Austin Rally

Roger Horowitz

THEY CAME FROM the auto plants of California, the Iron Range of Minnesota, the machine shops of Detroit and the communication industry of New York City on February 15 to support the P-9 strike. Instead of the mass-produced signs which predominate at “official” union rallies, these unionists carried a wealth of hand­lettered placards expressing support for P-9 and opposition to the Hormel Company. Over 2,000 marched to support the Austin Hormel workers, including official representatives of dozens of local unions. At the rally in Austin’s high school auditorium, President Henry Nichols of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers declared, “We believe that this strike is not only important for your industry, but is important for working people everywhere. The rank and file throughout these United States are looking with expectation for you to win because your struggle embodies their feelings, their thinking, and their commitment.”

The outpouring of solidarity for P-9 has been unprecedented for local labor disputes in recent years. The teamsters joint council in Minneapolis donated $20,000 to the strike. Unionists in the Twin Cities have shipped over 200 tons of food to Austin. The 150,000-member New York-New Jersey Communication Workers of America have “adopted” 100 P-9 families, contributing between $500 and $1,000 a month to each family.

Local unions in the UAW, USWA, UE and UFCW have also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Hormel workers, despite considerable pressure from the international leaderships of their unions.

As support increases, the strike itself is in a difficult situation. With 1,000 workers in the plant, Hormel has stated it intends to resume full production without rehiring the unionists currently on strike. A recent union proposal with reduced wage demands was rejected by the com&pany because P-9 insisted on the rehiring of all union members. Unionists fear that an effort to decertify the local will come next.

Despite the desire of Hormel to destroy the union and return the plant to preunion conditions, Local P-9 still has some bargaining chips. The most important workers in the plant, the hog kill and cut gangs, have stayed on strike. These are highly skilled jobs which take from six months to one year to learn.

Hormel is currently slaughtering 500 hogs a day in Austin, only ten percent of the level of production needed to make the plant profitable. With these key workers still on strike, it will be a long time before Hormel is able to make money off its Austin facility.

P-9 has also opened up a new front in its struggle-a boycott of Hormel products. Combined with low production at the Austin plant, a successful boycott could hurt the company sufficiently to make it worth its while to settle with P-9. Win or lose, the P-9 strike looks like a watershed for the labor movement. It has inspired the unionized rank and file to buck their international union leaders, and to use the resources of local unions in a variety of industries to support this one packinghouse strike.

South St. Paul packinghouse worker Bud Schulte, a participant in the rally and an activist in the St. Paul P-9 support committee, best expressed the hope of many unionists there. In his opinion, the P-9 strike is “a turning point in the way labor views concessions. They no longer believe the corporate idea that workers must take concessions in order to see their plant survive. They found out that isn’t true. Workers have taken concession after concession, yet plants have still closed. They’ve been lied to long enough and people just don’t believe that anymore.”

It may be that, as in the 1930s, the Austin Hormel workers will provide the catalyst for militant trade unionists to unite.

March-April 1986, ATC 2

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