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There is an attack on workers going on across America. Corporate bosses are turning to the lockout as their first measure of negotiating with workers who strike for legitimate grievances and economic justice. There were 17 lockouts across the country in 2011 with the most attention grabbing ones being the Cooper Tire lockout in Findlay, Ohio, the American Crystal Sugar Company, and of course the NFL and NBA players associations. Unfortunately, smaller lockouts that effect fewer workers at the bottom of Organized Labor’s food chain receive far less attention. At a plant in Sandusky, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie workers at an industrial chain making facility owned by a japanese company called US Tsubaki have been locked out for over a year for having the simple desires to protect their benefits and wages from a company that is making record profits.
When all the attention was focused on Ohio, as organized labor made it the line in the sand in its successful attempt to fight back and save collective bargaining rights for public workers, the slogans of We are One! and An Injury to One is An Injury to All!boomed loud and clear across the land. Organized Labor was united in fighting back to repeal the rightwing governor’s attack on public workers (SB5) and they mobilized all their troops to do it with the Democrats carrying their banner. This showed the potential of organized labor to fight back, but on the picket lines across the country where unions such as the International Association Of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) local 2159 that represents the striking workers at US Tsubaki, there is a dismal failure from the leadership of organized labor and the the majority of the Democratic party’s leadership that pretends to carry the banner of working men and women.
Many of the workers from the US Tsubaki plant, that supplies industrial chain for everything from the mining industry to the the supply chain of the automotive industry, to roller coasters, have over 30 years of seniority. A few of these workers had worked at this plant for over 40 years, dedicating thousands of hours of overtime and a major chunk of their lives to this facility. When the company demanded a zero impact contract that would have forced these workers to pay for more of their benefits, reduce overtime pay and squelch wage increases, these workers rightfully said no. Why should they sacrifice their economic security and that of their families to a company that they had produced for most of their lives? Their story is the story of hundreds of workers like them across the country. Where are their labor bosses on this fight and where is their elected leadership? Where are the slogans of We Are One and An Injury to One is an Injury to All! when it comes to the workers at US Tsubaki?
US Tsubaki cut off negotiations with these workers months ago. Over the past year these worker’s plight has been ignored by the regional media, and dealt with as an afterthought by the leadership of Ohio’s AFL-CIO. While putting on a show of Solidarity forever and fighting the good fight, leadership in this Union at the national level seems to have written these workers and their families off. Maybe they are too small to matter to the Union bosses that take home paychecks of over a hundred grand. A regional spokesperson from this Union told me that the US Tsubaki worker’s fight was a lost cause and that they should have never gone on strike in the first place. It sure seems easy for Union bosses to write off these local struggles at small factories across the country and the slogans of We are One and An Injury to One is An Injury to All seem to go out the window when it comes to truly standing up to unjust labor practices. The workers at US Tsubaki have been replaced by non union scabs and they continue to hold the line.
Their is a hotly contested democratic primary going on in Ohio’s district 9 that stretches from Cleveland to Toledo. Sandusky is a part of that. The republicans redistricted the state to pit longtime congresswoman and regressive democrat Marcia Kaptur of Toledo against the most progressive voice in congress Dennis Kucinich from Cleveland. As soon as Dennis Kucinich discovered the plight of these worker’s in Sandusky he began to champion their cause. Kucinich is a congressman that truly believes in the sloganeering of the Organized labor movement. He helped lead the fight against SB5 in Ohio spending 200,000 dollars from his campaign coffers to fightback against this regressive legislation. He fought to save over 400 steelworkers jobs in Cleveland and he fought to stop any postal workers from losing their jobs in Cleveland, after the latest blow to our postal workers. To hear it from the Tsubaki workers first hand, Kaptur, who has been their representative since their plight began, ignored them completely until she heard that Dennis was on the case. They invited her to their picket several times with letters and phone calls when they knew she would be in town and never received as much as a reply. Dennis Kucinich has rallied with these workers and has begun to bring their plight the national and international attention it deserves.
The Tsubaki workers are not alone as they suffer from the compromising nature of Union leadership and regressive Democratic Party representatives. Across the country we can see where this smoke and mirrors game of standing up for workers is taking us. The United Auto Worker’s leadership suspended their own constitution to ratify their latest contract with FIAT/Chrysler. The skilled trades workers at Chrysler plants across the country voted down their contract due to rationalization measures that were combining jobs in order to eliminate jobs. The mafia bosses from Italy must have given them no other choice, and the Union leadership caved again.
Why does An Injury to One is An Injury to All not hold true when it comes to workers like those that have been locked out in the cold at US Tsubaki? When will We are One apply to the skilled trades workers at Chrysler? Organized labor has based its survival on fighting for collective bargaining rights in Ohio and Wisconsin while failing to truly stand up for workers on the picket line and in factories across this country. How much lower will the comfortable union bosses, that often take home two or three fat paychecks, allow the state of the American worker to decline until they really stand up for workers? And when will other Democrats stand up alongside the lonely voices of people like Dennis Kucinich who make true and principled stands for workers rights, social and economic justice? It is time for all Americans to learn the names of all the lockouts happening across the country and truly Unite as one to carry the banner of the US Tsubaki workers and UAW workers and the non unionized working poor as their own. Let us look to North Africa and Greece to see what is in store for us as the Robber Barons at the top take more and more from us serfs at the bottom, and let us demand that the Union Bosses and Democratic Party hacks truly make An Injury to One an Injury to All.
Michael Leonardi lives and works in Toledo, Ohio and along Ohio’s North Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org