Nationwide protests support Steelworkers' Goodyear strike

Company returns to negotiating table

December 19, 2006

On Dec. 16, 150 actions took place across the United States and Canada in front of Goodyear retailers. The actions supported the 15,000 members of the United Steelworkers Union who went on strike at 15 plants in the United States and Canada on Oct. 5. The actions were organized by the Steelworkers, the AFL-CIO, and other labor organizations.

The strike’s main issue is to defeat Goodyear’s attempt to cut off workers’ retirement benefits and reduce other

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Steelworkers and supporters protest Goodyear during strike, Dec. 16.

benefits. Goodyear is working within a national corporate agenda to take back benefits from workers.

Another issue is Goodyear’s intention to close plants and move production overseas. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. announced late on Dec. 15 that they would return to the negotiating table on Dec. 18.

"Goodyear has requested the meeting at our international headquarters in Pittsburgh. This might mean that they are serious in bargaining this time," Mick Mikavitch, a Colorado-based organizer with the Steelworkers, told PSLweb.org.

The Steelworkers already agreed to millions of dollars in concessions, giving up wage increases and pension and medical benefits when Goodyear was faced with bankruptcy three years ago. The union underestimated Goodyear’s greed, thinking that when the company was making a profit the workers’ would get their share. The current struggle shows the real interest of Goodyear—more profits for the bosses alone.

"This year Goodyear made over $400 million in profits, so their way of paying the workers back was to shut down a plant in Texas, and maybe another in Alabama. They plan on moving facilities overseas," said Mikavitch. The Texas plant shutdown will put 1,100 Steelworkers’ members out of work.

"Now 30,000 retired Steelworkers are at risk of losing their pensions," Mikavitch explained. "Then they turn around and give the top dogs bonuses in the millions."

Role of the government

When most workers think of Goodyear, they think of consumer-based need for tires. But Goodyear also produces tires for military vehicles, in particular the M998 HUMMWV, commonly called Humvees, which are used in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. As a result of the strike, the production of Goodyear tires for Humvees has fallen to nearly half of the U.S. Army’s need of 20,000 tires a month.

The Humvee is the most common tactical vehicle used by the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and by the Israeli occupation forces in occupied Palestine. Goodyear has a $17.7 million contract with the military for tires.

The House Armed Services Committee pushed Goodyear and the Steelworkers to come to a partial agreement to allow 200 workers at the Topeka, Kan., plant to return to work during the strike. The Steelworkers agreed, but Goodyear refused. Now the U.S. Army is considering filing a court action that could force the workers to return to work so that Humvee production would continue. 

Agreeing to assist in the production of tires for the U.S. military during the strike harms the Steelworkers’ strike efforts. It weakens the union’s position and strengthens the company’s hand, while also showing support for U.S. imperialist goals for domination of Iraq.

The U.S. occupation is anti-worker through and through. It has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of Iraqi workers; at the same time, it has harmed U.S. workers, including the 15,000 striking Steelworkers. Goodyear is an active participant in and profits from the U.S. war on Iraq.

As it reaps profits from the occupation, Goodyear wants to attack U.S. workers and exploit labor at the lowest cost to itself.

"Goodyear has been chasing the cheapest labor and least amount of safety and environmental regulation to move its production plants out of North America," said Leo W. Gerard, USW international president.

Goodyear’s plans of plants closures are not just a fleeting idea. "Goodyear has invested more than $150 million in production overseas, including in Colombia, where violent oppression of workers’ rights has been identified as the worst in the world," reported Gerard.

The United States has been investing in a U.S.-dominated corporate future in Colombia as well. Since 2000, the United States has provided the Colombian military with more than $3 billion in military aid to push back revolutionary and workers’ movements.

‘We need to stand together’

The striking workers have been out for several months, but they are gaining some ground. Goodyear lost approximately $35 million each week in November. According to the Steelworkers, this is a conservative estimate.

The solidarity actions helped propel the workers’ momentum. The actions were spirited pickets at Goodyear retailers right in the middle of the holiday shopping season. At the Orlando, Fla., picket about 50 people turned out. One passerby saw the protest, left and returned with a cooler of water and soda, saying, "We need to stand together."

Certainly the efforts of union and community activists sent a message to Goodyear and other corporations that have put benefits and pensions on the chopping block.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

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