We have been locked out since June 1993 for a reason which we all know very well. We cannot give up the fight when Tate & Lyle is threatening to completely deprive us of our rights as employees. This is more than a labor dispute. We are fighting for human rights, for our safety, our job security and most of all for time with our families. Tate & Lyle has gone overboard: the management plans wants to introduce 12 hour shifts for the workers; safety at the plant is deteriorating and there is no sign of better conditions. A fair contract will have to be signed before we can go back to work. This union is going to win this battle. We are fighting for our dignity (Ashby and Hawking, 248) and for the dignity of all American workers. Surrendering this fight will only let the American down.
GOSS: The conditions that Tate and Lyle want to place on the workers are unfair and I do agree with Watts that the employees are really suffering under the conditions that exist in the company.
The union must however realize that a fair contract would mean extensive negotiations which the company is not showing signs of taking part in. The employees have been locked out for two years now and there is no sign that the company will surrender to the union’s demands for a fair contract. Now that the plant continues to operate with scabs that have been hired, it is the workers who stand to lose and not the company. Note that the labor law supports employer’s decisions to lock out employees until they can come to terms with their conditions and go back to work (Wilson, 133). For how long can these workers wait yet it is already two years and no hope in sight? The best thing for the Staley workers to do is to accept the company’s demand and end the lockout once and for all.
Instead of causing a fight that will risk losing the local it is better that the union acquiesces to the company’s concessions. Furthermore, other locals have tried to protest but eventually they have found themselves going back to the same conditions (Ashby and Hawking, 216). It has never been easy winning over employers especially where they have international control and a history of trade unions in America will confirm this (Smith, 87). To begin with, the union has a failed strategy and it is at no position to negotiate a better contract. Remember that the power of a union lies in the negotiation power of the leaders and their ability to conduct collective bargaining with the management which this union lacks (Ashby and Hawking, 216).
WATTS: The view on the strategy is quite mistaken and so is the one on the inability of the union leaders to negotiate for consideration of our demands. Yes, the union has a strategy and it will not be taken back by discouragement that will disorient us from our set purpose. Let me at this point note that times are changing and unions are no longer bound by traditional business unionization (Outwater and Brossman, 8). This is the kind that you refer to when you talk about collective bargaining and negotiation by leaders. It is the kind of unionization where the members walk the picket line and do nothing while the union leaders negotiate on their behalf (Ashby and Hawking, 216). Union members can now take part in bringing about a solution to a labor dispute. Social movement unionism has come to liberate the workers.
We believe that the issues surrounding this protest do not affect Staley employees only. This is an issue that is affecting many in different sectors and our victory could mean better social and economic conditions for all the workers. Giving this up would give employers all over America a key to oppressing their employees. We are lobbying for local support. It does not matter how long it takes to win this battle. We have survived it for two years and we are willing to do more to guarantee the employee’s future. Many could be worried about their benefits but no need to worry because The Labor relations code under section 155 protects the employee’s benefits, pension funds and insurance funds (Wilson, 12). The union will make sure that the payments are made to every employee. But we must accomplish the mission for which we are set to achieve.
GOSS: I could call this a case of chasing invisible dreams. We all know the problems that the unions face today. Unless the management is really willing to change its stand in a trade dispute, all the union’s efforts are just useless (Smith, 20). Furthermore, the law does not provide that the company must respond to the union’s demands; just another of the unions problems. Union leaders are subject to constant frictions with the law and will compromise to the management in order to save their necks.
Remember that this is just a local union and in today’s world, only powerful and influential unions can actually succeed in lobbying for their members (Smith, 51). There is nothing much left to do but to give in to the company’s demands. The social movement unionism cannot work at any cost. Even if you placed your hopes on local support, it is probable that there will be little impact on the negotiations.
WATTS: It seems that what you, Goss cannot get right is that there is power in social movement unionism. Probably the best way to bring us to a consensus would be to give a scholarly definition of social movement unionism. This kind of unionism is defined by Outwater and Brossman (9) as a situation where workers including non-unionists, trade unions and the community as a whole come together to fight for economic and social justice on issues that generally affect them despite their backgrounds. In our case, it is a lockout that has not only caused suffering for our members but also shown the country just how unconcerned employers are to their workers. There are human rights issues at hand and the community supports this. We have already ganged up support from various unions. AFL-CIO has let us down by refusing to require all their unions to support us but even though, we plan to do it ourselves (Ashby and Hawking, 224).
Religious activists, student bodies and social groups such as the Hispanic and African American groups are all going to be part of this campaign and the union is working day and night to gain their support. The women rights group supports us entirely. They feel part of this group and a letter signed by 29 wives indicates that they feel so much part of the union (Ashby and Hawking, 239). You must have noted that a lot of people are on our side and sympathizers are always extending a helping hand to those who are suffering most from the lockout. We are building a national solidarity campaign aimed at freeing the American worker from workplace oppression.
GOSS: I think there was a misunderstanding when I mentioned that social movement will have no impact on the negotiations. I properly understand the meaning of social movement unionism more so being a union leader. I should also point out that I confidently propose the business unionism as opposed to social movement unionism. It is better placed to rescue the members rather that waste time and resources lobbying for support from companies, unions and other employees. My point is that I do not expect people to join this movement because it does not concern them at all.
This is just a case of a union that has failed in its attempt to negotiate their way into getting a favorable contract and now wants the public to help them. The same public which is not wasting their time chasing after better deals which they know their companies will not approve and have preferred to stay at work and earn their money! We do not sincerely expect them to leave their jobs to join you in your demonstrations. What is happening here is that the union now wants to establish gang warfare. To create a hill out of a mole hole instead of sealing their own deal or simply accepting the company’s conditions.
I would not even understand how members will participate in the movement in the first place. Haven’t we witnessed how the surrender crowd is rising? Every day a union member is quitting and getting an alternative job because they need to survive (Hill, 7). With every exit, the union gets weaker and weaker. If the union cannot sustain its own members, do you expect that the public will continue to offer their support? My point is that the social movement strategy is totally misplaced and cannot work for this case.
WATTS: I can prove Goss wrong on this. I am quite sure that you have seen the massive number of supporters who have come up in our campaigns. On June 25th, the fourth national protest at Decatur attracted seven thousand supporters (Ashby and Hawking, 241). As indicated earlier, the women support group is so much on our side and so many other social and religious groups.
As for our members, education and mobilization will do this trick for us. We plan to continuously educate members about their rights, requirement of the U.S labor laws and the occupation health and safety laws. The public needs to feel our woes and to do this we will give them as much information about our problems and the stumbling blocks standing in our way to achieving our goals one being companies that are still purchasing from Staley. We need to instill confidence and determination in our union. Our members must not quit and we if we have to win this fight. It is true that we have witnessed members getting jobs to sustain themselves. This however does not mean that they should turn against the union.
Their support is what we need and will do everything possible to mobilize members and promote solidarity. Even then, leaders of UPIU Local 7-837 have the ability to negotiate and are combining social support with vigorous negotiations.