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Inside the Book


The failure of the UAW’s 1991-92 strike weighed heavily on the minds of the Staley workers as they debated their response to Tate & Lyle’s harsh demands. “It was clear Tate & Lyle would take us on in a big way in 1992,” said AIW Local 937 president Dave Watts, “and we tried to figure how we would take them on.” Having seen what had happened at Caterpillar, noted Staley worker Emery Scrimpsher, “we were fairly convinced that they would bring the replacement workers in right after we left if we went on strike.”

Union officers decided that the union needed extensive education about Tate & Lyle, the state of the corn-milling industry, and ways to fight back. Members voted by an overwhelming majority to increase their dues from eighteen to thirty-four dollars a month in order to hire university-based labor educators… Through these discussions, the Staley workers came to understand that Tate & Lyle and the entire corn wet milling industry were highly profitable, that what was happening to them was not unique but part of a national and global trend, and that all the signs pointed to a Tate & Lyle strategy of provoking a strike in order to replace the workers and eliminate the union…

In February…the local formed solidarity and publications committees, which began monthly meetings to organize and educate the members, and the monthly steward meetings were opened up to all workers. “We were trying to feed information down through the system,” says Watts, “but it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t operate on a monthly basis. It was too slow.” So the local began weekly “Solidarity Meetings” to discuss strategy. “The inverted triangle was the basic principle I operated on,” said Watts. “In corporate America everything comes down from the top. With the union, it’s the other way around. It’s the bottom up.” In Local 837, said Watts, “all the direction comes from the floor [as the Staley workers called the union membership]. Not the international, not the president, not the union leadership. The floor governs.”

In addition, occasionally at first and then as a regular practice, the local did what few unions have done: open up the meetings to the spouses and children of the workers and to sympathetic friends and other unionists. Discussions about what the union should do in the face of Staley’s assault would involve not just the workers but their families. That decision, said Dave Watts, “broke with tradition, and walked over our local by-laws and international by-laws.” If a fight was to be waged and won, however, “it just made all the sense in the world to have the workers’ families attend the union meetings. If your spouse is going to fight you, we’re going to lose half the troops. They have to be educated right along with us.”

The weekly solidarity meetings regularly filled the huge union hall. “You’ll get the majority of our regular membership at the meeting and by the time you bring in the spouses and children and girlfriends and boyfriends, you’re looking at eight hundred, nine hundred, sometimes a thousand people at a Tuesday night meeting,” said Richard Brummett.  Congressman Glenn Poshard was one of many supporters who attended a Tuesday-night meeting and came away in awe. “Those meetings were community,” recalled Poshard. “There was an absolute steel will to survive. It was a whole family thing. Those families felt that those workers were doing the right thing, and they were willing to endure the hardship because it was a matter of principle.”

Click here to read an excerpt from Chapter 4




Prologue: Jim Beals

  1. The Company and the Union
  2. Tate & Lyle Comes to Decatur
  3. The Union Prepares to Resist
  4. Work-to-Rule
  5. The Temperature Rises
  6. Locked Out
  7. Road Warriors and Solidarity Committees
  8. Debating the Corporate Campaign
  9. Peacetime Soldiers and Wartime Soldiers
  10. God as Outside Agitator
  11. The African-American Workers
  12. Civil Disobedience
  13. Strike City, USA
  14. The Paperworkers
  15. Mission to Bal Harbour
  16. Still in the Fight
  17. In the Fast Lane
  18. Showdown
  19. Aftermath
  20. A Winnable Fight