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Re: Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Source Michael Yates
Date 16/12/02/12:58

IT IS HARD TO believe that anyone familiar with the Steelworkers Union, its origins and history, could argue that it was in any way a paragon of racial justice. Or that race didn't play a crucial role in it, in the plants, and in the steel towns. This is a "whitewash" of history that is astounding. For example, in its collective bargaining agreements with the steel corporations, until a consent decree basically forced an end to the practice in the 1970s, seniority in the mills was department- rather than plant-based. Black workers were typically confined to the most dangerous and dirty departments, such as foundry and coke plant (in Johnstown, PA there was a bar in a black neighborhood called ironically The Coke Plant). If a black worker managed to transfer into to better department, his department seniority would be zero, no matter what his plant seniority was. So now if there was a cutback in the new department he would be first laid off. He could have 20 years in the plant and a white worker with say two years of plant seniority would keep his department job over the black worker if the latter had less than two years seniority. Thus did the INSTITUTION of collective bargaining keep black workers on the bottom, irrespective if whether or not white members were racist (not a few were racist, however, but you have to wonder how strong racism would have been if the union had indeed confronted race directly and not institutionalized racism in its contracts). Here is a brief description of the EEOC consent decree:

"EEOC, the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice file suit against the nation's nine largest steel producers for discriminatory hiring, promotion, assignment and wage policies directed against women and minorities. These nine companies employ a total of 350,000 workers and produce 73 percent of the country's steel. The government's suit also names the major steelworkers' union, the United Steelworkers of America, as a defendant. After five and a half months of negotiations, the government and the defendants resolve the dispute through a consent decree providing for approximately $31 million in back pay to be distributed to about 40,000 minority and women employees. The companies and the union also agree to a set of goals which include hiring women and minority persons for half the openings in trade and craft jobs and for 25 percent of the vacancies in supervisory jobs. The decree also provides that seniority will now be determined on the basis of plant (rather than departmental) seniority permitting women and minority access to the better paying and more desirable jobs."

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