Raw footage shot 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 A steelworker, Mike Olszanski, from Local 1010 interviews Al Samter.
00:30Copy video clip URL Samter talks about hedge buying. “When we first started out in this union we had one year contracts. It was impossible to hedge pile. Then we got two year contracts and we could go out on strike at the end of the first year. Then they maneuvered us into this three year deal where they have plenty of time to stockpile… they blame us for what they created. Of course our union leadership didn’t help any because they just went along with it. If we could go back to one year contracts we could change our contract expiration so we come out in the spring time before the ore boats have come in. That’s the time to hit ’em, not in the summer when they’ve had time to build hedge buying. This is the time for us to put our economic foot forward. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to get what we need in a contract and that’s the time they’ve cut us off.”
02:31Copy video clip URL Olszanski says, “It seems this collusion has gone on for a long time between leadership and the companies, seems they’ve been building up to this.” Samter replies that either the union leadership was going along with it or taking the easiest route or else they weren’t foresighted enough to see what was going on. “But they’ve really put us in a bind now. To me this is a real sell out. It’s impossible to me that I.W. Abel doesn’t recognize the situation exists where we could really utilize a strike weapon, and that he didn’t deliberately give this thing up at the best possible time to use it.”
03:54Copy video clip URL Olszanski notes: “At the last convention there were a number of resolutions brought up about the right to strike on safety issues. Now we’re not asking for an increased right to strike on health and safety… it seems the union doesn’t think we need a right to strike at all.” Samter says that a couple of locals sent a resolution to the last convention to eliminate the No Strike clause in the contract. “Now they’re telling us we can’t even strike on the contract negotiations itself!”
05:02Copy video clip URL Olszanski says that most of the membership reacted negatively to the No Strike agreement. It was thrust upon so so coldly and unexpectedly. “At our chapter, after the ENA was signed the next meeting was well attended. A lot of people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to union meetings came. The staff rep almost got booed out of the place.”
05:43Copy video clip URL Samter comments, “what it all boils down to is that they’re trying to make it out that we’re responsible for stock piling and hedge buying. It’s not our responsibility. The union’s responsibility is to resist these trends toward stock piling, hedge buying. We could say we won’t work overtime during these times of pre-contract negotiation. We can refuse to cooperating in extra stock piling. All kinds of things we can to to prevent this stock piling cycle, but we’re supposed to be responsible for that, yet we’re not.”
06:38Copy video clip URL “Is compulsory overtime an issue?” “It’s an issue in the whole stock piling thing because…the right to refuse overtime has become an issue among steelworkers. I think it should have been an issue a long time ago. The company is able to work people six and seven days a week for six months prior to contract negotiations and they force them to put themselves in a position where they create the stockpiles used to counter economic pressure against the company. They’re telling us they are working at top capacity and can’t keep up production. We’re in a good position now to put pressure on the company and they won’t let us.”
08:11Copy video clip URL Olszanski says, “Everybody asks, ‘What’s Abel getting out of this? Is there something under the table? Or is he really this stupid? Or has he been wearing a white shirt and tie for so long he’s forgotten what it means to be a steelworker?’ What do you think?” Samter says, “I don’t think it makes any difference which one is true. The problem exists, and he’s part of the problem. I don’t want to analyze his motives. All I can see are the results and the results are no good for us! He’s not doing his job as a leader of the union. This is the company’s problem. They have thousands of high paid engineers, executives, and experts…our union’s responsibility is for our problems. And our problems aren’t productivity, our problems are safety, getting enough money to live on, how much money we’ll get when we retire, having a halfway decent work schedule. And I pay ten dollars a month for these people. The company’s not paying them, I am.”
11:22Copy video clip URL The videographer asks Samter to tell him what led to the hedge buying problem. Samter explains the company creates the hedge buying problem and then they say it’s something that just happens. But a big part of it is deliberately aimed at diminishing the union’s ability to use it’s economic advantage to get a good contract. Then the company tells the workers that if they strike we can still get by on the reserve piles of materials we have built up. The union leadership has permitted the company to have plenty of time to build this stock pile. “We’ve never resisted increased production by fostering compulsory overtime. This allowed the company to over produce for 6 to 8 months prior to contract negotiations. The company has a stock pile of material–they don’t care if we strike ’cause they’re covered.” “Now though,” he says, “the workers have the company in a position where the company can’t pulls this trick because there’s a need for production this year. The company can’t over produce. This is our chance to make a change and we’re told we can’t because now we don’t have the right to strike.”
14:35Copy video clip URL Samter repeats an earlier answer stating that it’s not the workers’ problem to solve the company’s problems like productivity. They have high paid officials and experts to do that. “I pay my ten bucks to union officials to solve my problems: cost of living, retirement, safety in the mill. This is why we need to fight, reestablish that this is what the union is for. We can change the direction of this union. The mine workers have gotten far too. They had problems of increased accidents, they did a good job reestablishing control of the unions. We can do the same, regain control of our union and have the right to strike and have input on contracts.”
17:30Copy video clip URL Olszanski says, “the dirty tricks being played on us were learned from the miner’s union problems. Maybe if we throw out our crooked leadership we can have success too and return the union to the rank and file.”
18:20Copy video clip URL Tape cuts. When recording resumes, Olszanski is addressing the camera, recording an introduction. He says, “The American Steelworkers’ right to strike is being sold out, and we won’t take it lying down. Let’s look back and see how this most basic workers’ right is being lost and what we can do to win it back. For several years there have been secret meetings between I.W. Abel and management to sell out the right to strike. To soften us up for the blow they showed us their film ‘Where’s Joe?’ just before announcing their No Strike pact. I’m Mike Olszanski from Local 1010, and like many of you I saw through this propaganda. At Inland Steel’s Indiana Harbor Works, our membership was vocal in denouncing this experimental agreement. I’m not going to be scared by a movie into giving up my only real right as a worker. I became involved with the District 31 Right to Strike Committee fighting to see that this last great sell out is not successful. Let’s look at parts of the movie ‘Where’s Joe’ made by the companies and I.W. Abel. Then we’ll show what we found out about real problems in the industry from talking with other workers and doing our own research.”
19:42Copy video clip URL The director off camera talks to the videographer about the shot.
19:46Copy video clip URL A second and third take of Olszanski’s introduction. Continued on the next tape.
21:08Copy video clip URL END TAPE.