ACTION REPORT!!! (Long version) (fwd)

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at umich.edu
Wed Sep 6 18:59:42 MDT 1995


Yep, it's long, but local and heartening.



Bryan Alexander
Department of English
University of Michigan
**********************

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Date: Wednesday, 6 September 1995 4:42pm ET
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Subject: ACTION REPORT!!! (Long version)


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 Wed, 6 Sep 95 04:09pm ET
Date: Wed, 6 Sep 95 16:05:35 -0400
From: Alec Meiklejohn <alec at umich.edu>
To: newssupport at umich.edu
Subject: ACTION REPORT!!!  (Long version)
In-Reply-To: Your message
 <Pine.SOL.3.91.950906124327.5805F-100000 at qix.rs.itd.umich.edu> of Wed, 6 Sep
 1995 12:44:32 -0400 (EDT)
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Greetings! Mike and I wanted to get out a report to everyone about Saturday's
incredible mass picket line in Sterling Heights. This is the long version, so be
warned. There is a somewhat shorter version as well. Take your pick!

****VICTORY****VICTORY****VICTORY****VICTORY****VICTORY

You may have heard about it on the news.  Saturday night, about
20 other Ann Arborites celebrated Labor Day Weekend with a
labor movement victory for the first time in many a moon!  About
3,000 people, mostly rank and file working people, many with
families along, came together from local unions all over the
metro area and from other states to shut down the Sunday scab
paper.  UAW, AFSCME, SEIU, CWA, Steelworkers, Teamsters,
Newspaper Guild, and many others all joined together in the largest
combined union action since.... well we can't actually remember
when.   On the other side, spread up and down the median strip on
Mound Road, were around 300 cops from upwards of 20 suburban
communities.  Even the state police contributed a few representatives.
All 200 were prepared with their show of riot helmets, face shields,
body shields, clubs, pepper gas, the works.  It was quite a sight to
see.  The two sides faced each other from Saturday afternoon all
through the night until early Sunday morning.  By then most of the
picketers had left, and the cops decided that the 50 or so that were
left was a small enough number to push through and open the
gates.  But for more than 15 hours, no scabs went in and no papers
came out. The main body of picketers assembled between 3 and 5 pm
at UAW Local 228, whose office is about a mile up Mound Rd. from
the plant.  A rally started a little after 4, with MANY speakers lined
up, and one of the more surreal moments came when, about half way
through the line-up, the moderator announced that the police had
begun to move in on the 250 or so people who were already down at
the gates, that they were using gas on them, so the speakers should
shorten their talks so we could get down there sooner!!  So the talks
kept going!  The bizarre scene included some speakers who could not
depart from their prepared text, as well as several who would get up
and say, We should get down there NOW!, to be followed by another
who would say the same thing.  Meanwhile the crowd kept getting
more and more restless, shouting LET'S GO! and began to line up to
march down.  Finally, well after most people had stopped listening,
the stream of verbiage wound down, and the march began down
Mound to the plant.
When we got there we learned that sure enough, the cops, who had
not realized so many people would be at the gates so early, had tried
to open the line and used pepper gas on some people in addition to
a few kicks and arrests.  The picketers, about 250,  had  pushed them
back and held the line.  The reinforcements was divided into three
groups to guard the three gates and the long standoff began.  The
main action took place at gate 1 on Mound Road and gate 3 on 16
mile.  The GEO contingent was concentrated at gate 3, while most
of the rest of the A2 folks were at gate 1, but we all moved back and
forth.  Gate 1 was where the cops were, and we thought it was most
likely that any attempted movement would be through there.  It was
just a real middle american holiday scene - hundreds of working class
men and women, a bunch of kids, and a couple of hundred cops
ready to rock and roll. There was plenty of psychology going on
within and across both sides.  They didn't know what would
happen if they seriously tried to move in on all those people.  We
didn't know ourselves actually - there was a constant buzz of
discussion and argument about whether to resist by sitting down
or standing up and pushing back.  The leaders of the picket
emphasized and often tried to enforce a non-violent, sit-down
tactic in the case of a police confrontation (I think they had
anticipated even more people showing up, making the success of
such a tactic more likely).  Most of the rank-and-file were inclined
to support the leaders, especially since at long last something
seemed to be happening.  Yet there was a strong, more militant
current that expressed a deep resentment to being pushed around
by a police force, popularly conceived as 'mercenaries,' who have
received between $360,000-$460,000 in payments from the DNA to
the city of Sterling Heights.  Among the supporters, as you can
imagine, there was a variety of opinions.
For our part, we didn't know what to expect in the event of an assault.
Over the last 6 weeks, the cops have only used aggressive
confrontation tactics to engage the crowd only when the numbers
clearly favor them.  Given the persistently violent assaults by the
cops over the period of this strike, especially the clear case 2 1/2
weeks ago where workers were beat, kicked and gassed lying down, the
image of police in Sterling Heights has become increasingly negative.
It was clear as the night wore on that they were not ready to just jump
and go, but as it got later, and the crowd began to thin out some,
things began to get more tense.  The major turning point came
around 3:00 am.  At gate 1, the boys in blue straightened up their line,
lowered their face shields, and picked up their body shields (which
a bunch of them had been leaning and even sitting on).  The cop car
which would have to be pulled across the lanes to stop traffic started
up, and its top lights and headlights started flashing. The picketers
packed together in front of the gate, chanting and shaking our fists.
At this point word came from gate 3 that the company had tried to
send a truck through the gate and that they might start trying to get
the papers out there.  The picket captains had to decide whether to
send people over there, whether it was a decoy, or whether the
stand-off at our gate was the decoy.  There were lots of opinions
among the crowd as well, but in the end we stood fast at gate 1.
After about 20 minutes or so, the tension began to ebb and the cops
began to stand down.  People on our side began to relax a little, and
some went back to the ice cream truck that had stopped by the gate
a couple of hours before and discovered that he had made the best
decision of his night.  (he left and came back at least once before the
 night ended).
Later we learned that, in the absence of supervision by the
representatives of law, order, and property, the folks at Gate 3 had
earlier chained and locked the gate, with sprinkles of bon bons for
the tires in the driveway.  The company had tried to cut the chain,
but experienced some interference from the picketers on the other
side of the gate.  Then they had decided to send one of the trucks
at 35 miles an hour to bust through the gate, never mind that 3 or
4 hundred people were massed on the other side and were given no
warning.  If the gate had not held many people would certainly have
been hurt. As it was, the truck couldn't quite bust through, and got
hung up on a large, dead tree that had somehow found its way into
the driveway.  While the truck was immobilized, the assembled
picketers found ways to express their displeasure at the machine and
its operator, such that the company felt obligated to send out a squad
of their hired security thugs to rescue the machine, and its operator.
They accomplished this with some difficulty, but then realized that
the gate, with a number of holes and gaps in it, was not longer very
effective at keeping the strikers OUT.  This seemed to trouble them
somewhat, since they drove four vans side by side to the gate to form
a barricade.  Interestingly enough, after a few minutes the vans, now
lacking attributes such as working headlights and inflated tires, had all
of a sudden become a barrier effectively keeping the newspapers and
trucks IN.  A striking example of dialectics in practice.
Around 3:45, sometime after all this transpired, the company made a
much more tentative attempt to pull the same stunt at Gate 1.  On that
side the actual gate is much farther in from the road with a long stretch
of driveway between the fence and the road where the picketers were.
The driver of this truck seemed to think he could move up to and
through the crowd relatively slowly (about 15 mph).  Unfortunately,
this provided ample opportunity for response, including a number of
people who climbed onto the truck to offer a variety of arguments as
to why this was not such a good idea (it was clear that a tactic of non-
violent sit-downs was not about to work, thus other tactical responses
were made!)  By the time the driver had managed to find reverse and
back the truck back into the plant, only hitting the guard shack a
little,
the cops had roused themselves again and another stand-off took
place.  This one died down again, and the exhausted but highly
exhilarated crowd realized that we had indeed stopped the paper from
coming out all night! Finally about 5:30 or 6 the last of the A2 folks
decided to depart EXCEPT Hays and Marty who stayed to greet the
dawn.  I saw later on the news that the cops finally opened the line
in the early morning (after it was light) and the trucks did finally get
out. Excitement and determination, some hope mixed with a vision
of justice, well-organized pickets, and some flexibility in tactical
responses to unexpected company/cop strategies made this an
incredible, and successful experience for all of us.  Support is
growing, but more support is needed desperately if we hope see
even half as many people out this Saturday.  We need more of these
victories if this attack on working people is to be defeated.
Stay tuned and see you next Saturday!


In Solidarity,
Alec and Mike







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