Labor Celebration Ignores Issues Workers flexed muscles, but what did it all mean? By Eileen Welsome San Antonio u NION LEADERS hailed the recent Labor Day Parade in San Antonio as one of the grandest displays of solidarity in Texas since the 1920s. Officials from 130 labor unions from the state and national level poured into the city for the two-day celebration of the 100th anniversary of Labor Day and the dedication of the 16-foot Samuel Gompers statue, the founder of the American Federation of Labor who died in San Antonio in 1924. With the stepped up organizing efforts in Texas earlier this spring, it was probably no accident that organized labor decided to flex its muscles in another Texas city \(especially one where the mayor himself, Henry Cisneros, was so receptive to blue collar viswhen the receptions, press conferences and parties were all through, there was still the nagging question of what did it all mean. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland aimed a few clever barbs at the Reagan administration; the Farm Workers announced they were gong to renew the push for bargaining rights in the legislature and received the backing of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Cong. Henry B. Gonzalez gave Reagan the dubious distinction of being the first “union-busting president” in the nation’s history, much to the delight of the crowd who were almost all cardcarrying union members. Yes, it was a great display of solidarity, but maybe it was just that a dis. play. Even the parade itself seemed hollow and disjointed as Kirkland and a cadre of 6 OCTOBER 1, 1982 union officials and state Democratic hopefuls wheeled down the hot streets of San Antonio in their open convertibles. With no musical sound system and only an occasional high school band to liven up the 16-blocks of steel workers, pipefitters, electricians, and other tradesmen, the silent parade seemed more like a funeral procession. Kirkland, as usual, flogged away at the state of the economy With all the vigor of an aging boxer. Charging that a vote for a Reagan supporter was like a “chicken voting for Colonel Sanders,” he urged organized labor to oust the politicians who are ravaging the Country’s economy in the upcoming Congressional elections. Though his jingoistic phrases are often picked up and repeated for weeks by the national press, his speeches, delivered in a slow, deliberate cadence, are, well, dull. “He’s the most boring speaker I ever heard,” said one labor official who stepped out in the hallway for a quick smoke during Kirkland’s first speech. Kirkland predicted that Texas organizing efforts will get a needed boost during the current recession. “For years, he said, Texas has had the benefit of an expanding economy, and while that’s not necessarily an argument against unionism, there is a calculated effort to try to convince people that economic growth is somehow related to the promanagement, pro-employer point of view reflected in the right-to-work laws.” Layoffs “vividly” show that employers don’t always have the workers’ best interests in mind, he said, adding that labor is making definite progress in Texas. Kirkland, however, failed to address what is happening to organized labor here in Texas, in places like the Golden Triangle, for example. The stronghold of the state’s labor movement, it is now under seige by oil companies and related industries eager to take back concessions bargained away when there was no oil glut. Just recently and with great reluctance, 3,400 members of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Local 4-23 in Port Arthur signed a new contract with Texaco that signified an end to the longest strike in Texas history. At the nearby Petrofina plant in Port Arthur, there has been little effort on the part of management to get the 400 workers back to work who walked off their jobs when oil industry contracts expired Jan. 8. The situation is also similar at the BF Goodrich plant where another 400 or so workers are on strike. And at the U.S. steel plant in Orange, an additional several hundred workers are out of work because of a strike union leaders maintain the company forced. Undoubtedly, organized labor both here in Texas and the rest of the country are facing an uncertain future. To survive, they will have to adapt their demands at the bargaining table to the changing economy. In San Antonio CWA President Glenn Watts offered labor some of the clearest suggestions during a weekend marked more by political rhetoric. Recognizing that the traditional battles of wages and benefits have already been won, Watts urged tradesmen to seek “employment security” rather than “job security” through negotiated contracts that guaranteed training and retraining “so that no union member ever lacks the skills to find a job in a changing economy. ” 0 Eileen Welsome is a reporter for the San Antonio Light. ,froe.te.y1: ,v-f 4,10″ *A.,41,1.11,06,V4110.1.Wt
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