Last week I wrote about the contract victory of Houston after a three-week strike. It was a perfect example of the new unionism: organizing low-paid, immigrant service sector workers using a combination of traditional union strategies combined with a coroporate campaign and civil disobedience tactics molded during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s.
But there’s another strike going on now, at Goodyear Tire. I wrote about the strike almost two months ago it when it started. At first glance, it looks like the opposite of the janitors’ strike – an old time industrial union in a seemingly futile struggle to survive in an industry that’s been heading overseas in search of cheap labor.
15,000 Goodyear Tire and Rubber workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, walked off the job last October at 16 plants in the United States and Canada after the company refused to budge on its demands to close a manufacturing plant in Tyler, Texas, and to cut back on retiree benefits. They’re fighting over life and death issues that have stricken masses of middle class Americans over the past decades – loss of well-paying jobs, salary and benefit cuts, and undermining of promised retirement benefits. Instead of shutting down, Goodyear is running its factories with management employees and scabs. Talks broke off Nov. 17 just days after the two sides got back to the bargaining table for the first time since Steelworkers walked off the job Oct. 5.
The Steelworkers may be one of the oldest dogs in the labor movement, but that doesn't mean they aren't learning some new tricks. One of the new tricks is the use of YouTube. The clip above features former VP candidate (and future Presidential candidate???) John Edwards speaking at a union rally in Akron, OH. A couple of other YouTube videos (here and here) link the use of strikebreakers to defective tires, recalling the 270 fatalities caused by Firestone/Ford Explorer roll-over tragedy that was blamed on replacement workers during a strike.
(Remember, YouTube works best when you participate. After you watch the video's, register on the site, give it the highest rating possible, and share/forward it your friends, family, and others.
Striking workers and their supporters rallied and handed out informational fliers about unsafe tires at Goodyear stores in 14 cities in the United States and Canada, including Akron, Ohio, and Toronto, headquarters for the company's U.S. and Canadian operations.
Last week, Matt Stoller over at My DD analyzed some of the economic issues behind Goodyear's actions, as well as the selfishness of its CEO, Robert Keegan who earned a $2.6 million bonus last year on top of a $1.1 million salary, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Four other top executives were paid a total of $2.4 million in bonuses, plus six-figure salaries.
The problem isn't that Goodyear needs to reduce costs; that's a function of globalization and bad policy choices (more on that later). The problem is that Goodyear just gave multimillion dollar bonuses to executives and broke a good faith agreement with its labor force. The CEO of the company, Robert Keegan, does not have an easy set of choices, but he has made the one that shows himself to be nothing more than a moral traitor. Keegan is a father of two, a Bush-donor, and a strong supporter of the Ohio Republican Party. He's asking middle class workers to sacrifice their livelihood so he can lie to them and get rich, a form of economic violence that should not go unnoted. He's a very bad man, though not unusual as such in the spoiled and coddled executive suites of what was once a reasonably ethical corporate America.
Stoller recommends embarassing the hell out of Benedict Arnold CEO's such as Robert Keegan, as well as changing some of the laws that subsidize the exporting of American jobs.
So what are the prospects? Wall St. warns that the union will settle in January after Goodyear stops paying health care premiums in January, raising workers' monthly payments from $36 to several hundred dollars. The union says they're full of shit:
Steelworkers' spokesman Wayne Ranick told Bloomberg News Service: "We think Mr. Patel is ill-informed about our situation. There is a contingency plan to help us get through the situation. You should never underestimate the resolve of the membership.''
Meanwhile, Goodyear doesn't exactly have anything to boast to its stockholders about; its stock prices fell 5.5% Monday due to concern about the strike. The company also borrowed $1 billion to fight the strike, according to the AFL-CIO , a move that bond rating companies today said was foolhardy.
Workers in other problem industry are closely watching the outcome of the strike. Labor experts note that the Goodyear strike will affect upcoming auto industry negotiations, according to Workplace Management magazine:
Goodyear's stance may be a signal to employers-particularly the Big Three automakers prepping for union negotiations-that public favor today is with them and they can make such moves, says David Gregory, a professor of law, labor and employment at St. John's University in Queens, New York.
"An employer closing a facility in the middle of a strike would have been unthinkable 40 years ago,'' he says. “But today the social momentum has shifted.'' At the same time, the situation at Goodyear shows that unions will have to fight for their lives to get what they want, says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
It's hard to tell how all this is going to turn out. There's no doubt that similar strikes in traditional manufacturing that can easily be transferred to China have not done well lately. Ultimately, however, Goodyear workers are fighting to maintain a society where a middle class still exists. Will public support and a consumer boycott of Goodyear tires force the company to cave before workers' money and patience run out?
Tune in next month.
Jordan Barab labors in the salt mines of Confined Space