Jul 1, 2002
June marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese-American draftsman, in Detroit, Michigan. On June 19, 1982, Chin was beaten to death on the street by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler supervisor and Michael Nitz, Ebens’ laid-off stepson. The two had earlier yelled racist insults at Chin and his friends in a bar where Chin was celebrating his upcoming marriage. After Chin and his friends left, Ebens and Nitz tracked them down and attacked with baseball bats.
Ebens had yelled, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.” The two autoworkers mistakenly thought Chin and his friends were Japanese. For them Chinese, Japanese – it made no difference. They were simply repeating the mindless propaganda then being spewed out by the auto bosses and repeated by the UAW (United Auto Workers). Supposedly imports of Japanese autos were the cause of layoffs in the U.S. auto industry. Demanding big concessions in wages and benefits from workers in the early 1980s, the auto companies claimed it was necessary to help them meet the competition from Japanese auto companies.
Not only did the UAW accept the auto bosses’ arguments – and their demands for concessions – it also stepped up a vile anti-Japanese demagogy. The union banned Japanese cars from parking lots at union offices and halls. Some union officials threatened workers who parked Japanese cars at work. Other union officials organized workers to smash Japanese cars with sledge hammers in PR events for the media. And the UAW distributed racist bumper stickers with slant-eyed smiley faces on them.
The murder of Vincent Chin was a kind of lynching, for which the UAW had laid the groundwork.
Twenty years after the murder of Vincent Chin, many more domestic autos are produced in the U.S. – but by many fewer workers. Jobs were not lost to Japanese producers – but to the speed-up drive of U.S. bosses – a drive which the UAW abetted with its racist anti-Japanese sloganeering and the partnership it openly joined with the auto companies. The U.S. auto bosses are the ones who have benefitted from the vastly increased productivity of autoworkers, not the workers.
What the UAW did prepared a tragedy for Detroit workers in many ways. Not only could they not defend themselves from their real enemy, they were dehumanized with at least some of them turned into brutes who carried out a racist lynching – or who applauded it.