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Pentagon threatens as

75,000 join Goodyear pickets

Published Dec 21, 2006 1:19 AM

For one day, the 15,000 workers striking Goodyear in the U.S. and Canada had their strength multiplied by five. On Dec. 16, a National Day of Solidarity drew 75,000 strikers and supporters to 150 pickets of Goodyear dealerships in over 100 cities.

Nearly every state and Canadian province had one or more actions, which were called jointly by the United Steelworkers (USW) and the AFL-CIO. Even where the nearest picket was outside a 500-mile radius, unionists felt the importance of showing solidarity. “Wherever union workers are on strike, we try to support them,” explained Archie Archuleta, a retired teacher and unionist picketing in Salt Lake City.

The Great Lakes states had the most demonstrations. The Cleveland area had two separate actions. In Cleveland and Akron, a big morale boost came when USW International President Leo Gerard paid a visit to and spoke with the picketers.

Goodyear still has its world headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Some 150 strikers and their allies chanted and held signs outside. But even without them, few would be buying Goodyear tires in this union-conscious town.

Despite Goodyear’s near-annihilation of the unionized workforce—less than 500 are striking the company, which once supported 12,000 workers and their families—feelings of solidarity run deep. The Goodyear dealer at Chapel Hill mall had few customers and had to listen to horns honking for two solid hours.

For most dealers, however, lack of customers is the least of their problems. According to a recent article in Modern Tire Dealer, getting tires from strikebound plants is tough. Dealers must “say some prayers and pull some teeth” if they want products delivered. Goodyear has already burned up $350 million of the $1 billion it borrowed in October to break the strike.

Still further proof that the strike, now two and a half months old, is having an impact on production came Dec. 14, when the chair of the House Armed Services Committee threatened to invoke the Taft-Hartley law to force 200 strikers in Topeka, Kansas, back to work. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California cited a 35 percent drop in the supply of tires for military Humvees. Seeking to allay fears on Wall Street, Goodyear representatives are repeating the now-tired refrain that no shortage exists.

In a desperate attempt to boost stock prices, JP Morgan Securities recently joined Goodyear in generating false stories that strikers will lose health care coverage on Jan. 3. Ignoring the proud history of struggle of the United Rubber Workers (merged with the United Steelworkers since 1995), spokesperson Himanshu Patel claimed this loss “could spur increased pressure from union members to reach an agreement.” Seeking to refute the truth that workers have power, he argued that the union had only one weapon, the strike, and it had already used that weapon, so the union was in effect already beaten.

In fact, it is Goodyear that asked the Steelworkers union to come back to the table. Bargaining resumed two days after the powerful day of solidarity.

Prior to Dec. 16, burgeoning local, national and international solidarity took on a multitude of forms. In Gadsden, Ala., an elderly widow of a Goodyear retiree gave out $50 bills to everyone on the picket line there. In Danville, Va., the Danville Ministerial Alliance—comprised of 40 Black and white churches—placed a full-page ad in the local paper supporting the strike.

In Eastern Europe, the union at Goodyear-owned Sava Tires in Slovenia pledged its support, stressing the need to “coordinate our struggle with this global firm.”

Indeed, the 65,000 Goodyear employees outside the U.S. and Canada are facing the same or greater challenges as those currently on strike. The threat of plant closings looms over the heads of workers in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland.

Facing corporate demands for concessions, Turkish rubber union Laitik-Is voted to strike and was subsequently locked out. After two years, though, the workers won a concession-free contract.

In Bangkok 17 fired unionists are celebrating a recent court ruling upholding their reinstatement with back pay. Goodyear had defied a previous court order to reinstate them.

Among strikers’ complaints are company plans to shift production to China, where the company pays workers 42 to 56 cents per hour. Yet while the USW leadership is quick to attack the Chinese government, U.S. corporations, including Goodyear, have locked horns with Beijing over pending labor legislation cracking down on sweatshop abuse.

According to Global Solidarity, a newsletter for Goodyear workers all over the world, the tire baron is “lobbying against the legislation and threatening to build fewer factories” if the new law is enacted. As it is, Chinese labor laws have prevented Goodyear from forcing its employees to work over 40 hours.

No to Pentagon union-busting!

The workers are naturally concerned for the safety of U.S. servicepeople in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the shortage of military-use tires, and the fact that scab tires are unsafe, the USW local in Topeka, Kansas, has offered to resume production of these tires if the scabs are removed from the plant. Desperate to claim a shortage exists, Goodyear has declined the union’s offer.

However, an alternative position to take, and the only one that would truly guarantee the soldiers’ safety, would be to demand the immediate return of U.S. troops. The labor movement must strongly denounce the union-busting Pentagon and its anti-union puppets in Iraq, and prepare to go into battle if Washington invokes Taft-Hartley to break up the magnificent solidarity of the Goodyear workers.