The USW strike at Constellium ends

Contract details have not yet been released following the conclusion of a month-long strike by 400 workers at Constellium, a major aluminum recycling plant in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

The fight by United SteelWorkers Local 200 mainly focused on the issue of seniority, as agreement over 15% wage increases and the elimination of tiered wages had already been reached between the union and management. As union members returned to work, USW District 9 Director Daniel Flippo told local news, “Together, we took a stand on Constellium’s attack on our members’ seniority rights. Our solidarity provided the protection that was able to be achieved, and we look forward to working with this strong and vibrant, engaged membership in the future.”

Exactly how seniority has been protected is unclear. The Shoals Insider, a local news outlet, posted on Facebook: “The union did reportedly make some concessions, we are told. Union members will have to start rotating job bids.” 

­While this report has not been verified if it turns out to be accurate a serious blow could have been dealt to worker seniority rights. Years of service on a job should have meaning. Rotating job bids could potentially place senior employees in the most difficult jobs as they near retirement—sealing off the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ultimately, the strike could have had a different more international character if metal workers in Europe had strategically had entered the fight. European FTM-CGT union leaders Frédéric Sanchez and Philippe Tremouille wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to Constellium International President Tom Conway, “We cannot accept that Constellium management wants to impose a contract that would erase decades of collective bargaining progress on issues like seniority and occupational health and safety.”

The letter continued, “Constellium workers have the right to fair working conditions, and our duty as a union is to avoid competition between workers as the group management tries to impose. You can count on the full support of the FTM-CGT and the CGT Constellium in your struggle. We will be your voice at the top management and we will defend your positions as firmly as ours.”

If this solidarity statement had been realized in the form of concrete industrial actions, Constellium production could have ground to a halt, and the workers in Alabama could have quickly won all of their demands. It’s a task easier said than done—but essential for the future struggles and strikes of the working class.

D.C. hotel workers should strike and organize defense guards against far-right violence!

UNITE HERE Local 25 in Washington, D.C., posted on Twitter: “We are calling on hotels in the DC region to close ahead of inauguration, unless they are hosting security personnel. Any hotel that stays open must permit workers to stay home and/or leave the moment they feel unsafe.”

John Boardman, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of Local 25, said in a statement, “Given the danger and fluidity of this situation, the best way to guarantee the safety of hotel workers and District residents is to keep these groups out of the city and out of its hotels. That is why, unless hotels in the immediate Metro Area are hosting the National Guard or other security personnel, they should close immediately.”

“No worker, Union or non-Union, should have to risk their life to go into work,” Boardman said in his statement. “Unfortunately, that is the situation we are now faced with. When workers are safe, the public is safe. That is why we urge every hotel in the region to do their part in protecting us all.”

Will Local 25 strike in Washington, D.C., to prevent hotels from hosting far-right and fascists during the inauguration? How can unions keep workers safe with the rising threat of far-right and fascist violence? A strike over safety conditions would be perfectly legal—and understandable, given the threat of armed militias at the Capitol. With over 7000 members in Washington, D.C., a strike would send a powerful message that workers are not going to rely on the bosses to keep them safe.

What about the non-union hotel workers or the masses of Black and Latino workers who are residents of Washington, D.C.? Can working people rely on the police and National Guard to keep them safe? History tells us no. The police and National Guard have consistently been tools of oppression used against workers.

What can workers do? UNITE HERE and other unions should strike for their members’ safety, and on the basis of those strikes, form defense guards that train and mobilize thousands of their members to defend workers against the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and violence of the far right. Workers’ organizations can’t wait to react to threats of violence. Our organizations have to take the lead in the class struggle by preparing workers to actively defend their communities and democratic rights.

MLK Day and the Fight for $15

Nearly 1000 workers in 15 cities walked off the job on the Friday leading into the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The Fight for $15 organized through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has used mobilizations of fast-food workers to push for legislative changes and for an increase in the minimum wage. The change fast-food workers have sought has been slow. While some important gains have been made through Fight for $15, workers can’t rely on capitalist politicians to make those changes. In many places like Seattle, San Francisco, or New York, legal loopholes have been worked into legislation that lets many companies off the hook. In 2020, in confronting the pandemic and economic crisis, workers have to as whether $15 an hour is even enough to live on. The answer is no. Studies show that in places like Buncombe County, N.C., the living wage has jumped from $15.50 to $17.

Instead of a legislative approach, SEIU should push to actually unionize the masses of 3.9 million fast-food workers in the U.S. About 20% of these workers are Black, and almost half of all fast-food workers are people of color. The labor movement would change overnight if millions of fast food workers were organized. The precarious and unsafe nature of their labor transformed into good paying more stable jobs with benefits would provide an example for low-wage workers everywhere.

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this in a speech to an AFL-CIO convention in Illinois. He said, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”

Illustration by General Strike Graphics