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New Ground 35

July - August, 1994


  • "We should just go in there and take over the whole plant ourselves." by Kurt Anderson
  • 36th Annual Debs Dinner a Great Success by Robert Roman

  • "We should just go in there and take over the whole plant ourselves."

    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 victory.

    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 today."

    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.

    36th Annual Debs Dinner a Great Success

    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.

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