12 minutes of unity

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Sisters and Brothers:
I wanted to give you a quick account of last week’s “rally” at the Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington, Minnesota. As a professional labor historian, I must say that it was, to my knowledge, the shortest rally in all of U.S. labor history. It lasted a grand total of 12 minutes.

I would say 300-400 attended, mostly IAM ramp workers and baggage handlers, as far as I could tell. A smattering of pilots and flight attendants. The rally was run by Bobby DePace, General Chairman of IAM District 143. Other speakers included Doug Moe of PFAA, Mark McCain of ALPA, and Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota state AFL-CIO. It might not have been the biggest display of hypocrisy in all of U.S. labor history, but it’s right up there.

AMFA Local 33 president Ted Ludwig contacted McCain of the pilots and asked to speak, but his calls were not returned. AMFA was not invited. AMFA and its 4,400 mechanics, custodians, and cleaners were not even mentioned, even amidst all the pontificating (a great word!) about “unity.” About 25 AMFA strikers and a handful of supporters leafleted the crowd as they entered the motel. I observed numerous touching moments of old friends seeing each other for the first time in months — evidence of the possibility of rank-and-file unity. Men and women genuinely expressed affection for each other, asked each other how they were, hugged, etc.

The AMFA leaflet, written largely by Ted Ludwig, was an eloquent expression of the centrality of solidarity to any labor strategy. When one AMFA member showed up with a sign calling ALPA and IAM “scabs,” several strikers and Ted encouraged him, successfully, to put it away. But AMFA and its members, who have stood strong (93 percent did not cross their picket lines), got no mention from the stage. Pathetic! Hypocrisy!

The shortness of the rally also suggests how little respect the “leaders” of these unions have for their own members — no effort to lay out a strategy, no request for them to do anything, no opportunity for them to speak or ask questions. In and out… pathetic!

Peter Rachleff is a labor historian at Macalester College in St. Paul.

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