The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

25 years since Eastern Airline Strike began

I joined the Socialist Workers Party 4 months aftern the Eastern strike started.  It was and is a real confirmation of the party's perspectives.

An outline for an article I really wish I had time to write:

25 years since the start of the Eastern Airlines  Strike

1.  Lorenzo and "Lorenzoism"

2.  The 1989 political context
                Rout of organized labor
                                UK Miners' Strike
                1987 Stock Market Crash
3.  Machinists, pilots, flight attendants
                Labor solidarity
                Rank and file leadership

4.  Pittston Coal Strike
                Convergence with Eastern strike
                Interpenetration and reinforcement

5.  SWP Working class campaign
                JB [plenum]: "This train has left the station         
                and we are in one of the rear cars. We have to 
                fight our way to the front"
                IAM fraction members
                Building solidarity through the fractions
                Propaganda and recruitment
                A striking confirmation of the
                                "changing face of US politics."

7. "These are great and glorious times we are living        
in." [JB, Thanksgiving 1989 St Louis, MO                 Active
Workers Conference.]
                Cuba's rectification campaign
                Eastern/Pittston: a break in the rout?
                Abortion rights/clinic defense
                Eastern Europe/USSR
8. Eastern went out of business as Gulf War began
                Union tops maneuvers fruitless
                "Better to die on your feet than live on
                                your knees."
                Rank and file lasted "one day longer"
                                than Frank Lorenzo.

9. On going to work wearing a "No Lorenzo" button:
                Some personal notes


Words from one of the strikers:

The Eastern Strike Was A Victory For Workers 


Reporting on the Northwest Airlines pilots strike, the big- business press often refers to the 1989-91 strike at Eastern Airlines as a "defeat for both the company and union." The following excerpt, from The Eastern Airlines Strike: Accomplishments of the rank-and-file Machinists and gains for the labor movement, tells a different story. Ernie Mailhot, a ramp worker and cleaner at Eastern Airlines, was a rank-and- file striker. He was strike staff coordinator for International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 1018 from December 1989 to December 1990. The Eastern Airlines Strike is copyright (c) 1991 by Pathfinder Press, and reprinted with permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.

After 686 days on strike against Eastern Airlines, rank- and-file members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and our supporters registered the final piece of our victory against the union-busting drive of the employers when the carrier folded at midnight on January 18, 1991....

Eastern strikers from coast to coast, from Puerto Rico to Canada, reacted by calling to congratulate each other and going out to airports to celebrate.

Mark McCormick was one of the Eastern strikers who made his way to New York's La Guardia Airport the night of January 18. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world," he said, as he stood watching management personnel walk out. With a big smile on his face, he suggested to the managers that they "take tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow off."

Over the next few hours, strikers and our supporters showed up - many with handmade signs - at rowdy picket lines. The sign I think expressed our feelings the best was the one at the Miami airport that read, "We said we'd last `One day longer.' "...

The twenty-two-month strike of the IAM had defeated Eastern's attempt to create a profitable nonunion airline and set an example for all bosses who want a "union-free environment" if they can get away with it.

What the strikers were up against
To strikers and other working people, the scope of the accomplishments and victories scored in the Eastern strike are measured by what we were up against.

In 1981 U.S. president Ronald Reagan tried to set in motion union busting on a national scale when he broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). A pattern soon developed of union-busting drives by the employers in major industries, with Frank Lorenzo's destruction of the striking unions at Continental Airlines in 1983 spearheading the assault.

Takeback contracts, permanent replacement workers, and union busting itself became the order of the day. In the airline industry, nonunion airlines were established and strikes, such as that of the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants at TWA in 1986, were crushed.

On March 4, 1989, when we went on strike at Eastern Airlines, we looked back on almost a decade of many more defeats than victories for labor - defeats that more often than not came without a real fight by union members.

We faced Frank Lorenzo, the number one union buster in the United States. We faced government agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, that continually backed Eastern management in the face of massive union documentation of safety violations at the airline....

Despite this, we decided it was time to fight, rather than accept our only other choice: letting Lorenzo destroy our union and set an example for every other boss like him.

When we walked out on March 4, 1989, most of the rank and file of the IAM sensed our strength for the first time. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and Local 553 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which organized the flight attendants, also recognized our strength and our fighting determination. They joined our picket lines. The unity we had achieved between the unions and the pilots' association greatly increased our initial strength, and, in turn, our confidence.

The huge rallies at airports across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico -many held in cities with only a few strikers - showed us the broad support and identification our fight had evoked among working people. Many, having gone through years of concession contracts and union busting, saw the fight as their own....

The unity of the Machinists, flight attendants, and pilots in a major national strike, over a period of eight and a half months, is something that had not been seen in the airline industry before.

Winning the support of the pilots for that period of time allowed us to begin to put our stamp on the battle and step forward as a rank-and-file leadership. In addition, we became seasoned enough to understand and weather the later treachery of the pilots' officialdom....

The joint work we were able to do with the United Mine Workers, backing its strike against the Pittston coal company through the spring, summer, and fall of 1989, also played a big role in our gaining experience and confidence. From Los Angeles, to Buffalo, to Pittsburgh, to Miami, the striking Machinists and miners learned from each other. Sometimes this took the form of joint tours; other times it meant collaborating to figure out how best to rally support for both our strikes within the unions.

These organizing experiences helped show us that we could affect the battle. The dealings in the courtroom, conflicts among competing investor schemes, and debates in Congress - all these reflected the pressure brought to bear when we exercised union power and reached out to the broader ranks of labor.

Our slogan became that we would last "one day longer" than Frank Lorenzo. This meant that we would never let Eastern run a profitable airline as long as it operated with scab labor. We knew that by achieving that goal, we would help set an example for every other working person in the United States and internationally - our real family, not the "Eastern family." On April 18, 1990, in a victory for all labor, our slogan became a reality. On that day the federal government, through its bankruptcy court, removed Lorenzo from control of Eastern....

After Lorenzo was removed, our slogan remained "One day longer," but it became "One day longer" than Eastern....

Fight went far beyond fight for jobs
The fighting Machinists and our supporters accomplished huge things that go far beyond the struggle for the jobs that we had at Eastern. We showed that unlike the Lorenzos and the rest of the boss class in this country, who are motivated by greed for profits, workers will step forward and put themselves on the line in the interests of working people everywhere. This also came through in thousands of examples of other unionists pitching in to support our strike - not only here, but in New Zealand, Britain, Bermuda, and other countries....

Thousands of us are now working in other IAM-organized jobs, as packinghouse workers, as aerospace workers, or in other industries. We take the lessons of the strike with us, and one lesson we will never forget is "An injury to one is an injury to all."

It is important to remember that our fight against Eastern and other companies like it not only improves the relationship of forces for other unionists. It also creates a more encouraging environment for all those who fight against social injustices - from racist attacks to Washington's criminal wars, such as the slaughter recently unleashed against the people of Iraq.

Because of our fight at Eastern, a boss who is considering forcing his workers out on strike so he can break their union and lower their wages and benefits will think a little longer before making such a move.

As important as that is, even more important is the impact we have had on the thinking of working people who are inspired by our fight and will come to follow our example.

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