Raw footage for "Where's I.W. Abel?" Made by Kartemquin and a rank-and-file steel workers caucus, the film documents the opposition of the rank-and-file to the no-strike agreement between Steelworkers President I.W. Abel and the ten major steel companies, made without a vote by the membership of the union. Featuring Staughton Lynd.
00:00Copy video clip URL Group of steel workers in a basement-like room preparing for a meeting. They mill about and chat casually. One man, Al Samter, talks about the issue at hand being drawn out in court. “If they appeal,” he says, “and they go to court… once you appeal to a court and it’s on the docket they can still use that time for delays. The people who filed statements noting the crookedness they saw would have to be called in by the District Attorney’s office and remake statements under oath.” This could take two months. He goes on to outline how the opposition can stall for at least six months.
02:04Copy video clip URL The meeting is in progress. Alice Peurala says two weeks ago they had a demonstration at the Conrad Hilton (footage appears on other tapes) and they passed out leaflets. Seventy-five steelworkers came, and they all didn’t come from this plant. We’re trying to do something, to organize something. They were mad because the dues are supposed to be two-hours pay.
03:10Copy video clip URL Later in the meeting. Idle conversation without direction.
03:40Copy video clip URL Later. The meeting is slow moving.
04:25Copy video clip URL Staughton Lynd notes that before long there will be a drafted complaint. The complaint has three sections: a series of allegations of facts. We say this happened, this happened. It runs from Abel’s election in 1965 up to the present moment including what happened at the District 31 conference. Then there’s a second part of claims based on laws the attorneys propose we use. The most important is the part that deals with the responsibility of elected union officers, the duty of a union to give fair representation, free discussion, First and Fifth Amendments, the right to strike is like a working person’s property — if you can’t take someone’s house away from them without due process then you shouldn’t be allowed to take the right to strike away from the steelworkers. The third part of the complaint is what we’re asking the court to do. The attorneys are thinking to deal with the short and long term so that if we get shot down on the short run you don’t necessarily lose out on the long run. We’ll ask for a temporary injunction to prevent steelworkers from sending unresolved issues to binding arbitration, and an injunction for the union never again to proceed in this manner. The attorneys want to draft a complaint in such a way that if there’s a settlement before April the unions can’t come back and say that all these other issues are resolved.
08:44Copy video clip URL “In addition the attorneys want affidavits from people in as many parts of the country in which people tell what happened in their local in regards to the EMA. I’ll be on the phone long distance to talk to as many people as we have on our list.”
09:33Copy video clip URL Later in the meeting. Samter is in mid sentence about points the group might want to include in the complaint: “stealing the election” for the executive board, unfair nomination procedures. “Suppose Eddie had been elected and was on the board. There’s no way they could stop a district director from saying, ‘I don’t agree with you, I’m going back and telling people what you’re doing.’ They wouldn’t have gotten this unanimous agreement on silence and secrecy. I think this is pertinent to our situation.”
12:04Copy video clip URL Cut to Samter talking, in mid sentence, so the subject of this conversation has no reference. Lynd adds: “Rudy is in a good position to talk about that because he went down the week before and asked for an appointment and when they showed up on the appointed day the secretary asked, ‘why did you make an appointment?'” Another man notes that the same thing happened to them in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. “We went up to present our complaint, but we were told the board was in a meeting. So we had to present to a representative.”
13:18Copy video clip URL Later. Another man is in mid-sentence saying “I think it’s something we haven’t approached yet, exactly what mechanics we’ll use to have this No Strike Agreement overturned. The court case is one way. After the safety conference and district conference we’ve come to this plateau, demonstrating, but we have to think further, some realistic proposal to have this agreement overturned.” He talks about plans for a wage policy talked about at a steel industry conference January 9 and 10 in Washington. “We propose coordinating the court case with that date and try to have a demonstration at that conference to try and reach delegates. [The court case] is a step in gaining publicity, but leaves out a strategy. Someone mentioned a caucus before the convention, of people we know to present a proposal to them on how we can get an amendment in our constitution prohibiting this kind of [no strike] agreement.”
16:30Copy video clip URL An African American man talks about talking to people in other locals. “In Local 65,” he says, “I’m on speaking terms with a few. In fact the other day one asked me when I was going to ‘come back to the other side.'” He tells a story of a secretary he has who is helping him draw up grievances but who also warned, “don’t expect me to give you any vocal support.” “It’ll be an uphill fight.” There’s no reference for the context of his comments, but he talks about suggestions from opposing workmates who advise: just try it (agreeing to the no strike agreement) and see what happens. Peurala adds that’s a line she’s heard from the local union officers. Try it, if it doesn’t work out we won’t have it in 1977. The African American notes that there was a time when civil service workers, like the post office, were not allowed to strike. For years they never got anything. “Now we’re losing the right to strike and they’re getting the right to strike. Evidently, the No Strike Agreement they had didn’t work for them.”
20:50Copy video clip URL Peurala points out an article she wrote warning steel workers about giving up a basic right, and how hard it is to get it back. She references a cost-of-living clause steel workers gave up. Now workers are making a dollar-an-hour behind on cost of living now.
21:57Copy video clip URL A man adds that in the can/aluminum industry negotiations are going on right now. The workers say they’re not going to try for a big wage package now because there’s no ceiling level on the cost of living. A discussion about cost of living continues, how much it goes up per year.
23:25Copy video clip URL A man suggests that to build support, they should persuade offices of certain locals to support their efforts. The other way is to build rank and file of caucuses that include like-minded people who will eventually be on the executive board.
25:45Copy video clip URL A man says makes a suggestion of how to get in touch with the smaller levels in District 31, but the video cuts mid-sentence.
26:35Copy video clip URL Samter says talk in the last meeting was around this issue and that it was decided a steering committee was put into a form that could be discussed at a future meeting. “It’s not necessary for us to come up with concrete answers tonight until we have a more representative group of the steering committee. I suggested as a subject for discussion the possibility of calling for a special convention. We could get a lot of locals, particularly the smaller ones, to go along with this. But we don’t have the forces to win a vote at that convention. We need some kind of victory, someplace. The process has beaten people down: elections stolen, they pass resolutions that go to conventions which are ignored at the conventions. What we need is some kind of victory to demonstrate that you can beat City Hall. If we get the Labor Department to call for an election, and if we get it, it might give some heart to our people.” He’s cut off mid-sentence as the tape runs out.
32:17Copy video clip URL END tape.