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Decatur Struggles Haunt Illinois AFL-CIO Elections!!


Unsavory business union tactics during the strikes and lockout at Caterpillar, Firestone, and Staley in Decatur IL{scab city USA}, have launched the state AFL-CIO elections into a political blood-bath. Sparring between election hopefuls Joe Costigan, UNITE-George Machino, OPEIU, and current Sec-Treas Margaret Blackshere- Mike Carrigan, IBEW, has turned ugly. The "ghosts of struggles past" are playing a key role in the ongoing elections and "who did what plus who did not" in Decatur, may well decide the outcome. Blackshere, current bureaucrat along with retiring president Don Johnson, have much to answer for during their watch, and all the right questions are being asked. Under fire as well, is Mike Carrigan, Business Manager for IBEW local 147 in Decatur who is seeking office with Blackshere. During the strikes and lockout, Carriganís local crossed all the picket lines to perform struck work. The struggles lasting as long as six years gained world wide focus, endeared the hearts and support of trade unionists in scores of nations; but for the most part, fell victim to business union betrayal at the hands of AFL-CIO leadership and their own national unions. Only the Firestone struggle was saved, thanks to the militant efforts of George Becker, International President of the United Steelworkers of America,{USWA} plus the sheer will of tens of thousands of rank and file steelworkers nationwide. During the struggles in Decatur, the 

Johnson-Blackshere run state AFL-CIO distanced themselves from the struggles as did the national AFL-CIO under Kirklandís feeble leadership. Sensing this dilemma, local presidents from all three plants representing four thousand workers under siege, mobilized a caravan and took the struggles to the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla. Amid the lavish accommodations normally reserved for the rich and devious and a far cry from the burn barrels on the Decatur picket lines, AFL-CIO bureaucrats were shown the faces of the struggles they had abandoned. During that appeal to the house of labor, the IL AFL-CIO President told Decatur workers they were an embarrassment to him, then returned to courting the IL Republican Governor. He was not that hostile when he mounted the stage in Decatur a month or so later, to introduce Lane Kirkland and a number members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. As the support outreach grew and Decatur workers shared their struggles in union halls and AFL-CIO conventions in state after state, Margaret Blackshere refused to allow Decatur workers to speak in the IL state AFL-CIO convention. The WarZone Foundation has drafted an open letter to voting delegates in this election reminding them of how struggling workers were not welcome in their own federation and asking them to search deeply as they prepare to vote. The Lionís Share of controversy in this election, centers around the IBEW crossing picket lines and taking struck work. It pits Carrigan, BA for the local that crossed, against Machino, OPEIU, who refused to send his operators in. The sins of business unionism is reaching a new level of accountability, and justly so! The betrayal of the Decatur struggles by the house of labor continues to remain visible in spite of enormous efforts to re-write itís history. As in most debates, important secondary issues develop and in this fracas, they are mind-boggling. Democracy, or the lack of it, is not allowed in AFL-CIO elections, much the same as it is in every other aspect of todayís business unionism. The delegate votes in the UAW appear to be firmly under the control of Region 4 Director, Paul Korman. The membership of UAW local 751, representing Caterpillar workers in Decatur, voted overwhelming to endorse the Machino-Costigan slate, an effort led by Larry Solomon, former president who led the strikes and stood up the UAW efforts to sell out the rank and file. The Regional Director has issued a letter with the current local presidentís name typed on it stating, " the motion was out of order and has been corrected for the record". That letter is now part of Blackshereís campaign material. That letter, according to members of the local is false, in fact at a subsequent meeting local 751 members refused to rescind their motion. The letter from Korman contains a number of statements claiming Solomon is a liar in regard to statements about Carriganís activities concerning picket lines. Solomon has refused to back down and five of the localís bargaining committeemen have stepped forward verifying the accuracy of Solomonís statements. The attempts by the UAW to discredit Solomon have gathered the eagles in his defense. United Steelworkers of America{USWA}District 7 Director, Jack Parton, in a letter to Solomon circulated on the Internet, stated, he believed Solomon. Parton said, "Our members protested by demonstrating against Bodine Electric and it resulted in an injunction being sought, not by Bodine, but by their ally, Firestone." Bodine is the biggest union electrical contractor in the area. "The written response from Mike Carriganís office was, " I will take steps necessary to protect our work". "It is beyond me how anyone who stood by and directly or indirectly encouraged his members to break a picket line can now say he wants to be our leader in Illinois. Perhaps he thinks he is running for Secretary Treasurer of the Illinois Manufacturerís Association." Amen Jack! Parton went on to say, "Furthermore, it is a disgrace to the men and women of Decatur that sacrificed their livelihoods and risked their jobs and futures to fight for the survival of their unions." Amen again Jack! Parton added, " This is not a matter of politics or self-interest, it is a question of principal. As you are aware, I am a current Vice President of the Illinois AFL-CIO, and if re-elected, I will resign before serving with anyone devoid of basic trade union beliefs." This editor was there at the Bodine rally and all the others. I watched many of the trades and teamsters cross all of the picket lines. Larry Solomon is telling it like it was and is the last real leader local 751 has had. Noticeably silent, are other skilled trades unions supporting the Blackshere camp and the Machino Costigan slate as well, who are just as guilty. Sources in one union whose BA directed his members to cross in large numbers, told us that a struck employer was offering to dismantle their maintenance department and subcontract to a local union contractor. Common sense tells us they will promise anything to get scabs. Apparently, union raiding is OK in Illinois.

As it turns out, the vote by the membership of local 751 was a meaningless exercise. Sources say the Region 4 Director held a meeting in Ottawa IL and brought Carrigan in to speak. No effort was made to contact Solomon, nor would he have been welcome. Current local 751 President, Karen Verhusen, in spite of the membership vote, voted according to the wishes of the regional director; yet another slap in the face to a membership UAW leaders have victimized. The focus of the campaign has shifted from who are the best candidates, to how can we discredit Larry Solomon and bury the dark secrets and betrayals in Decatur IL. Had the UAW shown any leadership in the Caterpillar dispute and expended as much energy fighting for the members as they have trying to discredit Solomon, they would have won the struggle instead of surrendering and rewarding their own scabs. Solomonís record speaks for itself, it is one of integrity and courage. Solomonís willingness to fight for the union is known nationwide and the facts clouding this election are well documented. It is not possible to re-write the history of betrayal in Decatur IL, least of all, that of the UAW leadership. It was the leadership of Solomon and the membership of local 751 who stood solidly with the 250 discharged UAW members that forced Cat to make another contract offer, even though UAW leadership was willing to abandon them. For their defiance, local 751 has been placed in receivership. If there is a real story in the IL AFL-CIO election, it must be why they even bother to have an election. After all, arenít elections about democracy? Many have expressed a desire for change, but are afraid to vote against the wishes of their own top leaders. Democracy in organized labor can carry a terrible pricetag.



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