The Militant, March 20, 1987
Two examples of labor resistance
Barnes noted two examples of resistance in the labor movement that went against the general trend in the past few years- the meat-packers in Austin, Minnesota, and the coal miners.
"What the meat-packers in Austin have done," Barnes said, "is repeatable by other unionists - not just in the distant future, but today. The conditions and possibilities that led the members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 to take over their union, organize a movement to wage a fight against their employers, and change themselves in the course of that struggle exist throughout the labor movement.
"P-9 advanced the understanding of thinking workers around the country," Barnes said. "It was something different than anything we've seen in the unions for decades, even the movement led by Ed Sadlowski in the United Steelworkers union more than 10 years ago, or the Miners for Democracy in the 1960s and 1970s."
The difference, he said, was the determination of the P-9 membership to take their local organization, to make it theirs, to strive to use it as best they could, and to reach out and build a united support committee to win broader support in their fight against Hormel. ''That is the main lesson of P-9. That's what P-9ers and veteran fighters from Ottumwa, Iowa; and Fremont, Nebraska, have been explaining· to others workers."
The framework of the fight has changed, Barnes noted. Before the contract was signed in September 1986, the focus was on winning the strike- that is, to win a better contract than what the employers offered and to get the fired strikers back to work.
This phase of the fight centered on mobilizing support from other unions across the country to help P-9.
Although the strike was lost and the contract signed by
a rump union set up by the UFCW officialdom in Washington, the fight continues. But it has a different and broader focus . It is now centered on getting those who went through the P-9 experience to link their futures to the struggle of packinghouse workers as a whole, where wave after wave of assaults are occurring and the resistance continues.
The criteria of P-9ers now is how to help fellow packinghouse workers, and in the course of doing that lay the groundwork for creating a fighting democratic union of North American meat-packers.
The battle has just begun, Barnes noted, for those who have been through the P-9 experience to help win the fight for a broader class view of the struggle.
And the fight will continue because the struggle of
meat-packers against the big packinghouses owners' drive to lower their wages and worsen working conditions is continuing.
Barnes noted that the United Mine Workers (UMWA) is the only industrial union that has not been deeply set back by the employers' offensive. It has not been saddled with the same kind of big takeback contracts.
The Miners for Democracy won a major shift in the relationship of forces inside the union 15 years ago, which has not been reversed, Barnes explained. That victory gave miners greater confidence, and more democracy in the union meant they had a tool they could use in united resistance.
Although the UMWA has not been immune from the pressures of the past five years, Barnes said, the fight fortakebacks hasn't been posed in the same way in coal as in other industries yet. And when the employers decide topose it, they'll have a different kind of fight on their hands than what faced them in auto and steel. The fight incoal hasn't yet been fought....
Socialists. chart course to strengthen work in coal-mining regions in coal-mining regions
BY· MALIK MIAH AND DOUG JENNESS
The Militant, March 20, 1987