AMELIA, Louisiana, August 11. Margaret Trowe and socialist campaign supporters went to the J. Ray McDermott fabrication yard, which makes giant platforms for offshore oil rigs. We had learned, on our way to another campaign stop, that workers here had voted in a union yesterday. We turned south from our planned route and headed through the bayous to this small town near Morgan City, on the Gulf Coast.
Trowe and David Ferguson, Socialist Workers congressional candidate from Houston, introduced themselves to a worker near the yard. Trowe explained that they wanted to talk with workers about their union victory the day before. The worker, a fitter, introduced himself as part of the organizing effort.
The candidates spent some time talking with the fitter, who described some of his experiences in the fight for dignity and safe working conditions at McDermott. Trowe outlined what her campaign stands for and showed her campaign paper, the Militant. The unionist said, "Well, you're for the working person. I'm for you. I'll help any way I can."
Hundreds of workers began driving out of the yard while others went in to work. Over the course of an hour, close to 100 workers stopped to talk to the socialist candidates and took campaign brochures to read. A small number returned the literature after hearing that the campaign is pro-union.
"James Harris and I support your union drive. What you have done here is very important for other workers too," Trowe told workers.
"Packinghouse workers at Dakota Premium Foods in Minnesota will be happy to know you are organizing the way they are," said Trowe, citing one of several current union-organizing battles. Sixteen people purchased the Militant and five signed up to support the campaign.
AVONDALE, Louisiana, August 12. "Where have you been?" a shipyard worker asked when socialist workers met him as he got out of his car to go to work early Saturday morning. "You haven't been here in a while," he said, buying a copy of the Militant.
Last year the union finally won the right to sign up members at this shipyard, the state's largest employer. The workers signed up for the union but the company has yet to agree to a contract. "Is this about the union?" asked two workers pulling up to talk to Trowe. They told of three deaths at the yard caused by company negligence. They were glad to hear about the Socialist Workers campaign and took copies of Perspectiva Mundial.
"Thank you for coming. Please come back more often," another shipyard worker said.
With the help of a second team, the campaigners met close to 100 workers, who took socialist campaign literature including 14 papers and one Pathfinder book.
NATCHEZ, Mississippi. On the way to meet with workers locked out by Titan Tire, we noticed a new growth industry along the highway--prisons.
Besides the large number of long-established prisons in the area, we saw half a dozen new, sprawling, windowless cement constructions surrounded by barbed wire and security guards.
In Natchez we got a warm welcome at the Steelworkers union hall. The walls are covered with pictures of visits the strikers have made in solidarity with other unionists and in rallies to strengthen their own fight. Strikers pointed out Trowe in several pictures.
We stayed for hours, meeting many of the union fighters who came and went during the course of that Saturday afternoon. Workers handed each other copies of the campaign flyer on presidential candidate James Harris and Trowe, and asked Trowe questions. The vice-presidential candidate asked questions in return and expressed her views on what to do about the situation we are confronting as working people.
One topic of discussion back and forth was whether cops are workers, whether there are bad ones and good ones. In Detroit, one striker said, the cops went easier on their demonstration because they were unionists too.
"In my opinion a police union is not a union, " Trowe said. "They aren't part of the working class. Their job is to serve and protect Titan Tire and the other capitalists. Not to serve and protect us, working people." Strikers had experiences to back up that fact.
Another hot topic was the 300 accidents caused by Firestone tires that have only just been recalled. Most of the workers are tire builders, and they had strong opinions on the ways the companies cut corners that endanger safety--both in the building of the tires and in the product itself. One worker, a tire inspector, highlighted one safety problem--that the company had cut back on inspections and virtually eliminated them.
Trowe added, "That is the nature of capitalism. It's the lawful workings of capitalism. Capitalists like the Titan bosses are driven to increase their rate of profit. They can do that only by driving down our working conditions and wages, by putting our lives at risk. That's why the treads come off the tires and why so many of us get hurt on the job. Workers want to make a product that is safe, but the company blocks our efforts for the sake of profit. This is an important union question."
We started to leave, but a few more workers wanted to ask Trowe some questions. One worker wanted more campaign brochures to take with him to church.
We left an hour later, heading back to Gramercy, Louisiana, where Trowe has been invited to the picket line of Steelworkers locked out by Kaiser Aluminum.
GRAMERCY, Louisiana. At the picket shack outside the Kaiser Aluminum plant here, workers were keenly interested in what we had found along the road about labor struggles. We started out talking with a few workers and were soon joined by half a dozen more. Many added their own experiences, listing more union-organizing drives they knew of in the area.
Some have been thinking ahead to the expected end to the lockout, about how to strengthen the union's power in the plant once they have returned to work.
Some of us continued the discussion at a restaurant. Union fighters and socialist campaigners from Texas and Minnesota mixed it up with a locked-out Kaiser worker and two young workers fighting against racist discrimination and for unions. The discussion ranged from the nature of the capitalists' drive against our class to the necessary drive by workers to defend ourselves.
"Why does racism exist? Is it in the interests of white workers?" "Do workers everywhere have the same interests?" "What about farmers?" "How do we win?" "What responsibility do workers in struggle have to other workers?" "What about workers in other countries?" "How do we win?" These were some of the questions discussed.
One worker described the capitalists as "vultures--they try to divide us up and pick, pick, pick at us. But they're not finding it such easy pickings anymore," he added. He picked up a copy of The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions, by Jack Barnes, to study.
Those of us from Houston promised to come back in a few days. Then we headed back to Texas to get a few hours sleep before an early-morning stop to meet workers going into Quietflex, a Houston company where Mexican-born workers are continuing to lead an effort to unionize the plant.
Harris joined a picket line of striking members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America at Verizon's downtown headquarters here. Hundreds of telephone workers picketed several entrances of the building.
The next day, he visited the picket line at Revere Copper in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where 82 members of the United Auto Workers have been on strike since May 1. The discussions with strikers there ranged from the state of the union movement to the example that the Cuban revolution provides for working people.
Harris had dinner with two farm activists from the organization Rural Vermont. They discussed how working farmers are caught in the crunch between their growing production costs and the falling prices that capitalist processors pay farmers.
One of the farm activists described the growing international competition that farmers face for their products. Harris replied that farmers and workers have to look at the solutions to their problems on a world scale, based on working people from different countries closing ranks against their common class enemy. This means rejecting the bosses' trap of American nationalism, which pits working people from different countries against each other. They discussed the positive impact that immigration has on strengthening the fighting experience of the working class in the United States.
One of the farm activists told the socialist candidate about a organizing meeting taking place at that moment. It had been called by defenders of Vermont's "civil unions" law. Earlier this year, Vermont was the first state to pass a law allowing gay and lesbian couples to establish a legal status. Opponents of gay rights have begun a campaign to repeal that law. The August 9 meeting to defend the law drew 80 people. Harris and the two farm activists joined the meeting in progress and pledged their support to the fight to end discrimination and harassment of gays.
Martin Boyers is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
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