BY RAY PARSONS
DES MOINES, Iowa - "We Will Win!" is the theme of the solidarity rally being organized by United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 164 for May 16 in Des Moines. "All trade unionists and friends of labor are asked to turn out," a flyer explains. The 650 unionists went on strike against Titan Tire at midnight April 30 over forced overtime, pension benefits and health insurance coverage for retirees, and to end two-tier wages.
Titan Tire is a manufacturer of agricultural, industrial, and military tires and is a subsidiary of Titan International, a leading producer of off-highway wheels.
More than 400 USWA members and supporters held a lively rally in front of the Titan plant when the strike began, giving night-shift workers a rousing welcome as they walked out at midnight.
Since then, 24-hour picketing has been organized at four sites around the factory. Strikers enjoy regular visits by union supporters from around town, and the honks and waves of workers in passing cars and trucks.
Titan owner Maurice Taylor, Jr. continues to outrage workers across Iowa with his statements in TV and radio interviews. On May 7, Taylor lied about the overtime forced on the unionists in his factory, claiming that the overtime is a result of the company being "trapped by work rules in the union contract." For over two years, most workers have been forced to work 26 days in a row, followed by just two days off.
In a new development, Titan ran a large ad for strikebreakers in the Des Moines Register May 10 stating, "Certain positions are permanent full-time openings. Other potential positions are temporary replacements of workers engaged in a labor dispute." An employment agency called Labor Ready is taking applications May 16-17, the same weekend as the union's solidarity rally.
In a May 13 news report, Taylor threatened to begin hiring replacements and to transfer work to other plants unless union members returned to work while contract talks continue.
The strikers have responded to this threat with calm determination, and the union has organized hand billing at Labor Ready in advance of the advertised hiring sessions. The flyer reads, "Don't be deceived by Titan Tire Corp. You can expect forced overtime with little or no time off. You can expect unfair and unequal pay.... Please allow us time to settle our problems and then come back and apply for permanent employment with dignity and a clear conscience."
A call has gone out to area unions to mobilize to protest the weekend recruitment of strikebreakers, in addition to joining the solidarity rally. Ron Gilbert, a 32-year veteran at Titan, said, "The only way we can stop it is to have a mass of people there camping out."
USWA Local 310 activists who work at the Bridgestone/Firestone tire plant across town are organizing plant gate hand billing there to build the solidarity rally, and plan on joining protesters at Labor Ready.
Wilbur Wilson, who heads up Local 310's organizing committee said: "It goes back to the old labor saying: `An injury to one is an injury to all.' We had a lot of people help us during our [1994--95] strike, and we need to be there to help others. We may not have a lot of money, but we have a lot of spirit."
"We'll keep fighting, every day," was the common sentiment of picketers interviewed May 10. Striker Sang Vansylalom, who has worked Titan curing presses for one year, added, "Saturday will be a lot of fun! Bring your neighbors, family, everybody!"
The solidarity rally will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, May 16 at the Local 164 union hall, 2727 East Market Street in Des Moines. The hall is located a couple blocks from the Titan plant. For more information, call: (515) 262-4935.
Ray Parsons is a member of USWA Local 310 in Des Moines.
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