1976.04.01: Teamsters Strike and Fight for Us All (Red Tide)

[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/]

Red Tide #26
April-May 1976

Teamsters Strike and Fight for Us All
By Michael Long [Michael Letwin]

When 400,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers walked off their jobs at the beginning of April, they kicked off the first major battle in the ever increasing war between the bosses and the workers to occur in many years.

ROTTEN CONDITIONS

The strike by Teamsters was a result of poor health and safety conditions, huge amounts of inflation and no way to stop the companies from breaking the contracts that the Teamsters Union negotiated with them. As in every industry, it is working people who are being forced to pay for the economic crisis. The difference was that this time, rank and file Teamsters organized before their contract ran out on March 31.

Teamsters knew that they had to improve their contract this year, or they would pay the price for the next three years. Because of this, many Teamsters formed and organization to make the union leadership call a strike and not to give up until the union had won what was necessary for the members.

TEAMSTERS FOR A DECENT CONTRACT

This organization is called the Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC). TDC organized thousands of Teamsters in hundreds of local unions to make sure that they got a decent contract this time around.

The Teamster leadership, led by Frank Fitzsimmons, has been totally unwilling to fight for the needs of the members. Fitzsimmons and his kind are friends with the bosses. They make as much as most bosses make and even if their membership doesn’t get a good contract, they still get a fat paycheck.

COUNTRY SHUT DOWN

When their contract expired on the night of March 31, Teamsters around the country walked off their jobs. They weren’t going to work unless they were working under a contract with the companies that they had approved (ratified).

The entire country began to shut down as truckers stopped moving their cargo. For three days, Teamsters picketed the companies and nothing moved anywhere.

Because of the powerful organization that TDC has built up, the union leadership had been forced to recognize and OK the strike. At least that’s what they said. In reality, they refused to lead the strike or to organize even picket lines of any sort in many places. It was up the rank and file members of the union to do this job.

STRIKERS GO BACK

After three days of national striking, the union leadership announced they had reached an agreement with the bosses and that they would send their members back to work.

The contract wasn’t anything to brag about. It didn’t include many of the things that most Teamsters had agreed they needed. Yet, around the country Teamsters did go back to work, knowing that if it hadn’t been for them there would not have been a strike in the first place and that they would have to be better organized if they were going to take on the union leadership as well as the companies.

DETROIT STAYS OUT

One Teamster local did stay out on strike because they were strong enough to defy their “leadership.” This was Local 299 in Detroit, which stayed on strike for two days past the rest of the country. The members of Local 299 were not just going back to work if they had the power to stay out for a better contract. But Detroit could not stay out by itself forever.

The leadership of the strike decided that it was better to go back on the wave of victory than to wait and see how long they could hold by themselves. When the Detroit Teamsters did go back to work, no one was fired for the extra days they had been out.

JUST THE BEGINNING

The Teamster strike is just the beginning. In the next two years, all kinds of contracts for millions of workers will expire. The ranks in other industries and unions are looking to the struggle of the Teamsters to show them how to win. The United Parcel Service (UPS) contract expires April 31. In the fall, the United Auto Workers contract comes up, which covers itself over a million workers.

The battle has just begun, and workers all over the country are determined not to lose.

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