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IWW Defends Millworkers

By Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney - Industrial Worker, March 1990

“You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome,” warned Paul Moorehead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIC). Moorehead made his threat against IWW Local #1 organizer Judi Bari upon learning that she had been invited to participate in a Labor and the Environment workshop at a Public Interest Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon. In recent months rank and file mill workers (at Georgia Pacific’s mill in Fort Bragg) have expressed an increasing reluctance to listen to their union bosses when they tell them that wage cuts are OK, or that clearcutting the forests and destroying the earth is in workers’ best interests. No doubt Moorhead and his buddies intend to spread the word about “outside agitators” who are disturbing the profitable arrangement that the WCIC, In-ternational Woodcutters of America (IWA) and other business unions have worked out with the timber companies. “If any member of my union talks to you they’ll be out of a job,” Moorhead told Bari.

Yet Moorhead’s union, the WCIC, no longer represents workers in Mendocino County, California. The union was busted there in 1986, and now only 560 of the counties’ 3,000 workers have any union “representation” at all. Most of the 560 are “represented” by IWA Local #3-469. Despite Moorhead’s general disdain for his workers, he (and others, including the IWA, and many environmentalists) have been effective stooges in the lumber companies’ manufactured conflict between the workers and environmentalists. As a result most of the timber companies’ public support comes from the union itself.

However, not all of the workers have been fooled. With the help of the IWW, mill workers are starting to talk to each other and are coming to realize that they don’t need union bureaucrats to speak for them, and that only they can defend their jobs. “People came to the IWW because their union wasn’t representing them,” said Bari.

Bari has notified the press and conference organizers about Moorehead’s harassment and attempt-ted intimidation, and has sent a letter to the WCIC requesting them to openly debate what workers really need at the conference. Conference organizers have agreed to stage the debate, but not surprisingly, WCIC hasn’t responded yet. Despite Moorhead’s threats, neither the WCIC nor the IWA has done anything to defend workers’ rights. In February 1989, five workers at the Ft Bragg, California Georgia Pacific (G-P) lumber mill were contaminated from PCP laden oil when a capacitor burst. Despite numerous attempts to get their union, the IWA, to represent them, the workers were unsuccessful.

In January, however, the union showed its true colors and cut a deal with G-P without even consulting the workers involved. They proposed to drop the appeal and reduce the fine. The five workers responded that in Fall 1989 they had sent a letter to IWA stating that they did not authorize the union representative to negotiate with the company for them. The workers also sent a letter to G-P, OSHA, the appeals judge, and the IWA stating that they would like to have the IWW Local #1 be their official negotiating party.

The first task was to intervene with the judge to stop him from signing the agreement. Since both G-P and IWA had already signed, the judge only needed to rubber stamp the agreement. However, organizers called the judge urging him not to sign the agreement until the workers could make a writ-ten point-by-point refutation of the appeal. Surprisingly the judge agreed and gave the workers two weeks to submit the written statement. The judge’s decision is expected by the end of February.

To add insult to injury, Don Nelson (the IWA business rep. from Mendocino County) reintroduced a resolution to increase dues in January (from $22.50 to $30.00). The resolution was essentially the same one that union members voted down 2-to-1 in the Fall, and has been met with heated opposition by workers.

The workers produced a flyer stating, “How many times do we have to say no!?” and are continuing to oppose the increase. In the meantime, Don Nelson responded with his own leaflet which stated on the bottom that, “A vote against the dues increase is a vote for the IWW,” effectively turning the dues increase vote into a referendum on the IWW, a referendum they are almost certain to lose. Nelson has also quickly organized a union meeting to explain to the workers why they should vote for a dues increase for a union which refuses to represent its workers.

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