Jul 1, 2002
Workers have been on strike since June 1st at a Navistar International plant. The 650 workers in Chatham, Ontario make 39 heavy trucks a day – when they are working.
Navistar provoked the strike by demanding that workers give up large concessions, or else Navistar would close the plant.
The company demanded cuts of up to 6 dollars an hour in wages, a mandatory 56-hour work week (up from 39 hours), higher benefit co-pays and reduced yearly vacation time.
When the workers, who are organized in the Canadian Auto Workers union, struck, Navistar contracted with strikebreaking companies to bring in scabs. On June 18, when the scabs were to begin going in, the CAW brought large numbers of workers to the scab assembly area. The police arrested the local union’s president and past president, supposedly for assaulting company guards and breaking a bus window. But the company was forced to wait for another day.
On June 19, the strikers massed at the plant gate. The local police decided to stop the scab busses from getting near the strikers. The same thing happened on June 20.
On June 21, Friday, the CAW leaders sent a national alert to all its local unions. The leaders called on workers, no matter what company they worked for, to be ready to leave work at a moment’s notice and come to Chatham to help stop scabs.
On Monday the 24th, a group of workers from a DaimlerChrysler plant in Windsor, Ontario came to Chatham to help picket. At 6:30 AM, a private police vehicle drove up to the picket line and stopped. The driver waited for a group to form in front of him, and then stepped on the gas and ran into the crowd. Six workers were injured, three of them were hospitalized, one in critical condition with a shattered pelvis and internal injuries.
The critically injured worker was one of those who came from Windsor.
Police arrested the 21-year-old driver and charged him with three counts of “dangerous driving.”
The mayor of Chatham met with both union and company representatives and then told reporters, “the company must stop playing Russian roulette with this community.”
Navistar, under pressure from police, said it was suspending operations because “Safety is always our Number One concern.”
The workers in Chatham have won several victories now. They have ignored the law and a court injunction to do what they had to do to prevent scabs from taking their jobs. And they have enlisted the help of other workers.
They have forced the police to stop the scabs, instead of doing as police usually do – helping the scabs go in. They forced the mayor of the town to make a public criticism of the town bully, Navistar.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the police and the mayor can be counted on. After all, the police did not arrest company management nor even levy serious charges against the scabs’ driver. It simply means they don’t want to confront workers who exhibit this readiness to fight for their jobs and their rights.
If the strikers keep on with the same attitude that has gotten them this far, they can go on to win their strike.