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MN AFSCME Officials Squash Solidarity with NWA Strikers

by staff |
October 18, 2005
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AFCME banner at AMFA rally
AFSCME 3800 rallies in solidarity with AMFA mechanics. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Duluth, MN - The 4400 workers on strike against Northwest have received almost no support from other unions at Northwest or from the national union federations (AFL-CIO and Unite to Win). Scandalously, the strikers are being left to fight on their own without vital support and resources that the labor movement could bring to bear.

At the statewide convention of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, Oct. 6-8 in Duluth, some union activists tried to change that. AFSCME Local 3800, the clerical workers’ union at the University of Minnesota, brought forward a resolution to support the Northwest strikers from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). It called on AFSCME Council 5 to publicly support the strike and donate to AMFA’s strike fund. Asked why they brought this resolution forward, AFSCME 3800 delegate Stef Yorek said, “Northwest is out to destroy their workers’ unions. These workers have fought back against incredible odds. It’s criminal that almost no unions are supporting them.”

Council 5 officials went all out to defeat support for the Northwest strike. They organized a campaign to vilify AMFA. They tried to change the issue from solidarity with workers on strike to a debate about the history of AMFA. Convention delegates were given copies of a letter from an International Association of Machinists official wildly attacking AMFA. The Council 5 Executive Board made it clear that top officials would oppose any support for the Northwest strikers. In the floor debate on the resolution, one anti-solidarity speaker went so far as to compare support for the AMFA-led strike to date rape!

They hate AMFA because AMFA is independent and has grown by ‘raiding’ AFL-CIO unions, particularly units represented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). The Northwest mechanics used to be IAM members but voted in 2000 to switch to AMFA. The IAM officials have bitterly attacked them ever since. It’s true that AMFA made their appeal to the mechanics on a narrow craft basis tinged with elitism. But it’s also true that the workers had good reasons to throw the former IAM leadership out.

Resolution Defeated but Solidarity Grows

Delegates from four AFSCME locals spoke in favor of the resolution. But that wasn’t enough to overcome the Council leadership’s opposition.

Lynn Stetler, a delegate from AFSCME 2822, whose husband is a striking Northwest mechanic, said, “I’m incredibly disappointed by how it turned out. I supported the resolution because it’s about solidarity. We’re supposed to be united in this brother and sisterhood that seems to have been forgotten when it comes to dealing with AMFA. It really is a matter of principle, the age old quote that an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Though the resolution lost, a real debate happened and those who opposed it were forced to publicly defend their anti-solidarity position. Some delegates tried to take a middle ground, saying they felt sympathy for the strikers but opposed giving money to AMFA. They had been convinced the vote was about whether they liked AMFA or not.

According to AFSCME 3800 delegate Brad Sigal, “AMFA isn’t the issue - the issue is solidarity with workers on strike against a union-busting employer. We wanted official support and money from our union for the strikers. It became clear that would be defeated due to opposition from Council officials, so an amendment was made to just take up a voluntary donation for the strikers from delegates on convention floor. Incredibly, they even opposed that. We won’t forget this. We’ll continue to fight to make our union truly stand for solidarity.”