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Goodyear strikers ‘hang tough’ for 11 weeks

Published Dec 14, 2006 6:55 PM

With the winter holidays coming up, most people have taken their Halloween decorations down. An exception is on the picket line outside Goodyear World Headquarters in Akron, Ohio, where a skeleton still hangs—to make the point that Goodyear is “picking us [workers] to the bone.”

Since the last time Workers World was at the line the strikers added a portable toilet with a sign reading, “Mahogany Think Tank.” This is a reference to the “Mahogany Room” where the top executives strategize behind closed doors.

Clearly the strikers have kept their sense of humor despite the hardships they face. They also have kept up their spirit of solidarity. “We’re hanging tough,” according to Mark, a striker braving below-freezing temperatures Dec. 8.

Labor history in Akron is defined by the United Rubber Workers’ struggle to unionize the tire plants. Now most of the plants have closed. The only Goodyear plant still open makes specialized tires for NASCAR races and employs fewer than 500 union workers. Three have crossed the line, a sad sign of the economic times, but they have almost no friends in this town and their example is not likely to be repeated. No member of the rubber union, now merged with the United Steelworkers, had crossed a picket line since 1935.

The strike has almost universal community support. Mark reported regular donations of food, coffee and much-needed firewood.

This is a more-than-nationwide strike, hitting 12 plants in the United States and four in Canada. The issues are plant closings, pay cuts, and cuts in pensions and retiree health benefits, all of which the union considers nonnegotiable.

The Steel Workers union has called for a boycott of Goodyear products. The Canadian Labour Congress has already endorsed the boycott.

Supporters are building the boycott with mass leaflet distributions in many cities, although many Goodyear shops are running out of tires to boycott. Mark shared some inside information from a typical salaried employee now attempting to do the job of an hourly production worker. Normally a patent lawyer, she said no new models are being designed because all the inventors are building tires. The union questions the safety of scab tires, especially after serious injuries occurred during testing in preparation for a NASCAR race in Arizona.

Akron is not the only city where union spirit is strong. An electronic message to members from the leadership of Steel Workers Local 307 in Topeka, Kan., reads:

“The temporary workers (scabs) are producing an insignificant amount of production. Goodyear is bringing in these scab workers into our local community and paying for their food and lodging at the Holiday Inn Holidome and the Ramada Inn, and also paying these scabs Union-negotiated wages. The scabs are spending most of their time in the plant doing nothing or painting guard rails and mopping floors, a lot of wasted time and money!

“It’s time that Goodyear came to its senses, agrees to meet its obligations, rids our communities of the human scum they’ve brought in to do our jobs and work with us to negotiate an honorable settlement. The Company should not underestimate the unity of the USW across the U.S. and Canada and our determination to make Goodyear ‘Do the Right Thing’ in spite of themselves!”

A national day of solidarity has been called for Dec. 16, with actions at Goodyear stores in at least 100 cities. To find a demonstration in your town, go to www.gkdsolidarityexpress.org.