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Singlejack Solidarity

Singlejack Solidarity

Edited and with an Afterword by GEORGE LIPSITZ
Foreword by NORM DIAMOND
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Singlejack Solidarity
    Book Description:

    Edited and with an afterword by George Lipsitz Blue-collar intellectual and activist, Stan Weir devoted his life to the advocacy of his fellow workers. Singlejack Solidarity offers a rare look at life and social relations as seen from the factory, dockside, and the shop floor. Gathered here for the first time, Weir’s writings—part memoir, labor history, and polemic—document a crucial chapter in the story of working-class America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9565-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Stan Weir may be his own best biographer. He is a fine storyteller with the ability, too rare on the left, to show himself in process, actually learning from his experiences and laughing at his own follies. Because they often draw on anecdotes from his life, his essays constitute more than the beginnings of a political and cultural autobiography.

    The essays also provide an immensely valuable perspective on our era. Stan was both a thoughtful observer and an active participant in many of the key struggles that shaped the labor movement and the left from World War II to the...

  4. I. Working-Class Cultures

    • Meetings with James Baldwin
      (pp. 3-16)

      It is possible that some of the most creative and nurturing relationships being formed at any given moment in the life of a society are those grasped by young people newly “out on their own” and about to leave early youth behind, but who are not yet into the main competition. It is also fortunate, though rare, if over the following years they are allowed to meet again and so co-witness for their generation.

      James Baldwin and I came to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village by separate ways early in the third year of World War II. He was eighteen, but knew...

    • What Ever Happened to Frisco Jeans?
      (pp. 17-20)

      Among San Francisco seamen and longshoremen, the clothes we wore were known as Frisco jeans, white caps, and hickory shirts. Wearing the same clothes, using the same slang words, and sharing jokes enabled us to build a solid identity based on solidarity. The jokes that people tell in working-class port towns like Wilmington and San Pedro where I lived for most of the 1980s carried on that tradition. I first heard some of these in the lower west end of the San Francisco waterfront as told by then (1959) “B” man George Benet.

      As one story went, a computer repairman...

    • C. L. R. James: Revolutionary Artist
      (pp. 21-25)

      I have visited with C. L. R. James only a handful of times in the last thirty-three years. I knew him best during World War II and in the period immediately following. Early in the war, I was taken to his cold-water tenement room in uptown Manhattan to be introduced to him. He was surrounded by piles of newspapers and magazines from around the world and was involved in reading and annotating articles from them as we entered. He was ill, but had just finished a draft of an article on the national liberation movement in Western Europe. Just feet...

    • The Role of the Individual and the Group in the Creation of Work Cultures
      (pp. 26-28)

      At the time of this writing (August 1980) two large shipyards separated by eight thousand miles have been closed by illegal strikes. The fate of the sit-in at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin shipyard in Gdansk and of the pre-revolutionary development it has initiated is still undetermined. The National Steel and Shipyard Company of San Diego, California, however, is running again. Thirty-two rank and file strike leaders at the yard, all members of the Ironworkers Local 627, have been fired. Their future awaits lengthy determinations by showcase arbitrators, case by case, victim by victim.

      The dissimilarities between these two struggles are...

    • Work Force Writers on the Rise
      (pp. 29-31)

      Last January 14, theWall Street Journalcarried a front-page story titled “Workers Who Write about Factory Life Can Be Riveting,” by staff writer Alex Kotlowitz. Aside from the cute journalism of the title, the article was a serious report on published writings by working people about life on the job. This development is the first of its kind in our country.

      The main focus of the article centers on three writers: Ben Hamper, a Flint, Michigan auto worker; William Pancoast, also an auto worker, employed at a GM plant in Mansfield, Ohio; and Reg Theriault, who has been working...

    • I Am Lonely
      (pp. 32-36)

      I am lonely.

      I have a wife and family, relationships with them that would hit median on most scales.

      I have a number of friends, yet, I am enshrouded by a sense of isolation.

      I do not dwell on it, but it overtakes me daily.

      It is a political, intellectual-artistic loneliness. I lack a sense of intellectual-artistic community. There are too few in my daily contact with whom I can share thoughts and find legitimacy. Few? None would be a more accurate word.

      It might be that a large part of the problem is San Pedro. From a distance, though...

  5. II. The Human Costs of Automation

    • New Technology: A Catalyst for Crises in Collective Bargaining, Industrial Discipline, and Labor Law
      (pp. 39-67)

      Eighty-two San Francisco longshoremen, myself among them, were fired from their jobs on the same day in 1963. While we were at work on June 19, letters were delivered to each of our homes. They contained notices that we had been “deregistered” (discharged) as full-time employees of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), an employers’ association. Somewhere in the port of San Francisco in the preceding weeks we had been tried, found guilty, and received the maximum sentence—economic capital punishment—all by secret process. These events constituted the first mass firing of longshoremen represented by the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s...

    • The Human Cost of Automation
      (pp. 68-72)

      As automation has developed from its original mechanical form to the application of micro-processors to automatic machines, it has accelerated job killing far beyond industry’s ability to create new jobs, even at minimum wage rates. The new computer technology has also enabled employers to export jobs. In sum, millions of primary jobs have been eliminated in the U.S. alone since the 1970s, and no end is in sight.

      Among the survivors in the increasingly machine-intensive workplaces, there is deep fear, even terror, especially for the young. The distance between layoffs and homelessness is no longer a giant step. No need...

    • Containerization Makes for a Lonely Waterfront
      (pp. 73-75)

      KATE CALLEN: Stanley Weir has twenty-three years’ experience as a bluecollar worker, during nine years of which he was a longshoreman and a merchant seaman. He also has a Ph.D. in sociology. He has taught bargaining skills to practicing unionists at the University of Illinois. Together with a Los Angeles longshoreman, he currently [1978] operates a publishing house that specializes in books on the subject of work.

      Weir is also the principal investigator of a National Institute of Mental Health-supported study of “The Effects of Automation on the Lives of Longshoremen.” On March 28, Weir described his work and findings...

    • Effects of Automation in the Lives of Longshoremen
      (pp. 91-106)

      In the late 1950s the longshore industry began to experience its first major technological change in almost a century, or since the introduction of steam-driven cargo hoisting machinery onto the decks of ships. The decade following World War II saw the development of large containers in which freight could be hauled by trucks as trailers or on railroad flatcars, “piggyback.” Maritime shipping was left as the one obstacle to a totally integrated freight transport system.

      By 1975, more than two-thirds of all dry cargoes moving across the docks of the major American ports were containerized in metal boxes, 40x8x8 feet...

  6. III. Solidarity Networks

    • Unions with Leaders Who Stay on the Job
      (pp. 109-148)

      It was noon, an hour and twenty minutes before the scheduled sailing time of the freighter, September 28, 1943. I went to the crowded mess room and took the seat left vacant for me. My arrival meant that all eleven members of the Deck Gang were present. We did not order lunch. The on-ship delegates or representatives of both the Marine Firemen, Oilers, Watertenders and Wipers union (MFOW&W) and the Marine Cooks and Stewards union (MC&S) looked at me, the delegate of the Deck Gang and the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (SUP), and nodded.

      I put on my white...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • The Need for Labor Networking
      (pp. 149-150)

      In these times, it is rare when one group of labor union members approaches another for mutual assistance. Yet that is what is happening right now as you read this open letter. For some time now, a score of workers from various local unions in public and private employment have been meeting once a month in local union halls throughout the country. They have been meeting, because like millions of other working men and women across the country and the world, we are faced with a serious challenge. As economic conditions continue to worsen around the world, public and private...

    • Rank and File Networks: A Way to Fight Concessions
      (pp. 151-152)

      The presentation of Labor Notes’ “viewpoint” on the concession crisis (October 1982) provides an opportunity for discussion of the many ideas it contains. I would like to focus on the problem of workplace closings and the fifth point listed under its proposals for “Resisting Locally” or the formation of communication networks.

      There can be no effective opposition to concessions without a workable strategy against shutdowns. As long as a company can take steps to close one of its workplaces without fear of speedy reprisals from inside the others that it owns, it will get what it wants.

      The various top...

    • Introduction to Coordinadora
      (pp. 153-155)

      Hundreds of thousands of American families have now experienced the killing of the steady jobs that once sustained them. The resulting terror has been used to cut the wages and working conditions of millions more. This downgrading of our living standards is symbolized most dramatically by the homeless people wandering city streets. Labor unions remain the largest organizations in our society, but this employer attack has been accomplished without opposition from them, revealing the depths of the crisis within the unions.

      Multi-nationalism and its enabler, automation, have put the kind of demands on business unions that they cannot meet. A...

    • Strike in Spain Reveals Sickness and Cure
      (pp. 156-159)

      Over 95 percent of Spanish longshoremen and waterfront clerks have been conducting a defensive national waterfront strike since May 8, according to the international newsletter (English edition, Report 56, May 22) issued regularly by Coordinadora, the union that represents over 80 percent of the strikers. This union continues to be one of the main targets of an allout attack by the government and employers.

      The two other unions involved in the strike action are the Anarchist longshoremen’s union affiliated with the National Confederation of Workers (CNT) and the Communist dockers union, which is affiliated with the Commissiones Ohbreras or Workers...

    • Longshoremen and Marine Clerks of Spain Building New Kind of Union
      (pp. 160-164)

      Spanish waterfront workers have in recent times created a labor union that is attracting attention around the world. It gets no press or media coverage. But ships move from port to port and people have their ways of spreading the word.

      Working dockers and clerks designed this union. Their idea was to make an organization that from the bottom up depended upon built-in rank and file controls. They do not claim to have achieved perfection. They know they still have big problems to solve. But they have made progress and are rightly proud.

      Coordinadora, as the union is called, has...

  7. IV. Workers, Politics, and Social Change

    • Eric Hoffer: Far-Right True Believer
      (pp. 167-184)

      During a process that spanned sixteen years, author and longshoreman Eric Hoffer achieved national and international fame. The process began in 1951, with the publication of his first book,The True Believer.It peaked when Eric Sevareid interviewed him for a full hour on a national CBS telecast September 19,1967. Between the two events, Hoffer had published numerous magazine articles and three more books,The Passionate State of Mind, Ordeal of Change,andThe Temper of Our Time.He had been the focus of interviews in nationally circulated magazines in addition to twelve half-hour interviews for National Educational Television in...

    • The Artificial Isolation between Radicals and Workers
      (pp. 185-186)

      Hourly paid workers in the United States have never joined radical parties in large numbers. In fact, the modest successes of socialist, Communist, and anarchist groups in recruitment of industrial workers from the 1880s through the 1930s were mainly among European immigrants who were already politicized at the time of their arrival in the “new world.” But, in the more than half century since the end of the second worldwide war, the number of joiners and “close sympathizers” combined among workers with roots in only one class has steadily dwindled to imperceptibility.

      The working class is stated to be the...

    • Workers: Second-Class Citizens
      (pp. 187-189)

      Labor law comprises a unique segment within the total body of law in the U.S. It is a substitute for the body of common law based in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

      The moment that any of us goes on employer time, whether or not we are physically present on company property, supervisors do not have to deal with us on the basis of the rights concepts contained within the Constitution. We become an extension of the employers’ private property, and so in large part, have left the jurisdiction of the regular law. From this view, it can be...

    • Bill Akagi and the Union
      (pp. 190-191)

      This is the story of Bill Akagi and his experience with the labor movement.

      Bill was born in Berkeley, California, in 1916. He entered the army in October 1941 and served with the Sixth Corps Area and the Military Intelligence Service until he was discharged in December 1945. He married during his last year in the Army and today he and his wife Betty have a year-and-a-half-old son, Paul.

      Before entering the Army, Bill worked as a truck driver and auto/diesel mechanic in charge of the maintenance and repair of all machinery on one of the mammoth San Joaquin Valley...

    • The First Recorded Strike in History: 1170 BC
      (pp. 192-193)

      3,163 years ago a construction superintendent picked up a piece of papyrus (paper) and wrote a lengthy memo to his superiors. His purpose was to explain why the construction of Ramses III’s Great Temple at Thebes (Medinet-Abou) was behind schedule. By the mid-1800s, the paper had been discovered and placed in a museum in Turin, Italy.

      In 1951, William Edgerton, an Egyptologist of the University of Chicago, published an article in an archeology journal containing his translation of the paper.¹ It revealed that the construction workers in the Valley of the Kings had been acting quite differently than before. In...

    • Early U.S. Labor Policy Revealed by Archives Find
      (pp. 194-196)

      The letter reproduced on this page as written to Georgia Senator James Jackson by Postmaster General Gideon Granger in 1802, shortly after the black revolution against French rule in the Caribbean led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, is a unique historical document in the history of black Americans, postal workers, and our nation’s work force as a whole. To the best of my knowledge, this publication inRandom Lengthsrepresents the first resurrection of the letter under its own identity in at least a half century and possibly since its origin.

      I first learned of the possible survival of this letter from...

  8. V. The Vanguard Party and Worker Self-Activity

    • A Leninist Vanguard Party Dying in a Foreign Land
      (pp. 199-207)

      It was October 23,1956.I was driving home from work on the East Shore Freeway along San Francisco Bay. The voice of a foreign correspondent came from my car radio with a report from Hungary via Paris. He announced that thousands of chanting high school and university students had taken over a radio station in Budapest. He told of how the head of the Hungarian Writers’ Union had climbed atop a statue in a Budapest square to tell fifty thousand demonstrators that their revolution would fail without the full support of industrial workers.¹

      For a humorous closing, the correspondent chuckled as...

    • Life in a Vanguard Party
      (pp. 208-213)

      Books by Alan Wald, Eric Chester, Irving Howe, Maurice Isserman, Russell Jacoby, and others in the last few years have focused considerable attention on the very small grouping of less than five hundred sometimes called “the Shachtmanites.” This attentiveness has little to do with the renegade period of “Shachtmanism” in the late 40s and 50s. No, it is because this tiny band at its birth developed two major alternative theories on the nature of the Russian state after the failure of the 1917 revolution. Inside the official Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party during the late 19305, the people in the political...

    • After the War
      (pp. 214-215)

      I came back to the U.S. at the end of World War II as a crew member on a ship carrying returning soldiers to the port of New York. It felt good to be back and to be alone. Back on Sixth Avenue I had seen a good liquor store. I went back, bought a bottle of good scotch, then walked east again to University Place near Ninth Street and got a good room at the aging Hotel Albert. It was from time to time home for near-broke musicians, artists, and actors. After a long shower I realized I hadn’t...

    • The Vanguard Party: An Institution Whose Time Has Expired
      (pp. 216-220)

      It is impossible to develop, discuss, and communicate new ideas effectively without organizations and publications. Yet despite the increase in attacks upon human life, wildlife, water, air, and plants—and the resulting increase in the number of people driven to exasperation because big party politicians remain unmoved—socialist organizations continue to shrink in size and number. The process is not a new one. It is just that the problem is now more and more visible. More than half a century has passed since any grouping of American radicals was a source of imaginative ideas and dialogue among indigenous working-class intellectuals....

    • Contribution to a Discussion on Bert Cochran’s Labor and Communism
      (pp. 221-226)

      As yet, only miniscule groupings of people within American society have had extensive discussions about Communism and overall matters of radicalism. Each grouping has held its discussions in relative isolation from all the others. Public debate of the sort wherein any relatively large segment of the population is allowed to develop generalizations on its views and feelings on this question is still to be held.

      It may be that this is mainly because America’s experience with Communism and developments rising out of the Russian Revolution, including the appearance of opposition to the Communists from the left, remains historically recent. Controversy...

    • The Vanguard Party: An Obstruction to Worker-Intellectual Alliances
      (pp. 227-232)

      It is difficult to find a city or region in any capitalist country where there are labor unions that are willing or able to take the fight for workers’ rights beyond the limitations imposed by the system itself, via contract and law.

      A parallel condition exists in the so-called socialist countries where the government bureaucracies have become the single employer in the land and have collectivized all the means of production for their use against the millions in their employ.

      In both capitalist and “Communist” countries, any dissident movement can be assured that it will be attacked by the government...

  9. VI. Primary Work Groups

    • The Informal Work Group
      (pp. 235-251)

      The whole early part of my life was dominated by the idea that solutions to all that’s wrong lie in individual morality. But my life experience, like that of most people, sent me messages that constantly contradicted this idea. I came to have a different idea—that you had to have a cause that was bigger than you because that was the only real freedom—living at one with a total society rather than just for oneself. It’s impossible to know precisely where one gets that idea, but I came to know that the corruption of individual humans is the...

    • Just a Matter of Gloves
      (pp. 252-255)

      The local union officials told us that the regional director of the International Union had a fit when they told him we had a sit-down strike. He wanted to know all our names when he found out the issue was cotton gloves. The nature of the work in our department required that we wear them. Each of us wore out a pair every two days. Until we quit having to buy them ourselves it was our constant gripe.

      After I was elected steward, I went to the foreman and asked him to get gloves for us. I had no official...

    • West Coast Longshoremen and Informal Workers’ Control
      (pp. 256-274)

      For almost twenty years, the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has dropped the use of the term “hiring hall” and has used “dispatch hall.” It is probable that they do this in order to remind longshoremen that they were hired by the PMA and not by union dispatchers and that the hall is in a location over which the employers legally exercise joint control.

      In legal language the employers have enjoyed this right since the “1934 award,” the award made by the National Longshoremen’s Board which ended the 1934 maritime strike. However, because of the elections of job dispatchers by...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Review of Punishment and Redress in a Modern Factory by Carl Gersuny
      (pp. 275-278)

      I was an industrial worker for over twenty years. For most of that time I was a shop steward or grievance bargaining representative. I was fired several times. For seven years, from 1968 to 1975, I regularly conducted classes in grievance handling for local union stewards in a variety of industries and I regret that Carl Gersuny’s book was not available to me for all of that period.

      There are twenty million union members in America. Nationally, the membership attendance at union meetings averages just over 2 percent on an annual basis. For the overwhelming majority, the union side of...

  10. VII. The Failure of Business Unionism, the Rank and File Alternative

    • American Labor on the Defensive: A 1940s Odyssey
      (pp. 281-293)

      It is impossible to discuss the condition of American labor in the 40s without brief mention of international working-class developments during the quarter century prior to the World War II decade, and without some examination of the formative period of the CIO in the 30s.

      The Russian Revolution of 1917, still the epochal event of this century, experienced totalitarian reversal by the time of the General Strikes in San Francisco and Minneapolis. In what had been the Soviet Union there were no free functioning workers’ councils or unions. The valiant revolutionary attempts made in Germany, Finland, Poland, and Hungary right...

    • USA: The Labor Revolt
      (pp. 294-309)

      The rank and file union revolts that have been developing in the industrial workplaces since the early 1950s are now plainly visible. Like many of their compatriots, American workers are faced with paces, methods, and conditions of work that are increasingly intolerable. Their union leaders are not sensitive to these conditions. In thousands of industrial establishments across the nation, workers have developed informal underground unions. The basic units of organization are groups composed of several workers, each of whose members work in the same plant area and are thus able to communicate with one another and form a social entity....

    • Doug Fraser’s Middle-Class Coalition
      (pp. 310-323)

      On July 19,1978, UAW president Douglas Fraser resigned from the Labor Management Group. The group is technically a non-governmental committee organized by former Labor Secretary and Harvard Professor John T. Dunlop. It contains eight representatives each from management and labor. On the employer side are the chairmen of Bechtel Corporation, General Electric and General Motors, Jewel Companies Inc., du Pont de Nemours, U.S. Steel, Mobil Oil, and the First National City Bank.

      Minus Fraser, the labor members are the international presidents of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers, Teamsters, Seafarers International Union, United Steelworkers, and Plumbers and Pipefitters, AFLCIO secretary-treasurer...

    • The Failure of Business Unionism
      (pp. 324-337)

      For the first time in over half a century, we are beginning to see many and varied examples of working people asserting their own leadership rather than demanding that it be provided by union officials. There is both an urgent necessity for a national organization standing for a rank and file alternative to business unionism and a real possibility of building such an organization based on existing and future networks of working people.

      This statement, then, is intended to give further encouragement to the formation of a structure that can play a vital role in assisting rank and file workers...

    • The Australian Dock Strike
      (pp. 338-345)

      The self-initiated strikes by rank and file longshore workers in Australia in response to their employers’ lockout and violent attacks during the past year represent one of the most important breakouts from the containment imposed on workers internationally during the last half century.

      Since World War II, the longshore men and women of Australia, like so many other union workers around the world, could feel the power to direct even their own local union and to control the conditions of their work weakening rapidly. They were never treated as if they were the ones who knew the most about their...

    • Stan Weir: Working-Class Visionary
      (pp. 346-356)

      Although he has been dead for some time now, I can hear Stan Weir whispering in my ear as I write these words. “Don’t write what a great guy Stan Weir was,” he’s telling me. “You know every time one of us is made to soundgreaterit makes the rest of us seemlesser.Don’t let people feel that their job is to sit back and admire somebody else. Get them to see what's happening around them in the here and now. Persuade them to listen to the workers, to respect what they know, and to help them do...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 357-366)
  12. Publication History
    (pp. 367-370)
  13. Index
    (pp. 371-384)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 385-385)