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Date Wed, 07 Sep 2005 09:54:42 +0300

On the 20th Anniversary of the Hormel Strike, in Austin MN by United
Food & Commercial Workers Local P-9, NorthStar Anarchist Collective
(Minneapolis, MN) has reprinted in pamphlet form this analysis from 1986
by members of the U.S. anarchosyndicalist organization Workers Solidarity Aliance.
The pamphlet features a new introduction by a member of the NorthStar Anarchist Collective.
To mark the 20th Anniversary of the Hormel Strike, Northstar Anarchist
Collective co-sponsored with several unions and community groups a
celebration and program at the St. Paul Labor Center. NorthStar also
showed the documentary on P-9 "American Dream" at our monthly film
event. Finally, with the permission of the Workers Solidarity Alliance,
NorthStar reprinted in pamphlet form an analysis of the strike written
by WSA in 1986.

A Personal Introduction

20 years ago, I was 14- a freshman at Minneapolis South High School,
when UFCW (United Food & Commercial Workers) Local P-9 struck Hormel and
began capturing headlines. Being both a "red diaper baby" and an angry
teenager, my heart was firmly with the striking union in Austin, MN.

Like labor activists and radicals across the country I was totally
inspired by the struggle in Austin. I went to rallies, threw up "Boycott
Hormel" stickers in the grocery store, and turned friends on to the P-9
benefit tape featuring members of Soul Asylum and Husker Du.

When the UFCW International withdrew support for the strike and began
the process of sabotage , lies, and power-plays that ended in the defeat
of the strike and the destruction of Local P-9, I was able to draw some

Prior to the UFCW's treachery , I had been orienting toward the Young
Communist League, the youth group of the Communist Party U.S.A (CP) when
the CP followed the International Union's lead in denouncing the
strikers, I felt betrayed. I was a communist to SUPPORT strikes, not
oppose them.

The CP's despicable act, along with repression of the Polish workers
movement and the slaughter in Afghanistan, convinced me to move away fom
official "communism", and open up to what appeared to be a growing, and
uncompromising alternative: anarchism.

Many of my friends were part of the huge local punk scene (South High
must've had over 100 punks in its student body that year), and Back Room
Anarchist Books had just opened up shop. Some folks from the Back Room
collective had, along with the wider Twin Cities antiwar movement, gone
to Austin to rally and carry out civil disobedience in support of the
there. The anarchists banner read "Criminal Syndicalist Proud!" playing
off both the "P-9 Proud!" slogan of the union, and the old anti-IWW
"criminal syndicalism" charges the police had dusted off to use against

It was at the Back Room Anarchist Books that I first came across the
following article, originally titled "Slaughterhouse Fight" and
published in
ideas & action, the journal of the anarcho-syndicalist Workers
Solidarity Alliance.

With this article I felt vindication that a class-conscious anarchist
approach was possible. Today NorthStar Anarchist Collective seeks to
continue to bring revolutionary anarchist politics into the streets,
workplaces, schools and communities of working-class and oppressed people.
Everywhere our sisters and brothers are fighting back.

After first reading this article, I took it home and demanded my ma read
Here's your chance. . .

NorthStar Anarchist Collective
Minneapolis August 2005

Slaughterhouse Fight: A Look at the Hormel Strike
by Steve Boyce, Jake Edwards and Tom Wetzel
This article was published in ideas & action #7, Summer, 1986.

When the airline unions and the AFL-CIO let the air controllers go down
to defeat, the message to the employing class was, "You can do what you
want; we won't organize a fighting solidarity."
The employers' concessions drive soon became an epidemic. Yet there have
been a number of militant, if isolated, struggles by workers who have
put up a strong resistance. They have often had to fight against the
union hierarchy as well as the employer. The Watsonville cannery strike
is one of these struggles, the Hormel strike is another.

Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), made
up of workers at Hormel's main plant at Austin, Minnesota, has attempted
to break out of isolation in several ways: a "Corporate Campaign" that
tried to bring consumer pressure against Hormel's main bank, a consumer
boycott of Hormel meat products, and by roving pickets sent to other
Hormel plants.
In their union meetings and rallies, in their travels to other unions
around the country, the message of the Austin meatpackers is that it's
time to re-orient the labor movement, it's time for a real fight against
employer arrogance. In their collective defiance of the heads of the
UFCW International Union, the Hormel strikers have raised the question,
Who shall run the labor movement, the careerist, top-down hierarchy of
the AFL-CIO-type unions, or the rank and file whose lives are directly
As of June [1986], P-9ers were claiming that only about 700-to-800
people were working in the Austin plant; the company, on the other hand,
claims it now has 1,050 people working. Over 1,500 had been employed
there before the strike. But the company claims it can run the plant
with only 1,050 people. The 400 former P-9 members who returned to work
after Hormel restarted production in January were particularly damaging
to the strike since they had skills and experience needed to bring
production back to normal levels.
Hormel recently announced that its profits were down 25.7% from the
second quarter of last year, due to the strike. Nonetheless, they're
still making money and hundreds of P-9 defectors and new hires continue
to labor in the Austin plant on the company's terms.
After all the media attention and the hundreds who have attended the
support rallies, what's left is the remnants of a proud local union
fighting a lonely battle against company greed and AFL-CIO betrayal.
After a year-long corporate campaign and ten months on strike, it wasn't
supposed to end this way.
The Packinghouse Division of the UFCW was the inheritor of the
traditions of the CIO United Packinghouse Workers Union (UPWA) and the AFL
Amalgamated Meatcutters Union. The labor struggle in the meatpacking
industry has faced some of the most brutal, dangerous, racist and
unsanitary conditions in American industry. What was achieved, through
several decades of struggle, were improved conditions and a national
wage standard adhered to by all producers. The national standard was
necessary to prevent wages from being undercut by competition from
low-wage producers. The militant traditions and post-World War II
prosperity had made these improvements possible.
By 1983 the eroded vesgiges of this reality had collapsed. (See Strategy
of Appeasement.) The rule of thumb in meatpacking today is that each
company will squeeze or discard the UFCW for the lowest wages and the
worst conditions it can get.

More Injuries, Lower Wages

The workers of Hormel's Austin operations were first pressured to give
concessions in the 1978 contract, which included a rigorous "no-strike"
clause. At that time local P-9 was being led by a more pro-company case
of officials, who decided to break away from the Hormel master contract
in exchange for a supposed guarantee that there would be no more cuts at
Austin. The $20 million in concessions helped to finance Hormel's new
$100 million plnat in Austin.
Only 1,750 workers were employed in the new plant when it opened in 1982
-- less than half as many as worked in the old plant. Some of the new
technology had inadequate safety features -- like automatic back saws
with no safety guards. The plant seemed to be designed with little
thought for the people who be working there. Instead of work stands that
could be adjusted to the worker's height, as in the old plant, the new
plant had fixed work stations. Management was talking about getting a
20% increase in productivity out of the new facility. As one commentator
has described it:
Everyone's work was changed, sped up, pressured, and tied to external
pacing and new standards. Ham-boners, for instance, were required to do
93 an hour. The rate was so fast that they could only sharpen their
knives on the upswing, before plunging downward into another ham.
("The Safety Issue in the Hormel Strike," Pete Rachleff, Labor Notes #88.)

The new plant experienced a 120% increase in worker injuries. In 1982
the UFCW's Lewie Anderson negotiated a new national contract for the
Hormel plants. The summary of the contract provided by the International
said that the agreement continued the policy of wages being adjusted to
the national standard and prohibited wage reductions. It was on that
understanding that the contract was ratified by Local P-9. But in the
fall of '83, Hormel decided to take advantage of the concessions fever
then sweeping the industry and announced that it was lowering wages in
pursuit of the UFCW's "national standard" which had already become a
pathetic joke. Hormel was not motivated by financial losses since it was
-- and remains -- highly profitable.
What the surprised membership of P-9 discovered, when they got a copy of
the contract from the International, was that the alleged provision
prohibiting wage reductions was missing. What had been signed by the
UFCW was not what had been sold to the local's members. People were not
happy. December of that year saw a reform slate elected for local
office, including a new president, Jim Guyette, who ran on a platform of
no wage concessions.
The 1982 master contract for the Hormel plants had contained a clause
that permitted re-opening the contract in 1984, before the contract's
expiration in September 1985. The UFCW had justified this as a means of
regaining lost ground. But in 1984 the International proposed a $1.69
per hour wage cut for Hormel workers outside Austin (from $10.69 to $9
per hour).
Lewie Anderson, UFCW vice-president and head of the Packinghouse
Division, had negotiated the agreement that was falsely presented to P-9
as protection against wage cuts. This time he conceded that it was going
to be difficult to sell wage cuts to the Austin workers given the
profitability of the company. From the public record, it seems that
brother Anderson does not engage in the truth, but this time he was
right on the mark. It was not going to be easy selling this deal.
Wages were cut in Austin from $10.69 to $8.25 per huor on October 8,
1984. Ironically, the Austin local had broken earlier -- under the
previous local leadership -- with the rest of the Hormel plants to
negotiate separately. At that time they had gotten a better deal than
everybody else. Now the new leaders of P-9 were faced with having the
lowest wages and yet they could no longer count on the united strength
of negotiating with the other Hormel locals.

Enter Ray Rogers

The immediate response to the wage reduction was a call for strike
action -- against the contract, the company and anybody else who was
trying to gut their wages. Knowing that help from the UFCW would be
non-existent, Guyette called a New York public relations firm to ask for
help in getting the local's message across. They put him in touch with
Ray Rogers and Corporate Campaign, Inc.
Ray Rogers is a man with a mission and that mission is to reshape the
labor movement, for a price. Rogers is not a wealthy man but he is a
businessman and his business is providing local unions with an
alternative to going on strike. He came to Austin and sold Guyette --
and then the membership -- on a campaign to restore to P-9 what Hormel
and the UFCW had taken away. "Strikes are obsolete," he told them. "What
you have to do is to take your power to the doorsteps of power." Ray
Rogers talks fast, in his thick Boston accent, and is prone to a
cheerleading style, as in "Give me a 'W', give me an 'I', give me an
'N'; What's that spell? What's that spell?" Rogers told them again and
again that they had the power and he would help them use it. P-9
listened, and believed, and did not strike. What P-9 members got was a
$3 per week assessment to pay for a $40,000 deal with Corporate
Campaign, Inc. Rogers and his staff of ten make $425 a week with
year-end bonuses of $1,000 (if business is good). The model for
Corporate Campaign is Rogers' campaign for the Amalgamated Clother and
Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) against J.P. Stevens, which achieved union
recognition against a notoriously nonunion Southern employer.
Rogers left ACTWU in 1981 and, with a partner, launched Corporate
Campaign, Inc. as his own business. Since then his track record has been
mixed -- some wins, some losses but nothing approaching the publicity of
the J.P. Stevens campaign. For Rogers P-9 provided the opportunity of
another J.P. Stevens and Corporate Campaign threw themselves into this
like there was no tomorrow. Protest plans for Hormel's annual
shareholders meeting panicked the executives into moving the meeting to
Atlanta. Research into Hormel's stock ties and board of directors had
turned up First Bank. One of the upper Midwest's financial giants, the
St. Paul-based bank looked like the ideal location of the "doorsteps of
power." First Bank was descended upon with pickets at branches in three
states and protesters at their shareholders meeting. Enormous quantities
of literature were produced -- from leaflets to newspapers -- and sent
throughout Minnesota and beyond. Teams of volunteers went door to door
canvassing in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The plan was to
get individuals, and unions and other institutions, to withdraw their
funds and bombard First Bank with demands that the wage cuts at Hormel
be rescinded.
It didn't work. First Bank blandly denied that it had anything to do
with management decisions at Hormel.
The corporate campaign failed because it was based on flawed
assumptions. The assumption is that workers should appeal to "public
opinion" rather than to solidarity from other workers. This is done by
trying to show how the targeted employer is especially unfair to its
workforce. At best this could only work to bring a particularly nasty
employer up to currently prevailing level of exploitation and arrogance
among employers. In the case of the J.P. Stevens campaign, Rogers'
campaign dwelled upon the fact that Stevens had more violations of labor
laws than anyone else.
But in the current climate of employer aggression, Hormel is just
following the present trend, justified among business leaders as a
"battle to become more competitive." The leaders of Continental, Iowa
Beef Processors, the Chicago Tribune and Phelps-Dodge would certainly
not say that Hormel is particularly "unfair" to its workers. To the
employing class, Hormel's callousness and arrogance are just "smart
business practices."
Since the AFL-CIO heads see corporate campaigns as a way to avoid
strikes, they actually favor them, as the J.P. Stevens campaign
demonstrates. What the UFCW International and AFL-CIO tops dislike in
this case is not the corporate campaign in itself, but the fact that a
gutsy local union is charting its own course independent of the
The corporate campaign didn't work because it didn't stop Hormel from
continuing to make money from packaging meat. To do that it was
necessary to stop production.
Within the local a core of dissenters publicly attacked Rogers and
Guyette and from UFCW Region 13 headquarters came veiled threats of
putting P-9 into receivership. On National Public Radio Lewie Anderson
said that the problem now at Hormel was that the workers made too much
money and this would make the company unprofitable and lead to loss of
jobs. The NPR reporter commented that he sounded very much like a
company spokesman. As long as the company still recognized the UFCW and
kept wages in the $8 per hour range, nobody at the International really
Among those who did care, support was growing as the contract expiration
drew near. In the Twin Cities area an informal group of local union
officials, rank and file activists, sympathetic academics, revolutionary
veterans of the '30s and assorted leftists had become the Metro Support
Committee. This committee then initiated the Naional Rank and File
Against Concessions (NRFAC) to give P-9 leaders a national platform.
On the company side, active preparations were underway for a strike.
P-9's roving pickets against First Bank were being monitored and
photographed for future legal action against the local. The line
producing Hormel's most popular new product -- hot dogs stuffed with
chile -- was dismantled and moved to Houston. $80,000 worth of barbed
wire was purchased and a marketing agreement signed with FDL Foods in
Iowa. This last step was the most significant in that it would prevent
Hormel from shortages of product should the Austin plnat be shut down.
The shut down came on August 7th and stretched through the fall and into
winter. The Metro Support Committee organized caravans bringing tons of
food to Austin, as did Region 13 of the UFCW. While receiving strike pay
of $40 from the International and $25 from Region 13, money was running
low in Austin and striking families were facing a grim Christmas. Local
P-9 had wanted to restore the old $10.69 per hour standard wage. The
differential in pay between what P-9 wanted and what Hormel offered had
been steadily narrowed by arbitrators' rulings before the strike and
mediators proposals after the strike began. The final company offer waas
for $10 per hour for the current workforce. Though material had been
published on the safety problems in Hormel's new plant, Corporate
Campaign's overwhelming emphasis had been on the money issue -- a
profitable company cutting wages. They suddenly had to scramble to
explain that there was a lot more at stake than 69 cents.
The proposed contract gave Hormel a free hand as far as work rules went
and did cut wages for new hires to $8 per hour (a "two-tier" system).
Region 13 director Joe Hansen made it clear in his announcement that
this was the best deal P-9 woudl get and that the UFCW would conduct a
mail ballot. Guyette and 150 strikers shouted him down and announced
that they would take their own vote. The proposed contract was defeated
by a small majority in both ballots.
Hormel had already announced that a defeat of this proposal would
trigger the opening of the plan with scabs and as many P-9 members as
were willing to cross picket lines. This eventuality had never really
been confronted or planned for by local leaders. Some believed that
Hormel could not bring in a large number of scabs into such a small
community (population 22,000). Others thought Rogers would launch a new
corporate campaign targeting fast food restaurants or other major
customers of Hormel. Rogers began to threaten mass civil disobedience
and the media started to call him the Martin Luther King of the labor
movement. The UFCW replied by calling him the Ayatollah of Austin.
William Wynn -- the president of the UFCW International -- publically
denounced Guyette, accusing him of leading P-9 on a suicide mission and
appealed to the local membership to repudiate the strike and go back to
Hormel attempted to re-open the plant in January. The day the plant
opened there was no mass civil disobedience or publicity campaigns.
Instead there were hundreds of union men and women blocking the gates
and the scabs did not pass that day or the next. By the end of the week
the National Guard was in place and the area around the plant was placed
under martial law.

Roving Pickets

P-9 then sent out roving pickets to spread the strike and shut down
production at the other plants in the Hormel chain. Hormel was
particularly vulnerable to this strategy since it is not a conglomerate
that can bleed off profits from one industrial division to prop up
another during a strike. All that Hormel does is package meat and it has
been doing this very profitably from 1891 to the present.
On January 25th the Hormel plant at Ottumwa, Iowa was shut down by a
march of hundreds of pickets to the gates. Hormel retaliated by firing
478 workers who refused to cross the picket lines. The plant normally
employs 800 workers. With a large part of the workforce locked out,
there was little production at the Ottumwa plant. On February 8th a
rally of some 2,000 unionists, their families and supporters was held in
Ottumwa. Support in the community is fairly strong. The mayor of the
town told the rally, "You've got the right not to cross that picket
line." Another mass rally in support of the Ottumwa workers took place
on May 10th, including hundreds of P-9 members bused in from Austin.
The shop stewards in the Ottumwa plant had been particularly
instrumental in getting people to refuse to cross the picket lines set
up by the workers from Austin. Instead of backing the fired shop
stewards, the UFCW has lately been organizing elections of new shop
stewards among the Ottumwa workers who weren't fire.
On February 16th about 200 pickets from P-9 showed up at the FDL Foods
plant in Dubuque. The local union president, Mel Maas, stood at the
plant gates, along with representatives from the UFCW International,
telling workers this was not a sanctioned picket and that they should go
to work. Nonetheless, about half of the 900 workers on the morning shift
were persuaded to stay out.
The roving pickets had less success at the other Hormel plants. Only
about 65 workers stayed out when pickets showed up at the Fremont,
Nebraska plant. When the pickets arrived at the Hormel operation in
Atlanta, they discovered that the UFCW had only a minimal organizing
effort going on. The UFCW only held union meetings every four months and
the location of the meetings was 40 miles from the plant.
Local P-9 had originally considered sending out pickets to other plants
in October. They waited until January because they were trying to get
the International's sanction for the roving pickets. They made a deal
with William Wynn, who pledged to approve the roving pickets if
negotiations with Hormel failed.
Though the negotiations did eventually raise the wage offer to $10 per
hour, the company's "final offer" in January still contained a lot of
givebacks that would essentially give management the right to do
anything it wanted in the plant, and wipe out all the past practices and
procedures (e.g. seniority rights) that defended workers against
arbitrary management power. But when P-9 members rejected this contract
in January, Wynn reneged on his pledge and refused to sanction roving
pickets. His pledge was exposed as a dishonest stalling tactic.
On February 15th 3,000 strike supporters from unions throughout the
midwest marched in the streets of Austin and ralled at the high school.
Speaker after speaker from National Rank and File Against Concessions
pledged undying support for a fight to the end. The pro-strike community
is a minority in Austin but they were there in force -- from infants to
old men. Workers from all industries were there, carrying signs, union
banners and the American flag. Even boring speeches were interrupted by
standing ovations again and again.
Everywhere in that crowded auditorium you could feel it, that we all
need something, something diffferent, something new from the labor
movement, and maybe this is where it will start. Everyone wants to
believe it. After the rally people filed out, pushing their way past
legions of Trotskyists selling newspapers, pamphlets, and discussion
Shortly afterwards in Bal Harbor, Florida, the AFL-CIO Executive
Committee refused to hear an appeal by Rogers and Guyette for an AFL-CIO
endorsed boycott of Hormel products. Later, William Wynn and Lane
Kirkland stood cheek to jowl for the press while Wynn dencounces the
"fascist tactics" of P-9. Kirkland lets it be known that from now on the
AFL will try to intervene in disputes between Internationals and
insurgent locals. The official disapproval sent a chill wind through the
leftwing cheerleaders who had been hailing P-9 and the corporate campaign.
Bill Montross of the UFCW's research department was able to denounce the
strike in the pages of In These Times ("Local P-9 Is Leading Mass
Suicide", 2/26), the Guardian ("Dissidence Isn't Always Progressive,"
2/19), and Labor Notes ("UFCW International Led Fight Against
Concessions", April). Montross's hatchet job, prepared by leftists at
the International's headquarters, tried to portray the UFCW as the
defender of "progressive" unionism while P-9 was denounced for "isolation,
individualism, and division." In the International's eyes, "solidarity"
means obedience to their orders, even if those orders ban actual
That this could even be considered a matter of serious debate was a
disgrace. But the Communist Party registered the leftist retreat the
earliest and clearest: "The local leadership's attacks on the leadership
of the UFCW has played into the hands of the corporations' union busting
strategy and will be used to split and divide other locals and be used
as ammunition against the union in organizing drives..." (Daily World,
2/6). In other words, the union apparatus must be preserved, even
against the workers themselves.
On Saturday, April 12th, another 3,000-strong rally assembled in Austin,
with supporters from all over the country. The rally was fired up by the
fact that 400 strikers and supporters had shut the plant down for
several hours on Friday, beforre being dispersed by riot cops.
At the meeting before the Friday picketing, non-violence was stressed as
it has been throughout the strike. The plan had been to block the roads
leading to the plant with circles of cars. Several hundred strikers
amassed at the main gate, chanting, hurling insults at the cops. The
strikers had the advantage of numbers. But when the cops finally began
to tow cars, no effort was made to stop them. Having broken through the
protective circle of vehicles, the cops moved in to arrest picketers.
Rogers' strategy towards the strike has been to push non-violent "civil
disobedience," rather like Martin Luther King in the civil rights
movement or the anti-nuclear protesters who sit down in front of nuclear
plants with the intention of getting arrested. Rogers preaches
non-violence because he thinks the heart of the struggle is winning
support for the Hormel strikers in the eyes of "public opinion." But
many of those in this amorphous "public" are landlords, small store
owners, politicians, and others whose class interests are not the same
as meatpacking workers. Meanwhile, if Hormel can successfully recruit
and train a scab workforce, the company has no reason to listen to
strikers' demands. And seeing the scabs take their jobs is demoralizing
for the strikers.
The problem with "civil disobedience" is its pacifism, which leaves the
bosses' law and order effectively unchallenged. It takes force to stop
scabs; it can't be done by moral appeals to public opinion.
"CD" only produces arrests, it does not produce any power for the
workers. Yet direct action by workers to defend their picket lines
against the job-stealing of the scabs is perfectly legitimate, no matter
capitalist legality may say about it.
Rogers argued that if the strikers didn't practice non-violence, the
National Guard would be brought back in. But Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party Governor Perpich hadd removed the National Guard in February only
after hundreds of supporters from other unions had been mobilized to
support the strikers in Austin. The honorable governor was worried about
the political fallout from a major confrontation between the Guard and
large groups of strike supporters.
Another twist in Rogers' emphasis upon "public opinion" is the consumer
boycott of Hormel products. But the track record of consumer boycotts in
this country is not very encouraging.
If transport workers and retail clerks refused to handle Hormel
products, that would be a more effective form of boycott. Most unionized
supermarket clerks belong to the UFCW. But instead of asking retail
clerks to refuse to handle Hormel products, the International demanded
unconditional surrender by P-9.
Despite their sincere effort to be peaceful and avoid violence, local
P-9 has been subjected to physical violence from the cops and National
Guard and many have been arrested. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities dailies
describe P-9 as "rigid" and "inflexible."
After the attempt to close the plant on April 11th, Rogers was indicted
under the Minnesota Criminal Syndicalism law, the first time that
statute has been invoked in decades. This law, which bans advocacy of
sabotage or industrial violence to affect social change, was passed in
1917 for the purpose of outlawing the Industrial Workers of the World.
The IWW had led a major strike of mine workers on the Messabi iron ore
range in Minnesota in 1916.
After announcing in March that it was ending sanction for P-9's strike
the UFCW International sent a letter to P-9 members cutting off strike
benefits for strikers who refuse to go back to work on Hormel's terms.
The UFCW mailing included a form letter, addressed to Hormel's personnel
manager, which states that the applicant is willing to take any job

Bring Back the Sit-Down Strike?

The weakness of P-9's position has been its inability to close down
operations at the Austin plant. When Hormel began production in January,
it would have been possible to break into the plant and carry out a
sit-down strike. At that point the strikers' numbers and enthusiasm were
at a peak, and the "forces of order" could have been taken by surprise.
A sit-down strike would have been the most effective way to shut down
production and force Hormel to take the strikers' concerns seriously.
When strikers are outside on picketlines, they are an easier target for
cop violence and management has a free hand inside the plant. On the
other hand, when workers are in possession of the plant, the scabs can't
be brough in to carry on production. The strikers would be holding the
$100 million plant hostage. Management would think twice before ordering
a cop assault to clear the plant of sit-down strikers.
A sit-down strike was how local P-9 was organized originally back in
1933. Discontented workers in the hog kill department got together with
with an experienced Wobbly (IWW) organizer, named Frank Ellis, who was
working as a foreman in another department. This led to the formation of
the Independent Union of All Workers (IUAW). Ellis was one of a number
of IWW butchers who migrated around the midwest from job to job in those
days. After the IUAW went on strike against Hormel in '33, the company
attempted to start up a sheep kill with scabs. At that point, four
hundred men, many of them armed with clubs, sticks and rocks, crashed
through the plant entrance, shattering the glass doors and sweeping the
guards before them. The strikers quickly ran throughout the plant to
chase out non-union workers. One...group crashed through the doors of a
conference room where Jay Hormel and five company executives were
meeting and declared "We're taking possession. So move out!" (Larry
Engelmann, "We Were the Poor -- The Hormel Strike of 1933," Labor
History, Fall, 1974.) Though Minnesota's Farmer-Labor Party governor at
the time, Floyd Olson, denounced the strikers' "illegal possession of
the plant," the company threw in the towel after four days of worker
occupation of the plant. The IUAW went on to become a major center for
organizing meatpacking plants in the upper midwest in the '30s. It
eventually became part of the United Packinghouse Workers Union of the CIO.
The heads of the AFL-CIO unions are definitely opposed to the sit-down
tactic. When the state outlaws the most effective forms of worker
action, such as sit-down strikes and refusing to handle scab goods, the
union heads simply go along with this because they try to avoid any
action that may put their organization at risk or threaten to disrupt
their long-standing relationships with management and government
leaders. Workers' first concern may be their on-the-job situation but the
International union heads do not share those conditions and their first
concern is the survival of the union as a bureaucratic institution.
Rogers and his supporters in local P-9 preached "civil disobedience" yet
a plant occupation would have been the most effective form of
"disobedience." A plant occupation may be illegal, but it is also
illegal to block streets with cars. And obviously Rogers' strategy did
not avoid arrests or police violence.

A New Union in the Meatpacking Industry?

On April 14th and 15th the UFCW International held hearings on its
proposal to place local P-9 in trusteeship. The rationale for the
trusteeship was local P-9's refusal of the International's order to end
the strike. The International failed to provide documents and witnesses
by local P-9, which denounced the proceedings as a "sham" and a "farce."
On May 9th, the Executive Board of the UFCW International ordered a
trusteeship for local P-9, with the Region 13 director Joe Hansen
appointed as the International's dictator in Austin. The UFCW's
trusteeship was upheld by federal District Court judge Edward Devitt on
June 2nd and the UFCW then changed the locks on the union's offices,
seized all files and funds, and ousted the elected leadership. Even
before the trusteeship was imposed, Joe Hansen made an unconditional
offer to Hormel for the strikers to return to work. Hormel waited until
after the trusteeship was upheld in court on June 2nd to agree to being
Most of the actual strike support and fund-raising has been done under
the auspices of the United Support Group, which is formally independent
of the union. This has not stopped the UFCW from trying to seize the
support group funds, however, which indicates how determined the UFCW is
to crush P-9's rebellion.
The International leaders are attempting to set up a "dual union" of the
bureaucrats, to replace the real union of P-9 strikers, and negotiate a
new constract with Hormel over the heads of the workers.
On June 9th petitions were filed with the National Labor Relations
Board, signed by 800 P-9 strikers, to decertify the UFCW International
in favor of an independent union. Initially "Original P-9" was the
proposed name of the independent, but the NLRB rejected this name on the
grounds that it would be confused with the official P-9, now controlled
by the International's trustee. The new union's name was then changed to
"North American Meat Packers Union."
Supporters of the new independent estimate that there are between 12,000
and 30,000 meatpackers in 30 locals across the midwest who may be
willing to leave the UFCW for an independent union. Meanwhile, local
P-40 in Wisconsin and local P-6 in Albert Lea, Minnesota, are refusing
to pay their per capita dues to the International until the trusteeship
is removed from local P-9.
The history of the Hormel struggle demonstrates once again how the
present top-down union Internationals are bound to be in conflict with
the rank and file who want control over their own movement and militant
solidarity against the employers. To develop an effective challenge to
the employing class and unionism self-managed by the rank and file, it
is going to be necessary to develop new organization.
The usual argument against a new union is that it would be "divisive"
while so many other workers in the same industry remain within the
"official" union, in this case the UFCW. But surely the UFCW
International has proven itself to be an obstacle to worker solidarity.
Affiliation of workers in different workplaces with the same
AFL-CIO-type "international union" only guarantees subordination to a
common central bureaucracy. These vertical bureaucracies often work to
oppose direct, horizontal solidarity between workers since it imposes
risks and costs (such as strike benefits) to their organizations,
disrupts cozy relationships with employers, and
challenges their top-down control.
We are not saying that workers should automatically avoid the
AFL-CIO-type unions,even when no other mass organization is feasible.
Nor are we saying that workers should abandon the struggle within the
AFL-CIO-type unions against top-down bureaucratic control and against
sell-outs. But when workers' efforts to mount an effective fight against
employer power and to control their own struggle come into conflict with
the top-down hierarchies in the unions, as at Hormel, the need and
opportunity for new organization is clearly demonstrated. A workers
movement guided by the principles of rank-and-file democracy, worker
solidarity, and militant struggle against the employing class is bound
to develop new forms of organization, independent of the rotting corpse
of American business unionism. The top-down structure of the
AFL-CIO-type unions is an albatross around the neck of the American
workforce. What is needed is a new form of organization in which the
rank and file directly manage the struggle and the local organizations
are linked together in horizontal, worker-to-worker solidarity

Workers Solidarity Alliance

339 Lafayette Street-Room 202
New York, NY 10012
tel. (212) 979-8353


"Victor Chernov" <wsany-A-hotmail.com>

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