I was recently contacted by email in regards to some important errors in my article for the Industrial Worker on the Republic Windows factory occupation. Mark Meinster, an International Representative for UE and one of the main UE staff who helped support and guide the workers who decided to occupy Republic, read the version of the article I posted here on pilsenprole. He emailed me to make me aware of one outright error and some other items that were unclear in my article. I am reposting his comments here, along with explanations for my mistakes below so that readers will be aware of these inaccuracies in my original article. Mark’s comments are in italics…
1. First, regarding your sentence :"UE was expelled from the CIO in 1949 because of the leftist politics of much of the union’s leadership." As a student of labor history I'm sure you've read lots of material about the CIO split, but just for the record we (the UE) would point out that we quit the CIO before being expelled, primarily due to raiding by other large CIO affiliates.
I was aware that the UE had effectively withdrawn from the CIO a few months before it’s official expulsion by the CIO leadership in 1949, by refusing to pay dues to the organization in protest over raiding by other CIO unions and the right ward drift of CIO policy. The raids were clearly a purposeful strategy of conservative elements within the CIO to undermine the power of UE which was one of the largest unions in the CIO at the time. I abbreviated this slightly complicated history by just referencing the expulsion of UE by the CIO along with ten other CIO unions at the CIO’s 1949 convention, who were unwilling to follow the conservative direction pushed by the CIO’s leaders. I think this important because it is a critical point at which the CIO (and eventually the merged AFL-CIO) abandoned the social movement unionism that had proved so successful in the 1930’s. An important element of what the CIO abandoned in its move toward business unionism was the direct action tactics that I think the Republic occupation illustrates. It is certainly to the UE’s credit that it withdrew from the CIO in ’49 and their expulsion along with much of the best of the CIO that same year is no slight but instead should be seen as a source of pride.
2. You state that we have raided many Teamsters locals, but this is actually not the case. I know of no successful direct raids by UE on IBT. We did organize Lakewood Engineering, which had been in IBT 743, but had been non-union for 2 years before we won the election there. I think the union you are referring to is Chicago's very own Central States Joint Board, a separate union of mostly immigrant factory workers. This is a highly corrupt, Outfit-dominated organization we have taken on many times over the years. We "liberated" Republic's workers from this "union" in 2004. (Many people think they are related to the IBT because of the IBT's "Central States Pension Fund", but the two unions are unrelated.)
This was clearly an error on my part. I was not clear on the status of the Central States Joint Board. I had heard in the past that UE had raided do nothing, corrupt Teamster’s locals were the members were being poorly represented. I guess this was erroneous information and I had assumed that there was some connection between CSJB and the Teamsters. I apologize for this error. I also want to be clear that I was not using the term ‘raiding” in a pejorative sense in this case and I full agree with the sentiment behind Mark’s use of the more accurate term “liberated.”
3. You also state that we dismissed the idea of getting the plant re-opened early on in the campaign. This is not actually the case. Though it's true to say that as our leverage increased with each passing day the goal of re-opening the plant became more plausible, from the beginning we held that our two goals were to re-open the plant or, in the event of a closure, that the workers be paid what they were owed under the law. It would, however, be accurate to state that we felt the latter was more likely than the former.
My comments on the issue of re-opening the plant was based on conversations I had with workers and UE staff on Friday, the first day of the occupation. The workers I talked to all stated that they did not think the plant could be re-opened and that they were therefore simply fighting for the severance the company owed them. The UE staff I talked to that day never mentioned re-opening the factory as a goal of the occupation. I asked the workers directly if re-opening was a possibility and was told no by ever worker I talked to. In the case of the UE staff, I never asked the question directly, but had the strong impression that everyone involved in the occupation thought the re-opening the plant was not a realistic option. That is why when I started to hear UE staff mention the possibility privately on Sunday, I was surprised. Carl Rosen’s comments at the Monday press conference where the first public statement I am aware of that re-opening the factory had been made a goal of the occupation.