New Ground 31 New Ground 31 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America

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New Ground 31

September, 1993


  • West Suburban Goings-On: More Demonstrations Planned by Paul Lenart
  • Annual Gathering of Debs Foundation to be Held in Indiana by Bruce Bentley
  • Message From the Editor


    Solidarity Committee Formed with DSA Participation

    by Bob Roman

    On August 4th, 150 people gathered outside the State of Illinois Center in Chicago to demand that the 760 locked-out employees of the A.E. Staley Company in Decatur receive unemployment compensation. The A.E. Staley Company locked out the workers on June 27th in response to a well organized in-plant/corporate campaign conducted by Allied Industrial Workers Local 837. The employees had been working without a contract for some months prior to the lockout. The demonstration was organized by the adhoc Staley Workers Solidarity Committee.

    Working without a contract is like walking a high wire without a net. But AIW Local 837 was well aware that workers in our country no longer have the right to strike. When the Staley Company refused to negotiate in good faith, the union refused to be provoked into striking. Instead, they organized an in-plant campaign. The campaign consisted of "working to rules", spontaneous worker demonstrations, visible expressions of support (buttons, tee shirts, etc). But the union realized that to be effective, the conflict had to be expanded. They also embarked upon a corporate campaign to isolate the A.E. Staley Company from the interlocking network of corporate boards in which most major companies participate.

    The campaign was effective. Staley directors were dropped from the corporate boards of local banks. Production at the plant dropped. Local press coverage, not noted for any sympathy with unions, became increasingly favorable. And the workers themselves responded with enthusiasm. At a meeting last year attended by 720 of the 760 workers, the workers voted to assess themselves $100 a month to fund the campaign. The vote was nearly unanimous.

    The A.E. Staley Company did not sit still. In addition to the usual firings and other personnel actions, the company brought in the notorious union-busting Chicago law firm of Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather and Geraldson. Finally they locked the workers out.

    Labor relations at the A.E. Staley Company were never perfect, but the situation did not become grim, if not deadly, until the company was bought out by the British conglomerate Tate & Lyle in 1988. The first thing to suffer was occupational health and safety. There have been several spectacular dust fires. Several employees have suffered permanent injury from exposure to toxic chemicals. And finally, in 1990, an employee named Jim Beals was suffocated by Propylene Oxide. OSHA finally took action and in 1991 assessed a fine of $1.6 million. This is the 12th largest fine ever imposed by OSHA.

    The latest news from the lockout has been both good and bad. The locked out workers are now receiving unemployment compensation; however, the workers had been judged ineligible because negotiations were taking place. These talks were not serious - the jargon is "surface bargaining". But meetings were taking place. Staley has apparently withdrawn their objections and has been making every effort to get the plant back in production without the locked out workers. The implications are ominous.

    The Staley Workers Solidarity Committee was organized in July in response to the union's ongoing outreach effort. The initial meeting brought together 80 people who listened to a delegation from AIW Local 837 and contributed over $900 to the union's campaign. In addition to the kick-off rally and the August demonstration, the Committee is planning to have a delegation in Chicago's Labor Day parade and a delegation in Decatur's Labor Day parade. Another rally is tentatively planned for later in September. The Committee plans to target another of Staley's corporate interconnections: State Farm Insurance. And a boycott is being organized against Domino Sugar and Western Sugar: two Tate and Lyle subsidiaries. If you would like to assist in these projects, contact the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee at (312) 549-3147 or (312) 738-6060. West Suburban DSA has obtained a copy of the strike video. If your group would like to show the video at a meeting, contact Paul Lenart at (708) 910-7454.

    West Suburban Goings-On: More Demonstrations Planned

    by Paul Lenart

    Members of West Suburban DSA participated with their allies in the Fair Trade Campaign in a picket and mass lobby of Congressman Harris Fawell's office in Clarendon Hills on July 19th. The dozen or so picketers reinforced the phone calls of the many other DSA and FTC friends who called to express their opposition to the NAFTA sellout of the working class. Fawell is solidly pro-NAFTA; he has written editorials which the local press laps up criticizing even the weak side agreements that the Clinton Administration put forth to moderate the environmental and employment havoc that NAFTA will cause. When the FTC sponsored a debate on NAFTA at the College of DuPage in March, Fawell flew in one of his aides, Allen Mertz, from Washington to argue the pro-corporate case. His flack-catcher aide in Clarendon Hills, Barbara Graham, however, was all ears and sympathy when the protesters were finally admitted to the office after 20 minutes of marching outside with anti-NAFTA signs. She related stories of her own experiences in Mexico while working for a Fortune 300 company and her shock at the extent of poverty and corruption. With aides like her, Fawell might retain his undeserved reputation as a "moderate" among Republicans

    The demonstration was covered by local papers of the Sun chain and the Doings. We informed the Chicago Fair Trade Campaign and 30 locals of AFL-CIO unions of our efforts and solicited their suggestions for better coordination of anti-NAFTA efforts. All in all, ripples of this modest action went beyond what might have been expected from a dozen, mostly older, people. Perhaps Chicago comrades could take a note of this?

    Three members of WSDSA attended the most recent meeting of the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee on August 17th at the ACTWU hall in Chicago. At the meeting, local unionists agreed to hold a rally at State Farm Insurance's collusion with the Tate & Lyle owners of Staley who have locked out their workers on June 27th after a series of assaults on their living and working conditions. The actions will take place in mid-September. There will be an indoor solidarity rally at the end of September which the committee hopes will have broad labor support. The theme of the rally will be one of the slogans of the 750 locked-out Staley workers: Illinois Is A War Zone. The meeting also called for Chicago area supporters of the Staley workers to join them for their Labor Day parade on September 6th in Decatur. Five of those present at the meeting agreed to go downstate. At a separate meeting later in the week, four West Suburban DSA members agreed to go to Decatur after one of their number reported on his trip there and confirmed that AIW Local 837 had in fact invited outside participation in the AIW contingent in the parade.


    Members of the West Suburban DSA and the West Suburban Fair Trade Campaign marched in the Decatur Labor Day parade as part of a delegation of Chicagoans demonstrating their support of the locked out Staley workers. They also brought along a shipment of 500 pounds of food because, after all, workers do not live by solidarity alone.

    The September 11th membership meeting of Chicago DSA elected a full slate of 15 delegates and 1 alternate. Some of you will be surprised to find you're now a delegate, but that's what you get for missing a meeting. The Reverend Eugene Birmingham was elected Treasurer to fill Kirk Imoto's unexpired term. John Albanese was elected Male Co-Chair. John remains the Political Education Director, but he still only gets one vote!

    Annual Gathering of Debs Foundation to be Held in Indiana

    by Bruce Bentley

    On Saturday, November 6 the Debs Foundation will hold its annual Debs Dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana. This event is an opportunity for midwest DSAers to get together. The cost of the dinner is $25 and the Debs Foundation will honor DSAers Ed Asner and Dolores Huerta. Tickets will be available in late September; you may contact the Debs Foundation at P.O. Box 843, Terre Haute, Indiana 47808 (phone # 317-322-8918).

    Frequently midwest DSAers have discussed the possibility of a midwest DSA organization or network. This dinner is an annual event that could facilitate an autumn gathering for midwest DSAers. In addition to supporting democratic left event, we could take the opportunity to discuss the work of midwest locals and develop and maintain a sense comaraderie or community.

    We have the ability to offer significant support to other midwest locals. For example, on July 10 the Madison, WI local celebrated the revival of the local which had dissipated over the years. David Harris was the inspired organizer who suddenly got 20 of the 40 local members active once again. The event's featured speaker was Bob Fitrakis of Columbus, OH who was a 1992 candidate for Congress (Fitrakis was also MC at Chicago DSA's Debs Dinner in May). A few members of the Chicago local also went to Madison to meet their comrades. It is by attending such events that all midwest DSAers can support each other. Chicago's annual Debs-Thomas-Harrington dinner could therefore be the setting for spring midwest gathering.

    If you are interested in attending the Debs Foundation dinner call the CDSA office so that we may organize a time and place to meet fellow DSAers.

    Message From the Editor

    In the last few months we have managed to publish New Ground more times than all of last year. We intend to stay on the current bi-monthly schedule and, hopefully, issue a monthly calendar to supplement or update the two-month calendar usually at the back of NG.

    The newsletter is Chicago DSA's primary means of communication with its members, along with the occasional postcards you receive calling attention to strikes, demonstrations, and other important action alerts. Though we receive announcements from various progressive organizations or individuals, as well as reports from some DSA members (the West Suburban branch readily comes to mind), I would like to invite more CDSA members of all stripes to submit pieces to NG so that the many voices of the broad left that DSA represents can be heard. It is my intention as editor and political education officer to provide a forum for the announcements, reports, or observations from the feminist, lesbian/gay/bisexual, civil rights, environmentalist, and labor DSA communities.

    New Ground is, of course, a small operation. While I welcome the opportunity to bring you news from all the DSA constituencies, this goal cannot be accomplished without your support and input. Thus, I invite you to submit items for publication in NG. Send calendar information, reports on activities and political happenings, and other newsworthy info to me at Chicago DSA, 1608 N. Milwaukee, Room 403, Chicago, IL 60647. The deadline for the next issue is October 20 (the 20th day of every other month is our general deadline). Please try to limit submissions to 800 words or less.

    With your support, I will ensure that New Ground represents the multi-faceted concerns of democratic socialism.

    John Albanese, Editor, Political Education Officer

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