WATTS: I stand here with confidence that the UPIU Local 7-837 is almost winning this battle. The A.E Staley workers gathered here together with their families should know that this union is working day and night to lobby for their right to safety; their right to good working conditions and their right to time with their families by refusing the twelve hour shifts. We are refusing exploitation of workers with overtime that is not paid accordingly (Myers, 1). We cannot condone unsafe conditions that threaten the lives of our members (Sagovac, 1). The occupation Health and Safety act demands that employees work under safe conditions free of any health Hazard (Meyer, 39). The labor law sets minimum hours which workers should attend their jobs (Meyer, 23). Staley workers have a right to their jobs and the decision by Tate and Lyle to lay off some workers is not justified. It is our right to fight against Tate and Lyle which has aggressively decided to make our member’s lives miserable. We have a well laid down strategy and I can promise that Tate and Lyle should be taking Staley workers back with a better and fair contract.
GOSS: ‘Winning’ is one thing and ‘almost winning’ is another thing. Almost does not mean that you are actually going to get there. Look here Watts, I am not trying to be malicious but this strike is a like hitting against the wall with your bare fist. It is you who gets hurt and not the wall. In this context I am comparing this union to Tate and Lyle, a multinational company which is not so much influenced by United States Industrial laws (Ashby and Hawking, 216). A local union like Local 7-837 is too weak for this fight. Remember the challenges that unions face in America. They are seen as rebellious and out to disrupt effective business procedures (Smith, 30). This can be made evident by the constant arrests that union leaders face in the hands of the police yet the government has never given an order for them to be released (Smith, 86). They have to answer to the charges which they committed in the context of their duties. They have no direct government support and it is upon the employer to agree to their demands or not (Smith, 33). In other words, employers are not compelled to negotiate the complaints brought forth by unions and they can lock out employees as long as they like until they can agree to go back to work (Cogley, 4-6). If we look at this issue logically, we can easily conclude that the best thing to do is to cede to the company’s concessions and go back to work (Ashby and Hawking, 216). Why should the union continue inciting workers which only goes on to increase their troubles? Staley workers have been locked out for two years now and they continue going without paychecks. How then do you maintain that they should continue bearing this untold suffering? Furthermore, the union’s strategies are weak if at all there are any workable strategies.
WATTS: You forget that just as employers have a right to lockout the employees so do the employees have a right to join up against an oppressive employer which is what we are doing now (Cogley, 223-225). The Staley workers will not go back to work unless the company gives us a fair contract. Let me make it clear to you Goss that this union does not only have a strategy but numerous strategies. There are so many ways in which we can win this fight. Corporate campaign and social movement unionism remain our top priorities. We believe that by lobbying for social support, this union is going to get on top of things. You must have heard of the road warriors who are going around the country making others aware of our predicament and challenging them to join us in this fight (Ashby and Hawking, 94-96). They have so far addressed citizens in hundreds of union halls around the country (Ashby and Hawking, 225). Many are for the fight and have promised to support us which can be witnessed from the high amounts of donations we have received (Ashby and Hawking, 225). The essence of social movement unionism is that it brings together members, non-members, other unions and social support groups together for the fight of the common good of every citizen (Lawderhawk, 186).
As for the corporate campaigns, our efforts are showing signs of success. Our team has successfully managed to convince the Miller Beer Company to stop getting its corn syrup supplies from Staley (Ashby and Hawking, 217). Our next targets are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Our corporate strategy aims at depriving Staley of its most important customers so that it will eventually lend its ears to our member’s woes.
GOSS: Your strategies could look very magnificent on the surface but I am yet to be convinced that they can indeed work for this situation. Anyway, that aside, let me first address your first statement. Workers have their right to strike and the United States government allows them as long as they can maintain peace and order in their demonstrations (Cogley, 223-225). But have you sat to think about the power that a company has in a lockout? Now that the workers are on strike, do you think that the company is losing out? Are you not aware that Staley has employed Scabs and that the plant is operating as we are gathered here today (Myers, 1). Tell me Watts, what do you think of other people taking your members’ paychecks while they sit at home and rely on donations and union allowances. Until when are these people going to suffer yet their future is so bleak. May be I should give an example of Caterpillar workers and the Bridgestone/Firestone workers whom together with Staley have led Decatur to be declared a ‘war zone’ (Sagovac, 1). These workers stand to lose out since their companies have already hired replacement workers and given a one year notice for them to go back to work (Ashby and Hawking, 226). The same is likely to happen to Staley workers if they do not reach an agreement to work instead of taking so much time to try to get an unreachable goal.
I do admire your determination for social movement unionization. However, in whatever you do, there is no better way than collective bargaining or economic unionization. By this I want to disqualify your social movement strategy. It is only when union workers sit with the company’s management that solutions can be found which is through economic unionization. Let members sit on the picket lines while you bargain the deal on their behalf (Ashby and Hawking, 216). Outsiders are not going to influence the company’s management. As a matter of fact, this will only bring out a characteristic of cowardice on the side of the union leaders who instead of giving their own views choose to involve others to intervene for them. Let it also be noted Watts, that your success lies on the support of the UPIU international which sees things from a critical point of view. I personally do not support this social unionization and neither do I give a positive opinion on the success of this strike (Ashby and Hawking, 217).
WATTS: We are well aware that UPIU International is not on our side. They will be delighted when they hear that we have called off the strike. This is why they give us a mere sixty dollars per week as strike allowance (Ashby and Hawking, 214). They want us to lose hope and bow to the company’s concessions. Who knows whether they could be backstabbing us by holding talks with the Staley management and then end up betraying us like they did to Local 14 in the 1987-88 strike (Ashby and Hawking, 215-216)? We know that UPIU International wants this struggle to come to an end and that they are using every means possible including discouraging the formation of a social movement (Ashby and Hawking, 217). Our efforts to lobby for union support through the AFL-CIO landed on deaf ears after the leaders ignored our call for solidarity. All this does not make us less stronger and united and we will prove you wrong on this once we win the battle. We will get other union’s support by ourselves. Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone workers are together with us in this and so do other unions that consider workers’ welfare as their first priority.
GOSS: What I can deduce from your response is that you understand very well that UPIU International has power over the local union. However, you decide to work on your own. Maybe we should wait for the results of your rebellion to remind you of this debate that we held here today. You will realize sooner or later that our support is very vital. Your pleas for support may not bear fruit in the long-run and I repeat that it is only through negotiations that signs of hope could have been evident. With your social movement strategy however, I do not foresee any success.
WATTS: I can assure you that the kind of support we have is historic. Our road warriors are doing a perfect job in educating and mobilizing the public who are joining us in large numbers. Take for example the fourth national protest that was held in Decatur on 25th June. We had a great deal of supporters. That day’s rally attracted seven thousand supporters and we feel that more will be on our side soon (Ashby and Hawking, 241). We are not ready to be divided by racism and that is why we are emphasizing on the whole nation’s support. However, the Hispanic and the African American communities form a substantial number in our membership. That is why we have been lobbying for the support of the members of these communities. Religious leaders and student leaders are already mobilizing their members in our support and we believe this is going to help this operation in a great way. Just the other day, the women rights group assured us of their support. Through a letter signed by twenty nine wives, they have indicated that they feel a part of this union and will continue supporting us for better conditions and time with our loved ones (Ashby and Hawking, 239).
I must insist that this is a mobilized and a democratic local union with leaders who will boldly lead Staley workers in achieving their objectives (Ashby and Hawking, 224). We are no longer in the olden days where union leaders held the power to negotiate on behalf of the members while they sat and did nothing (Lawderhawk, 168). Everyone’s effort matters here more so in a world where democracy rules. In the same way, union democracy is the way to go and not union bureaucracy. Union bureaucracy gives members no say in their own problems and concerns and this is not what we are after (Lawderhawk, 171). Again Goss, it would be better that we keep this matter professional without taking things personally. I know that you did not have much interest during the Local 7837 transformation into an activist union (Ashby and Hawking, 216). That you avoided our meetings together with other UPIU leaders like Wayne Glen and showed no support in our intention to make this a social movement (Ashby and Hawking, 216). However, it is strategy that we are talking about here. A strategy that will win the Staley workers a fair contract.
GOSS: To answer to your concern, I am only giving my personal opinion on the case and not attacking the union. I have witnessed the demonstrations which basically amount to civil disobedience which is prohibited by the law (Smith, 111). Watts this is not the way to go. You know very well what has happened during the demonstrations. Not only have members been sprayed with pepper but also numerous have been arrested (Myers, 1). Boycotting PepsiCo amounts to a civil wrong which you are liable for in a court of law. As you can see, all the strategies you are using as Local 7-837 are either too weak or cannot work at all. I suggest that you consider my point of view. Let Local 7-837 union leaders lobby their members to go back to work and end this lockout. Let the union free members of their suffering. This am saying because I have witnessed many give up on this fight and get other jobs. Your surrender crowd is rising and once union members continue abandoning you like this, it will be a lost battle. Workers are getting desperate and what is left for them is to accept the contract as it is.
WATTS: Let me first make a point clear here. The members of the Local 7-837 are not law breakers. We are well aware that demonstrations must be peaceful and pose no threat to other parties. As you have witnessed from our previous demonstrations, the civil disobedience conducted by this union is non-violent. On the other hand, there is no way we can possibly overrule civil disobedience as a strategy because you may bear me witness that rarely will negotiations alone solve a lockout. Sometimes unions have to use civil disobedience as a tactic to attract public support and sympathy as well as the government’s intervention (Smith, 103). Our tactic however is nonviolent and does not seek to cause any harm to the company apart from gaining its attention. We have carried placards and stood in front the Staley gates but we have not harmed anyone or prevented any business from going on as the law requires during union demonstrations (Cogley, 340-341). It is quite unfortunate that our members and supporters continue to be arrested. The Decatur fifty for example face trial for engaging in a peaceful demonstration. This just goes on to show that the government has little support for unions in America (Smith, 33).
We are also applying civil disobedience to convince PepsiCo not to renew their contract with Staley. Staley accounts for 30 percent of Staley’s corn sweeteners and we believe that if we deprive Staley of this market they will feel the pressure and listen to us (Sagovac, 1). The strategy that we have taken in this is by educating and mobilizing the public to act against PepsiCo. We have already put banners indicating that PepsiCo supports Tate and Lyle in oppressing workers and we believe that PepsiCo must realize the impact that such a message would have on its sales. We also intend to boycott PepsiCo’s sales by asking our members not to purchase their products and cease from visiting their restaurants; Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell (Sagovac, 1). This, we believe will send an alarm to the company about our seriousness in the matter and attract its support. This is the only way out since PepsiCo management has not cared to reply to our request for it not to renew the Staley contract.
There is not a reason enough for us to give up the fight. Our greatest strength still lies in our solidarity. We are constantly educating and mobilizing our members on their rights and what the law says about their situation. We cannot allow the surrender crowd to rise which may weaken our position. We want everyone to know that Staley’s working conditions are not consistent with the Occupation Health and Safety law. That the twelve hour shifts exceed the maximum number of hours allowed by the U.S labor laws and that any extra hours demand payment of overtime. We want seniority to stay and Staley must not cut the number of workers. There is no way our members can go back to oppressive working conditions. We insist that this strike will go on until Tate and Lyle make a fair contract for the workers.
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Meyer, Thomas. U.S Labor Law. New York: Lulu Publishers, 2003.
Myers, Allen. (2004). Fighting the Union-busters in Illinois. Retrieved on May 12, 2009 from http://www.greenleft.org.au/1994/158/8906
Sagovac, Simone (2005). Labor war rages on – lockout of A. E. Staley workers in Decatur, IL. Retrieved on May 11, 2009 form http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1295/is_n12_v59/ai_17839366/
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