Strike Bulletin #2:
Day Three of the Strike, Tuesday, October 2nd
Day Three of the Strike really sucked. It’s when we learned, among other things, that we are groundbreakers, path-finders fighting an army of professionals who pride themselves in breaking strikes and breaking people.
On the third day of the strike, we learned that the 34 union brothers and sisters who took the lead and got this strike started are being threatened with termination. And today was the day that we learned how proficient and professional our opponents are at utilizing the years and years of experience and training they have had in exploiting the weak side of human psychology.
After publicizing the proposed termination of the people of Crew 5 and Crew 3 who walked out on Sunday morning, they also announced two new options for strikers. First, they told us that they would overlook and ignore those of us who had chosen to strike if we just returned to work on our shifts tomorrow. For those strikers who they knew they could never get to cross the picket line, they offered a second option. They said that those of us that refused to come back to work could start calling in sick and use our sick days and, when we returned to work with a doctor’s note, all would be forgiven. The only hitch of the “Calling In Sick” plan is this one condition: if you choose to call in sick and you continue to picket, you will be fired.
To many workers, terrified by the prospect of job loss and feeling a deep sense of isolation, getting the opportunity to go back to work—even though we have not yet won—seems so appealing. Of course, management has done everything possible to make us feel isolated and weak. Today, they brought in an army of tactical police clothed in flak jackets and armed with billy clubs to remind us that they have a small army of well-armed thugs to hurl against us if we even dare to stop our coworkers from entering the plant by so much as waving our signs at them or asking them to roll down their windows to persuade them to turn their cars around.
Our picket lines have never been so large, so ferocious, or so violent that management needed dozens of tactical police to threaten us with violence to prevent us from keeping scabs out. Our small pickets have been able, for three days, to turn back trucks, to stop our wavering coworkers from crossing the picket lines, and to get carpenters, electricians, laborers and other trade unionists to refuse to work in the plant so long as our strike is going on.
We were fierce because every single worker we encountered knows that our fight is their fight—it’s the fight for the city of Detroit, it’s the fight to save the unions, it’s the fight to offer hope and dignity to the young people that follow behind us. The only reason management brought in the tactical police was to make us feel weak when we know we are strong.
Today and tomorrow, many of our coworkers will cross the picket lines and return to work. The actual number of people who do that will be far smaller than what we are led to believe by lying and treacherous supervisors and AFSCME Council 25 officials who have done more to break our strike for management than Dave Bing or Judge Cox would have ever dared to do on their own.
Whether a hundred of our coworkers cross the picket line or five hundred, Dave Bing, Judge Cox, and the Board will all claim that the strike has been broken and they have triumphed. To make sure that the workers who choose to call in sick rather than cross the picket line are convinced to stay home, other workers who, when they try to surrender and return to work today or tomorrow, will be told by security that they have been “terminated” because they were active on the picket lines.
Why, a person might ask, is management so determined to bring down our picket lines? Many of the workers who have been terminated and who are already questioning whether they made the right decision to strike in the first place will probably, at least in the near future, stop picketing, even though they have nothing to lose by fighting. Our picket lines are already likely to be quite small and, from the standpoint of stopping people from entering the plant, quite weak.
But here is where we can learn from management that, despite all their bravado and attempts to prove their overwhelming strength, they know better than we have known that even a small number of consistent picketers can be extremely dangerous to the new regime they are trying to institute.
When we went out on strike, we did so because we believed that we could not accept some judge—who had never even allowed us to speak in a single court procedure—to slash our wages whenever he chose, steal our pensions, and break our union. We didn’t think we could live with that much uncertainty or degradation. And for those of us who return to work and receive smaller paychecks for working longer hours, who will no longer have the right to file a grievance or call a steward, who will see our coworkers routinely victimized and mistreated—those few people standing at the gates picketing will remind us that we have another option, and that is to walk out again but this time to stay united and fight until we win.
Everyone has heard that this strike was “illegal” and knows that our higher-up union officials in Council 25 lied to us and are betraying us now, and so never can be trusted in the future to have our backs.
So we will be right back to where we are now, facing the same two choices: fight, stay united and have the right to determine our own destiny; or accept the likelihood of being fired at any moment for any reason and the uncertainty of never knowing whether we’ll get a paycheck or, if we get one, how small it might be.
Management believes that, so long as any of us are fighting to win this strike, even if it’s just 50 or 60 of us, that we can still beat them—maybe not today or tomorrow, but next week or the week after that, if we just stay united. By threatening to terminate 34 of us and adding dozens more, management may succeed at intimidating some of us in the short run, but they also will be creating a group of worker leaders who can only win by keeping the strike alive.
The Water Board, Mayor Bing, and Judge Cox know that by trying to fire the strongest people in our strike, they could be creating a group of leaders who can challenge them for power, not only over the Sewage Plant, but over who controls Detroit and who decides what direction this society goes in.
But Judge Cox, Mayor Bing and their cronies believe that this risk is worth taking because they do not believe that we are capable of understanding how much potential power we possess.
In many ways, our enemies are right: while they have had years of experience in crushing human spirits, we do not have years of experience in how to strike and win. And almost all of us who were certain that we had to fight but were unclear what a strike is, what it takes to win, or how to assess the balance of power—we are having to start now learning how to fight to win, to make our own history and be our own heroes.
And so here is the truth: we have power. We have the power that management fears we possess, in being able to continue to influence what our coworkers do and think. But we have more power than that: the leaders of this strike, some of whom have already faced termination and more of whom will do so in the coming days, can be regarded as heroes and not as victims to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the Detroit area and beyond.
We have to stick together and stay united. Every individual problem that seems so insurmountable—like how we’re going to pay the rent or feed our kids, or get a new job, or how to win our old jobs back—can be overcome if we can just unite and fight together.
We must try to turn outward and organize other workers, youth and community members to join our fight. The next couple of weeks, we have to leaflet and urge every city worker in Detroit to go out on strike and join this fight to save our city and to save our lives. The minute we start talking to people—bus drivers, mechanics, clericals, high school students, college students, church members, and senior citizens—about why we chose to fight and, despite all we have been through, why we would choose to do it again without hesitation—we will feel and understand how much support and admiration we have won.
We will meet people all across this city who look up to us as leaders because we are proud to fight even if victory is neither quick nor certain. And others will be inspired to fight because, by trying to organize them to fight, we will give them confidence in their own abilities to take the risk and take a stand.
Almost everyone in Detroit despises Mayor Bing, resents and hates Judge Cox and all the other arrogant white people who think that they have the right to control Detroit and destroy so many people’s lives. What the people of Detroit lack are leaders. A few generations have passed since standing up and fighting as a union or as a community was the norm. And virtually every leader that we have encountered in our lifetimes has been cynical, corrupt, self-serving, dishonest, and disappointing.
The leaders of this strike—starting with our union executive board and then extending to Crew 5, and from them to so many of us who have been out on the picket lines for the last few days—can be a model for new leadership that our city desperately needs and wants. If we don’t lose our heads, turn on each other, or try to forget why we started fighting in the first place, we can save this city. We can create a new labor movement and contribute to the building of a new civil rights movement that can grow quickly and exponentially once new struggles start to take off.
It is wonderful and terrible to be the people who are the first to stand up and fight against what we are told are insurmountable enemies. Wonderful, because of how we felt at the beginning of this strike—free for the first time. Terrible, because it is painful to learn, especially when you have so few models of courage and success to learn from. Wonderful, because if we turn to the other workers in this city and ask them to stand and fight with us, we will feel so much love and, when they stand up and fight, we will feel so proud to be a part of their accomplishments. Terrible, because right now we cannot see how we’re going to pay the bills or overcome the tug-of-war inside of us that goes between the certainty and the doubt that the stand we took was right. Wonderful, because we had spent so much of our lives living in fear and finally we made the decision that the unknown is better than the fear. Wonderful, because we have the opportunity to be everything in a society that works relentlessly to convince us that we are nothing.
If we reach out to and organize the rest of Detroit to follow our lead, the terrible will diminish and the wonderful will flourish.