by Kurt Anderson
The date was Saturday, June 25, and the place was the west
gate of the Staley plant in Decatur.
"We should just go in there and take over the whole plant
ourselves," said a member of the American Federation of Teachers.
He continued, "The American labor movement did not get where
it is today and where it was by being polite. If they need a first
line of people to take the hits from the police, I'll do it and
then the other people here can run right in. I'll do it."
Although that did not happen, the events in June proved just
how determined Labor is and just how determined Staley and the
Decatur police are. Although tear gas and mace were used by the
Decatur SWAT team, labor continued to stand face-to-face with
Staley's public SWAT team defenders. The day ended in a stand
off with the Decatur SWAT team. There was one arrest.
The march participants gathered at the UAW hall about a half
mile from the Staley factory. After rousing singalongs, there
were equally fervent speeches from Roberta Lynch, a DSA member
and Deputy Director of AFSCME Council 31, Larry Solomon of the
UAW, and Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers. A speech from
Jesse Jackson was read, although he was unable to attend. The
mood was festive as the march began. It remained that way for
most of the day. Cars honked their horns in support as the marchers
crossed the bridge.
The march ended like a labor day parade. As each delegation
from 30 union locals at the demonstration crossed the bridge over
the Norfolk Southern rail yards, their name, local number, and
hometown were announced. Some were from as far away as New York,
Virginia and Kansas.
A makeshift stage was set up in front of the Staley headquarters
building. There were more songs and speeches.
The march proceeded from the headquarters building to the West
gate, where the Decatur SWAT team waited in full, sweaty riot
gear. The marchers trespassed on to Staley property and went face
to face with the SWAT team. After a few nervous moments, the SWAT
team flinched first.
Without any provocation, the Decatur police began pepper gassing
and macing people in the front rows of the protest march. Three
children and one infant were exposed to large amounts of the gas.
The children and the infant went to the hospital. They were released
after two hours with minor injuries. The father of the children,
Galen Garret, a member of the IBEW in Decatur said, "What
kind of public servants gas children?"
The police also gassed members of the media. One reporter,
during her live spot for a local TV station's 6 PM news, mentioned
that people and children had been gassed without provocation.
These facts were left out for the 10 PM edition.
A member of the UAW took a direct hit in the face and eyes.
The autoworker spent the rest of the afternoon in excruciating
pain, trying to wash the mace from his eyes.
Others were hit as well. One clergy organizer of the event,
who wishes to remain anonymous, said, "We watched the video
tape we had of the event in slow motion, and you can see the police
continuing to gas people after they're down on the ground. They
were treating them like a bunch of roaches. These people were
incapacitated, but they continued to gas them." The organizer
continued, "The more the police do this kind of stuff, the
more evident it is that they look like hired Staley goons. The
one protester who was arrested was hit severely with pepper gas
and then held in an un-airconditioned bus for 90 minutes when
the outside temperature was well above 85. This man was in excruciating
pain for 90 minutes before he received any treatment."
Throughout the afternoon, the police continued to release tear
gas. None of this intimidation, however, deterred a crowd which
was determined to show Staley and the Decatur police that the
labor movement could take whatever was thrown at them and not
resort to violence.
In fact, the protestors went to great lengths to not intimidate
or give the police cause to use force. Anybody with a sign that
had a stick attached to it was asked by the Staley workers to
send it to the back, away from the police. "We want to avoid
any provocation." The police, however, eager to show that
they were in control and obvious threatened, released more tear
gas. One canister was thrown at a group of about 15 people to
the left of the gate. The canister did not go off, and it made
for a lighter moment when Staley security came to retrieve it.
The crowd dispersed at approximately 4:30 pm, claiming a well-won
This sentiment was echoed by a UAW worker from Decatur, who
said, "We them that we we not going to accept eveything they
say or do like it's the word of God or something. We showed them
that when labor puts their mind to something and honest working
people get fed up, nobody can stop us. That's what we showed them
Two carloads of DSA members from the Chicago area attended
the rally in Decatur. Many other DSA members from around the Midwest
attended as part of their union's delegation. The June Chicago
DSAExecutive Committee voted to contribute $600 to help support
the locked out Staley workers.
In Chicago, work in support of the Staley workers is being
planned and coordinated by an ad-hoc group, the Staley Workers
Solidarity Committee. The committee got its start last summer
at a meeting held at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Lakeview.
If you'd like to become involved in this struggle, you can
contact the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee at (312) 549-3147.
New Ground will also keep you posted on upcoming events.
by Robert Roman
Over 320 people gathered at the Congress Hotel in downtown
Chicago on May 14th to honor veteran peace and labor activist
Carole Travis and a true stalwart of labor and community politics,
Lou Pardo. Barbara Ehrenreich's speech was all of what we've come
to expect of her, a flavorful mixture of insight and razor wit.
A delegation from the locked-out Staley workers attended the
Dinner as guests of West Suburban DSA. On their way to Toronto,
Ontario, the Staley workers did a land office business selling
T-shirts and copies of their video "Deadly Corn".
The Dinner was a cooperative effort by many DSA members. We
started working on this year's Dinner last summer. Among those
who helped were: John Albanese, Kurt Anderson, Bruce Bentley,
Gene Birmingham, Bill Dixon, Gloria Hannas, J. Hughes, Chris Johnson,
Jim Madigan, Marsha Montroy, Bob Roman, Donn Schneider, Carl Shier,
Maggie Shreve, Liz Tillmans, Leighton Whitaker. Our thanks to
all of you for making this year a major success.