Labor Advocate Online

Forging A Trident Strategy For American Workers
by Bill Onasch

This is the third and concluding installment of a runaway article that began with analysis of the UAW-Big Three contract settlements; then went on to a part two dealing with the question of the American Middle Class. As I moved like a heavy cat on a water-bed, new related topics kept popping up. Reviewing some relevant history as well as trending issues, this wrap-up centering on basic strategy is pretty long by today’s standards that increasingly adjust to the limits of texting and twitting. I don’t claim it is exhaustive; I hope it is not exhausting.

Tool Of The Earth Shaker
It is said when the ancient Greek god Poseidon perceived an injustice he slammed down his trident so hard it shook the whole Earth. His stone likeness can be found guarding the harbors of many of the world’s great maritime cities--but his services are not available today. It’s up to us mere mortals to shake the world.

But Poseidon’s feared trident–superficially resembling a three-pronged pitch fork–can give us a clue about how to structure working class strategy today. I believe the class war pursued by the bosses and bankers against us needs to be fought using three distinct tines:

* In the workplace
* In the communities
* In the electoral arena

While there is some overlap, each has its own constituency, mission, and methods of functioning that need to be respected. On their own, the achievements of each will be tenuous and temporary. Attached to a unifying handle, their synergy can save our world even from the crises that recently led to the Doomsday Clock being advanced perilously closer to Midnight.

Learning From Legacy
While I may be the first to associate them with the trident metaphor, these certainly are not original thoughts of mine. The importance of this integrated approach was well understood by the time of
Eugene Debs more than a century ago.

Debs personified this perspective. He came out of militant trade unionism, was an active participant in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and responded to every appeal for strike solidarity.

He also supported working class community fights for schools, sanitation and public health programs as well as protests against war and in defense of free speech.

And, after betrayal by the Democrats he once represented in the Indiana legislature, he helped found the Socialist Party that grew to tens of thousands of members in its initial two decades. Debs ran five impressive campaigns for President–the last from a prison cell where the Wilson administration had sent him for opposing the First World War. Organized around a special train called the Red Special cris-crossing the country in all but the last, these campaigns not only assisted numerous SP electoral victories on the congressional, state, and municipal levels along the way but also solidarity with local class battles of all kinds.

Debs, of course, did not live to see the emancipation of the working class to which he dedicated his life and the Socialist Party soon went astray without him. But there are lessons of lasting value from the proud heritage the Debs period left behind that need to be understood, revived and popularized once more.

Lessons From the Thirties
During the early years of the Great Depression, that began in 1929 and lasted until 1941, the bosses could count on massive unemployment intimidating workers “lucky enough to have a job.” Wages and hours were slashed at will. The few strikes were mostly overwhelmed with scabs recruited from desperate jobless–as well as sometimes deadly violent attacks by company-hired thugs and cops doing the employers’ bidding.

In the first half of 1934 inspiring victories in three strikes–the Minneapolis Teamsters, San Francisco General, and Toledo Auto-Lite–triggered an historic labor upsurge. All three have been well documented and are still commemorated–mainly because of their dramatic semi-insurrectional course.

Less well known, but crucial to winning, was the conscious, successful efforts to build an alliance between unionizing workers and the unemployed--who had begun to build organizations of their own. In Toledo, that battle was the direct result of long, patient nurturing of union organizing on the inside by jobless workers on the outside in the Lucas County Unemployed League. One of their leaders, Art Preis, later wrote the definitive history of the CIO–Labor’s Giant Step.

Another worker-historian evolved out of the leadership of the Minneapolis strikes, Farrell Dobbs. Dobbs’ valuable book about 1934, Teamster Rebellion, is still widely read by militant workers. Also deserving study are three more volumes that followed–Teamster Power, Teamster Politics and Teamster Bureaucracy–documenting the rise, consolidation--and ultimate suppression--of militant, democratic trade unionism in the Midwest.

(A good source for finding labor literature is the volunteer staff at MayDay Books in Minneapolis.)

When the CIO was launched about a year after these pivotal strike victories they adopted the same approach of building union-unemployed alliances. They gave the new unions the character of a broad social movement championing the interests of the working class as a whole. That had also long been the approach of the virtually all-Black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by the Socialist A Phillip Randolph, who remained in the AFL–and didn’t shirk from fighting for the needs of African-Americans who suffered worst of all during the Depression.

All this was a sea change in an American labor movement that at the beginning of the Depression opposed unemployment compensation for the jobless.

Hybrid Politics
The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, a coalition of unions and insurgent family farmers, became the dominant party in that state during the 1920s-early 40s, electing .three Governors, four U.S. Senators, eight Representatives, and numerous Mayors and other local officials. The Democrats were relegated to minor third party status. That continued until 1944 when, in the name of war-time unity, the FLP dissolved in to the Democrats. To this day, the donkey party does business as the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) in the land of sky blue waters.

In New York, CIO unions launched another hybrid, the American Labor Party. While putting Democrats and Republicans on their ballot line for most national and state-wide races they also successfully ran some of their own candidates for Congress and City Council in New York City. Among those elected on the ALP ticket to the City Council was Mike Quill, leader of the New York City transit workers. AFL unions later launched a meek competitor--the long moribund Liberal Party. The ALP withered away after the CIO abandoned it during the Cold War and the red scare witch-hunt.

These two state party examples certainly had their serious short comings and did not long endure. But they reflected widespread disillusion with the established boss parties among workers--along with strong sentiment for having a party of their own. And they demonstrated that even a labor movement encompassing only a minority of the working class can quickly build such a party in to a credible contender for political power.

War Time Recovery, ‘Unity’
The industrial mobilization for the Second World War, planned and directed by the Federal government, is what finally brought the Great Depression that had lasted more than a decade to a conclusion. Idle plants were cranked up once more, factories making cars and appliances were converted to war needs, and brand new facilities were built by the government and turned over to corporations to operate.

At the same time, conscription of millions of men in to the armed forces “for the duration” began. As late as 1940 there were still more than ten million unemployed–nearly twenty percent of the workforce. By 1942 there was a critical labor shortage that was partially met by bringing unprecedented numbers of women in to blue collar jobs, as well as African-Americans in to crafts and industries that had long excluded them. And everyone worked long hours with few days off.

Government production contracts with the private sector were along generous “cost plus” lines, guaranteeing healthy profits for their patriotic contribution. Some of the same companies–such as Ford and General Motors--had similar arrangements with Nazi Germany.

The emphasis when dealing with workers, however, was on the need to sacrifice. Putting class struggle on hold, nearly all unions immediately pledged there would be no strikes or slow-downs during the war. Issues normally dealt with in collective bargaining were now handled by a war labor board-- who early on established the Little Steel Formula that amounted to a virtual wage freeze.

One “concession” granted to workers proved to be a poison pill that I’ll return to later–the introduction of “fringe benefits” such as health insurance and pensions that could help bosses recruit skilled workers during a labor shortage and wage freeze.

The Minnesota FLP wasn’t the only political war-time casualty. The Communist Party, which had recruited tens of thousands during the Depression, and had substantial influence in unions, community organizations, and the state labor parties, actually declared the class war over, dissolving itself in to a Communist Political Association--mainly promoting the Allied war effort.

Postwar Upsurge
Any hopes that the bosses had for a rerun of the union-busting that followed the First World War were quickly dashed. As soon as the no-strike pledge expired, workers went on the offensive with the greatest strike wave ever seen in this country–most ending in union victories. Unlike after the end of the war Debs was jailed for opposing, demobilized WWII veterans were for the most part highly supportive.

Black GIs mustered out were eager to pursue some of the freedom they had been told they were fighting for in Europe and the Pacific--back home. Among them was the first to break the color barrier in major league baseball, in 1947–Jackie Robinson.

There was a revival of labor party sentiment, particularly within the UAW in Michigan and Ohio. A UAW vice-president came close to being elected Mayor of Detroit in a nonpartisan election. After war-time suspension, there was turbulent action once more around all three points of the trident from V-J Day well in to 1947.

Repression+ Concession=American Century
After the initial shock wore off, the ruling class developed a three-pronged strategy of their own.

* Unions were recruited for patriotic support of a new Cold War against their war-time ally, the Soviet Union. This meant not only backing government foreign policy but also a red scare at home that included going after “reds” in the union movement. In 1949, the CIO purged eleven of their national affiliates as “red dominated” and began a merciless campaign to raid them. Only two of those unions exist today–the ILWU west cost longshore union and the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE).

* With the help of a crucial minority of Democrats, the Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Covering most private sector workers, the new law not only provided an opportunity for states to ban union shop agreements; more importantly it outlawed all of labor’s most effective tactics such as mass picketing, hot cargo, and secondary boycotts. It also erected new obstacles to organizing the unorganized. It gave the President authority to prevent or suspend strikes for up to eighty-days. And, until being later struck down by the courts, it even required union officials to sign a sworn affidavit that they were not members of the revived Communist Party. After many threats to defy what was called the “slave-labor law,” nearly all union officials eventually complied.

* But the bosses also had some carrots to offer to “reasonable” unions–that is those they couldn’t get rid of. They declared the postwar era would be an “American Century,” producing a prosperity that would end inequality and class warfare. By being partners instead of adversaries we can make most Americans part of the new Middle Class, they explained to a rapidly bureaucratizing union leadership.

Benefit Time-Bombs
As noted in previous installments, with some ups and downs, and strikes now and then, the living standards of most organized workers did experience steady and dramatic improvement for nearly thirty years. But even during these golden years time bombs were ticking away.

In most industrialized countries powerful working class political action got such benefits as health care, pensions, sick pay, holidays and vacations, written in to the law of the land, covering all workers, portable in job change.

In the USA, the new union bureaucracy embraced employer-based fringe benefits--initially introduced only as an expedient to lure workers during war-time labor shortage--as the norm in collective bargaining. This was a big retreat from Depression era championing of the interests of the working class as a whole. It sharpened instead of reducing inequality among working people. And it was flawed from the beginning even for those union workers that for a time enjoyed a high level of cradle-to-the-grave protection for them and their families.

One of the few genuine social reforms coming out of the much vaunted New Deal era was Social Security. Instead of working to expand and improve this benefit to provide secure retirement for all, the union officials pursued plans tied to current employer. Exemplary pensions, such as those won by the UAW, became a “legacy burden” that have been mostly surrendered. Where such defined benefit pensions have not yet been eliminated they have been frozen, with new hires shunted in to 401(k) type plans that guarantee nothing--except fees for those managing them.

Health care costs--in America long a part of every negotiated compensation package--have soared to once unimaginable heights and are the most contentious issue in bargaining today. Workers have been required to divert an ever-increasing share of their wages to pay premiums for plans that also require more out of pocket for deductibles and co-pays.

And when union workers are laid off their benefits are terminated as well. Even if they get another decent job with some benefits they will have to start accumulating retirement credits, vacation time, etc, all over again.

American Century Goes Global
Initially, there seemed to be some basis for the ruling class hubris about an American Century. World War II had not only led to about seventy-million deaths; housing and infrastructure throughout most of Europe and much of Asia had been devastated--along with their industrial capacity needed for rebuilding. North American industry had been left untouched. U.S. and Canadian factories got huge orders to rebuild defeated enemies and damaged allies alike as well as satisfying tremendous domestic consumer demand pent up during fifteen years of depression and war.

This preservation of American industry, that enabled the U.S. and its allies to defeat their German and Japanese rivals, going on to rebuild the postwar recovery, had its downside as well. America’s foreign customers rebuilt using the latest technology whereas, in its rush to take advantage of the biggest opportunities in history after the war, American Big Business largely made do with prewar methods.

When I hired on for a brief stint at US Steel’s South Works in Chicago in 1965 I was assigned to recently reactivated Open Hearth #2–originally opened for business in 1890. By that time the far more productive Basic Oxygen method, along with continuous casting, had replaced open hearths and soaking pits throughout western Europe and Japan. These other industrialized countries started shifting from dependents on American industries to eventual rivals–with a competitive technological edge to boot.

U.S. manufacturing jobs peaked out in 1979 at 19.5 million and have slumped to 11.8 million jobs today. That won’t surprise anyone. Not so widely known is that over this same period industrial production in the USA nearly doubled. Despite much nonsense written about the “de-industrialization of America,” this country is still an industrial powerhouse–with far fewer but much more productive workers.

In some European countries the working class won legislation reducing the standard work week, and allotting more vacation time, to share in productivity gains. In the USA we’ve seen a growing separation in to full-time workers toiling the longest hours in the industrialized world, supplemented by unprecedented numbers of part-time and casual workers with no benefits or seniority. As productivity soared the real wages of American workers stagnated–now even falling.

With varying degrees of resistance by unions–sometimes even with eager cooperation from wannabe ”partners”--American employers began this drive to regain leadership in productivity in the 1970s. I discussed what happened in rail in a recent article, Which Track For Rail Labor? Containerization of maritime commerce quickly decimated longshore jobs just as longwall and mountaintop removal came to transform coal mining.

In manufacturing, the bosses did not have natural geographic limitations. New high technology runaway plants were built in the southern states where unions had failed to do any significant organizing. But they didn’t stop there.

In the 1980s, Mexico opened up its border towns to the maquiladora plants, attracting U.S. auto, electrical, and garment companies, along with many from Taiwan, Korea and Japan. In 1993 labor’s “friend” Bill Clinton drove through NAFTA, opening up unrestricted trade and capital flow between Canada, Mexico, and the USA. Workers in all three countries got shafted. In 2000 Clinton muscled through the China trade deal to not only open up commerce with the world’s biggest country but also allowing U.S. manufacturers to contract out an enormous and still growing share of work for the U.S. market--at labor costs a fraction of even those in Mexico.

The American Century continues for corporations such as General Electric, Caterpillar and Apple, making record profits off of labor abroad--as well as record productivity of their American workers still employed. But for the working class the globalized American Dream has become a nightmare race with workers of other lands--to the bottom. The Middle Class is now an unprotected endangered species.

Just as with our losing battles over defense of employer-provided benefits, Globalization can not be successfully resisted through collective bargaining alone.

Postwar Community Movements
The mass unemployed organizations that played such an important role during the Great Depression never came back to such levels after World War II. While there were cyclical recessions that led to periods of short-term layoffs, there was no long-term mass unemployment until the present economic crisis began in 2008. But there were other impressive mass social movements that won significant reforms:

* The civil rights movement of the 1950s-60s.
* The movement to end the Vietnam war in the 60s-70s.
* The resurgence of the feminist movement in the late 60s-70s.
* The launch of the environmental movement in the 70s.
* The solidarity movements against U.S. intervention in Central America in the 80-90s.

These issue-oriented movements involved hundreds of thousands–in some cases millions–of active participants. Based primarily on mobilizations in the streets they won important reforms for civil and women’s rights, were a major factor in ending and preventing wars, and were responsible for establishing the Clean Water, Clean Air Acts and EPA.

While there was always some labor support for these efforts the mainstream Cold War union bureaucracy largely stayed aloof–sometimes were even actively hostile. During their peak of success these social movements relied on their own independent organization. Some had periodic conferences where grass roots activists could have a say in democratically determining strategy and tactics. Often ad hoc coalitions of groups assembled to build specific actions around mutually acceptable objectives.

None of these movements survive on the same scale today. The Vietnam movement ended with the end of that war. Antiwar groups of course still exist–and are worthy of support. But a truly massive, unified, and consistent movement against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, along the lines of the Vietnam, or even the later Central America movement, failed to consolidate. Antiwar sentiment was largely manipulated instead by “peace” politicians. Obama, who greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan, managed to win a Nobel Peace Prize before he even took office.

The other struggles I cited have no natural shelf life like particular wars but they too have been mostly coopted by the Establishment. Black elected officials are no longer a rarity but are often in charge of presiding over “austerity” destruction of basic public services vital to their constituencies.

The spirit of the early Earth Days became absorbed and neutralized by Pale Green groups who tried to build partnerships with corporate polluters while hustling votes and lobbying Democrats.

Women too have come a long way in gaining access to political and corporate offices. But most of these are far removed from the perspective of the hundreds of thousands of women and friends who emulated the tactics of the Civil Rights and Vietnam movements demanding not only access to birth control but also affordable child care, and the Equal Rights Amendment. When the National Organization for Women and Coalition of Labor Union Women were launched during this period they had many more workers and students than ambitious career women. Among the top officers first elected in NOW were Aileen Hernandez and Caroline Davis--industrial union leaders who fought to win over their unions to bring gender equity to the shop floor. Today you’re more likely to hear about the Glass Ceiling, holding back those who wish to follow in the footsteps of Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.

There was a brief redux of the Sixties-style feminist movement with the April, 2004 March For Women’s Lives. It was in fact the biggest yet with an audited count of 1.3 million participants. I was there when the event assembled with high energy and expectation–and I watched it steadily drain as one politician, or politician stand-in, after another tried to turn it in to a pro-John Kerry rally. That was the last time a united national women’s movement came out in the streets.

Unions and various groups that had roots in social movements did combine for a One Nation march and rally in Washington, DC on October 2, 2010. It was a diverse, primarily working class crowd of about 175,000. But SEIU president Mary Kay Henry summed up their marching orders, “October Second is about November Second [election day].”

The ambitious effort by unions and allies to save their Democrat “friends” in that Midterm election of course failed miserably. Discontented workers mainly stayed home–some even cast a protest vote for the only opposition on the ballot. In the confusion, ultra-right “Tea Party” Republicans swept in to control of many state and local governments as well as providing the GOP with control of the House. Not only did these cracked tea-pots launch vicious new attacks of their own–they gave cover to Democrat “friends” accepting their “shellacking” by joining in on going after the most precious past gains of the working class such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Occupy Space
Like nature, class struggle abhors a vacuum. The default of unions and established social groups in the midst of the worst crisis since the Great Depression sparked some semi-spontaneous grass-roots response. The first, and most impressive was the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol accompanied by several mass demonstrations. A few months later, Occupy Wall Street was established in New York as a fighter against the One Percent. Soon every city and town across the USA–and Canada and England as well–had an “Occupy” expressing the sentiment of championing the 99 percent.

One of the few phrases I remember from my high school Latin is sui generis–roughly unique, one-of-a-kind. That’s an apt description of Occupy. Their overall program, strategy, and organizational practices are somewhat vague and can vary among its local venues. They have no historical continuity to guide them. Different currents are pushing incompatible agendas within. How all this gets sorted out remains to be seen.

Regardless of their future evolution we owe them a big debt of gratitude for showing there is life in the 99 percent, for stimulating discussion of the great issues of the day.

Tooling Up
So far, I have devoted a lot of pixels to history–much of it before I was born, some that I observed as being part of a giant cast of extras in the making. I have done this not to escape or postpone consideration of our less than inspiring present but to understand the dynamics of what got us where we are–so that we may make new, better history.

Our trident is not yet recognizable. One short prong–the workplace–is worn dull through misuse and neglect. The other community short tine is still mostly in the forge, a long way from a finished point. Still completely missing, existing only on the drafter’s table, is the most important long prong--as well as a sturdy handle to wield the assembled product powerfully and accurately.

Without a working class party of our own to contest the bosses’ and bankers’ unchallenged control of government and monopoly of all things political, our future and that of generations to come, will be bleak indeed. Continuous wars, environmental destruction, mass unemployment, corporate monopoly of health care, staggering costs of education, and many other challenges great and small cannot be adequately addressed any other way.

The kind of party I’m talking about is not another machine that activates only during election seasons to hustle votes. Elections can validate and institutionalize social changes–but they never create them. We need a party that can help build struggles in the workplace and community–where the real power of our class is found--every day as well as well as promoting them in the electoral arena. We need a party that cannot only defend us from take-backs, not only win useful reforms, but one that aims to replace a boss-dominated government structure with one responsible to the working class majority.

And, in this era of Globalization, we need a party that reaches out in solidarity to workers of all lands and declares, like Debs before us, that for us there is no war but the class war.

We also need a party that recognizes the overarching crisis of climate change which the bosses continue to make worse and is on course to make human civilization as we know it unsustainable.

The foundation for such a party is readily available–with a lot of work. While our unions have declined they are still our only class-based mass organizations. Fifteen million members, along with billions of dollars in material assets, is not junk food–even if many officials may show the consistency of Twinkies.

Except for the my friends in the IWW–another sui generis formation–our unions are already deeply involved in politics with considerable putative success in backing winners. It’s just that they back the wrong side in the class war.

The Labor Party Missing Link
There is instructive experience with building a labor party within living memory of many readers. In 1991 a remarkable labor leader, the late Tony Mazzocchi, convinced his union, the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers (OCAW), now part of the Steelworkers, to test sentiment in the labor movement for a new working class party. They set up an organization called Labor Party Advocates (LPA) and started making the rounds of union gatherings to talk up the idea of a Labor Party.

After winning endorsement from unions representing about two million workers at the time, a Labor Party Founding Convention was held in Cleveland in June, 1996. 1400 attended–mostly union activists but a number of folks from community-based groups were welcomed as well. In a departure from the culture prevailing in the conclaves of most unions, there was a free-wheeling discussion about important substantial issues. A basic program that, as far as it goes, still remains valuable today, was adopted. The party structure was based on affiliated unions but also included some social movement groups and community chapters that were open to all who supported the party’s perspective.

Two years later, a similar-sized convention was held in Pittsburgh where the Labor Party’s signature campaign–Just Healthcare, promoting a Canadian-style single-payer system--was adopted as was a realistic and principled electoral policy.

But this promising beginning started to run in to obstacles after the Pittsburgh convention. Mergers and regime changes undermined much of the support from affiliated unions. The benign indifference previously shown by top AFL-CIO leaders became at best frigid after the 2000 election fiasco. Unfairly blaming Ralph Nader for the ultimate victory of Bush, their response ever since has been to redouble their efforts in support of Democrats.

When the last Labor Party convention gathered in Washington, DC in 2002, attendance was only about a third of the previous two. Shortly after, the party suffered a big blow with the death of Tony Mazzocchi. Tony had personally trained his successor as national organizer–the dedicated and capable Mark Dudzic. But he could not bequeath to Mark and the party the widespread respect and authority he had earned over decades of support for just about every just struggle that came down the pike.

The Labor Party project did not die with the passing of its “Founding Brother.” It took a principled stand against the Iraq war and worked with US Labor Against the War. It became an important component of the campaign for single-payer. The party’s Free Higher Education campaign gained interest among college faculty organizations. Some state Labor Party organizations, such as Florida and Ohio, did some impressive work in their areas. And the South Carolina LP, under the leadership of state fed president Donna Dewitt, carried out a massive petition drive that achieved official recognition and ballot access in that state.

But material support from unions steadily dwindled, and some sympathetic to LP got swept up by the false hopes of the Obama campaign. The Labor Party project is not dead–but it has long been dormant and most of its former stalwarts are devoting their energy to other labor or social movements.

Despite wishful thinking by some, the current mainstream union officials are not breaking with the Democrats no matter what Obama does to Social Security or Medicare or the Post Office or union teachers. When Richard Trumka was a young staff attorney for the United Mine Workers his union defied labor’s friend Jimmy Carter by refusing to abide a Taft-Hartley order to end a national coal strike. But the Trumka who today heads the AFL-CIO has become the most loyal cheerleader of all defending the most reactionary administration in living memory.

You can’t have a genuine labor party without substantial union support. Winning over today’s top union leadership to the Labor Party is not likely. But as the ranks and secondary leaders begin to shake up the unions in fights with the boss–accompanied by inevitable leadership changes–Labor Party sentiment will grow as never before.

Until then, it seems to me our task is to go back to a format resembling the original Labor Party Advocates. We can build on the experiences–and especially program–of the interrupted Labor Party project. That program, adopted over fifteen years ago, of course needs updating and expansion–especially around the issues of war, climate change, and immigration. The revived LPA could play an important role in refocusing debate and discussion among working people in and out of unions–including those in Occupy.

Of course, in a formal sense this would be an organizational “ retreat” from the declared Labor Party. But in reality it would be a rescue from missing in action. The retreat may not have to last long. One encouraging fact we find throughout history is how quickly things can change.

Once we complete the trident there will be no stopping the working class from saving and advancing human civilization presently endangered by the ruling class. But completion first requires beginning.

Since at least the time of Hillel the Elder two thousand years ago, those understanding the need for action to change unacceptable conditions have had to ask,

If not us–who? If not now–when?

Never has it been more important to get the answer right.

February 10, 2012

About the Author
The webmaster of the website is a paid-up member of UAW Local 1981—the National Writers Union. During the 70-80s, while employed at Litton Microwave’s Minneapolis operations, he was elected to various positions in UE Local 1139, including Shop Chairman and Local President. In 1980 he took a union leave from the plant to work on a successful UE organizing drive at a Litton runaway plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When Litton began shutting down its four Minneapolis plants Onasch was selected to be a worker representative in a Dislocated Worker Project administered by Minneapolis Community College—where he became a member of the Minnesota Education Association. Returning to his home town of Kansas City in 1989, he soon began a 14-year stint as a Metro bus driver. During that time he published a rank and file newsletter, Transit Truth, chaired a union Community Outreach Committee that organized public protests against cuts in transit service, helped organize a privatized spin-off at Johnson County Transit, and served a term as Vice-President of ATU Local 1287. He has also been involved in US Labor Against the War and the Labor Party since those organizations were launched.

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