Over 1,000 steelworkers have been fighting against the management of Cooper Tire & Rubber in Findlay, OH, after being locked out of their jobs since late November. The management closed their doors on the workers and brought in scabs after the United Steelworkers Local 207L voted down a contract that included new ambiguous pay rates, a five-tier wage scale and other even more draconian benefit cuts.
The struggle around this lockout has a ton of potential to galvanize activists and escalate the movement. In 2008, the USW gave away almost $30 million in pay and benefit cuts, which the management at Cooper used to purchase private jets. When contract negotiations came up this time though, the workers were inspired to “stand up and say enough” as Dave Roether, a worker at Cooper, said. The “defeat of SB 5, the Occupy movement and Wisconsin,” gave many members of the union a boost of confidence to fight against the demands of the managers and bosses, instead of voting for more concessions.
This is a sign that the eruption of social movements, from Madison to Occupy, is beginning to change the political landscape in America — though, not in the way that media pundits and politicians talks about this or that policy — but in the way that more everyday people are realizing the power they have to change the world through struggle.
In other words, this is representative of how consciousness is transformed through the process of struggle. The clash of contradictions in society, e.g. a war, an economic crisis, the eruption of a social movement, etc., has a natural impact on affecting the way people see and understand the world. People’s ideas aren’t shaped in a vacuum, and they aren’t changed in one either. Consciousness, in other words, isn’t changed through some sentimental act like “growing your soul,” but rather through the conflict of forces in society. I don’t mean to suggest here that one doesn’t have any agency at all over their own ideas, but rather to suggest that one’s agency over their ideas is limited by social forces and that those limitations (i.e., determining factors) open up at moments when society’s contradictions erupt (like in a war, or a recession, etc). This isn’t the place to elaborate more fully, but I’d really suggest that people check out the late Chris Harman’s article from 2007 on Gramsci and the Prison Notebooks for more discussion on consciousness and ideas.
Moreover, this struggle, small as it may seem — a factory of 1,000 workers in a small Midwestern city isn’t very glamorous — represents the beginning of the spreading of the spirit of the Occupy movement into the workplace. The point of production. The speeches and slogans by the workers in Findlay at their rally on December 17th was filled with talk about fighting “the 1%,” etc. People from Occupy Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus that showed up were warmly received and welcomed by the steelworkers. Union representatives running in upcoming elections even asked to have their picture taken behind our banners as a bid for their legitimacy! In other words, the union officials are following the Left’s lead in order to prove themselves. Occupy Detroit activists brought a banner with them reading “Occupy the Workplaces,” and locked out steelworkers couldn’t get enough of it! The union local President even accepted the banner as a gift from Occupy Detroit.
By entering the workplaces, the Occupy movement has the potential to effect the whole foundation of the 1%’s power, i.e. the power they have over the production and manufacture of the necessities and things of life. The struggle in Findlay, therefore, should be monitored carefully and Occupy movements and activists — especially around the Midwest — need to do what they can to support and defend the workers there.