Having hired into, and retired from, a company where a local union already existed and whose workers already had a contract, I can’t fully appreciate what it must be like for workers to organize and then have their company refuse to recognize them as a union or to refuse to bargain, eventually to result in such a tragedy as that which took place at Republic Steel in South Chicago on May 30, 1937, the day we memorialize today. I can, however…….imagine.
Unfortunately, workers today face the same determination of companies to remain “union free” albeit with somewhat less violence.
My own experience was in 1980, when members of USWA Local 12775 and 13796 were forced to strike the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) for 242 days. Billed as the longest utility strike in American history at the time, it was a dispute where getting a contract seemed futile. That experience will be in my memory forever.
Not long after President Reagan’s firing of the PATCO workers, former USWA President Lynn Williams, with the help of the Steelworkers Union, formed the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, (S.O.A.R.). Our organization is made up of thousands of Steelworker Retirees who have experienced similar labor disputes with companies that have refused to bargain.
Today, companies continue to fight workers attempts to organize. Not only do they unlawfully fire labor leaders, knowing that the cost of back pay is, to them, a small price to pay to stay “union free”, but they use intimidation, scare tactics and threats of moving or closing the plant, and when workers do elect representation, many times a company will refuse to negotiate a contract with them.
On top of that, when workers are forced to strike a company, they are faced with the hiring of permanent replacement workers.
NiSource is the parent company of NIPSCO and owner of the Northern Indiana Fuel and Light Company (NIFL). The workers at NIFL organized their union in January of 2005 and negotiated with the company for over a year, and yet they still had no contract. It was a disgrace.
Workers in the United States have had a belly full. The United Steelworkers and SOAR are supporting legislation that would address these problems. It’s called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and I urge everyone to support it by asking their U.S. Senators to co-sponsor this legislation.
The working families at the Republic Steel plant in south Chicago helped set the stage for what is today the largest, strongest, most powerful industrial union in North America. It was the determination and guts of the founders of our great union in places like Republic Steel that gives today’s Steelworkers and members of SOAR that sense of resolve and the fortitude needed to continue in that same tradition. Remembering those who lost their lives and suffered from the massacre itself is, of course, very important. However, it was the determination of the workers after the event, never giving up the fight for recognition that gives us the resolve to “never give up on justice”. We are activists with a memory.
Building SOAR to increase our strength on senior issues is a high priority for our union. With the anti-union attitude of the far right wing in the United States today, there is nothing more important to our retirees than having a strong voice representing their interests. By becoming more active in the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), we can make our voices heard more powerfully in the struggle to protect and extend the rights of retirees.
Charlie Averill, SOAR Secretary-Treasurer