global crisis, etc. It was all about strategies of solidarity, collective action, worker activism and union democracy.

The follow-up and focus for “what to do next” was based upon the need to involve millions of people to pressure Obama to sign the Employee Free Choice Act.

There was no call for new kinds of unions to create work and new relationships with community organizations. There was no call for the need to create local sustainable economies.

In addition to the visitors from Chicago, Elaine Crawford (first woman president of IEBW), Sandra (first woman president of Detroit Metro AFL-CIO) and Rory Gamble (Region 1A Director). General Baker was supposed to introduce the Chicago guests but was ill and replaced by Rory Gamble.

They emphasized the need to go from begging to “bargaining and activism so the middle class jobs return.”

While it was not a young crowd there were some young folks present. Centro Obrero brought 10-15 folks from their ESL class. Activists were present in mass. A hunger for the past to return rather than an reflective discussion on the changes since the 1930s needs to be our agenda. They still want to “bargain into the middle class rather than create a new way of life.”

If we look forward, new strategies and new forms of solidarity will emerge that move beyond jobs to work and a new solidarity economics will evolve that does not rely on the government or the corporations.

That is why we can’t talk and think about economics in the 21st century the same way that Karl Marx did in the 19th or FDR or John L. Lewis did in the 1930s. As Jimmy put it in 1982 “A JOB AINT THE ANSWER!!!!”


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