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Vol. 76/No. 39      October 29, 2012

Class-struggle union fought
for one-page contracts
(Books of the Month column)

Below is an excerpt from Teamster Power by Farrell Dobbs. The Spanish-language translation, Poder Teamster, is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October.

The book is the second in a four-part series that tells how Minneapolis Teamsters Local 574, later 544, used the power won through three strikes in 1934 to extend the union throughout the Upper Midwest, helping pave the way for the massive labor upsurge for industrial unions that swept the U.S. in the mid-1930s.

The text below describes the “model contract” that the class-struggle leadership of the Teamster struggles championed.

Dobbs was a central leader of these battles. He later served as national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1953 to 1972. Copyright © 1973 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

This trend was reflected in a unanimous executive board recommendation that the membership approve a “model contract” intended as a guide for the union staff in negotiations with the bosses. As officially adopted, it contained the following key points:

1. Contracts with employers to be limited to a term of one year.

2. Demands concerning wages and working conditions to be decided in consultation with the union members involved in each particular case.

3. Premium pay to be received for overtime, with the added provision that there be no overtime until all employees on the job worked their full quota of regular hours.

4. If the work week should be reduced by legislative act, rates of pay to be increased in the proportion necessary to guarantee that there would be no reduction in total weekly pay. (This demand was connected with the general union struggle for a shorter work week to reduce unemployment.)

5. Disputes over seniority standing to be settled by the union. The employer to have no voice in the matter.

6. Back pay owed to workers because of contract violations by the employer to be computed at two times the regular wage rate.

7. Formal recognition to be required from the employer of the union’s right to operate its job steward system.

8. The union to retain the right to strike over employer violations of the working agreement.

9. No boss to order his employees to go through a picket line of a striking union.

None of these provisions represented mere bargaining points to be used for horse-trading in negotiations with employers. Each and every one constituted a matter of basic policy. All were enforced accordingly in actual practice. As staff director, it was my job to see that this was the case. …

There was a very substantial and rapidly growing union membership. Contracts had to be negotiated with a large number of employers, and they had to be enforced. New patterns of expanded organizational activity also had to be developed if the full potential of favorable objective conditions was to be realized.

To attain these various ends, staff operations were divided into three broad categories. Some teams were assigned to field work, looking toward expansion of the union power. Others were given the task of handling negotiations with the bosses. Still others got the job of settling grievances arising from employer violations of existing contracts.

Standard procedures were codified for the handling of grievances, as had been done in the case of contract negotiations. A suitable form was devised for the recording of all grievances in writing, both to assure that the necessary information was provided by the workers involved and to make certain that their complaints did not get lost in the shuffle. It was union policy to assume that the worker was always right. If a boss claimed that a grievance had been filed unjustly, the burden of proof was upon him. In every instance the grievance report had to be returned to me, as staff director, with a written account of the disposition of the case.
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