As we head into the convention, there's reason for optimism

Newton B. Jones, International President

WITH THE 31st Consolidated Convention fast approaching, our union is preparing for some serious self-examination. Convention delegates will consider and vote on changes to our constitution, and they will elect officers to guide the union in the years ahead.

Looking at who we are and how we operate is a healthy process that enables us to adapt to the challenges we face, and cope with new realities. Globalization has cost the United States millions of jobs, including 6,000 Boilermaker jobs in the last three years alone. The defection of unions from the AFL-CIO has left many wondering if unions have any clout remaining or if they will become irrelevant.

But recent developments, I believe, give us reason to be optimistic. I’m not talking about a major piece of pro-labor legislation or a large shift in the public’s perception of unions, but rather the struggle of two local lodges to preserve their members’ jobs and their dignity — and what that struggle says about labor in general and the Boilermakers in particular.

Solidarity wins the day

MEMBERS OF LOCALS 1240 (Wabash, Ind.) and 484 (Meredosia, Ill.) both recently returned to work after long, bitter lockouts. Success for both locals was the result of the combined efforts of the members, local lodge leaders, members of other unions, International staff, and local and state political leaders.

But neither success could have been possible without support from members of other Boilermaker locals and from unionized workers across the United States and Canada.

American workers stood up to two huge multinational corporations — and it was the corporations who blinked.

Both of these lockouts lasted nearly a year. The employers used tactics that were demeaning, bringing in outside “security” firms and hiring replacement workers. Local 484 members and their families were subjected to being videotaped in public and even in their own backyards. Members of both lodges were restricted by the courts in the ways they could protest the lockouts. Both companies appeared intent on busting the union.

In the face of this onslaught, the Brotherhood did what unions do best. We stood together. We reached out to the community. We sought solidarity from other labor unions. We mobilized International resources. We took legal action. And we called on our allies in local and state government.

These battles proved that labor still has teeth, and we still have resolve. Consider that thousands of dollars poured into these locals to keep members afloat — from fellow Boilermakers as well as members of many other unions. Consider that their communities got behind these locals. Local politicians supported their efforts. In the case of Local 484, the governor of Illinois and two United States senators intervened. Friends both inside and outside of labor lent their assistance and support.

These struggles generated an impressive show of resources, commitment, and staying power. They are clear and convincing examples of why we, as a union, continually stress the importance of being politically involved — because political clout helped move the lockouts to resolution.

As union members, we have reason to be optimistic. These victories show that the tools we rely on for our survival still work. Labor has not thrown in the towel. Yes, the forces that would destroy union jobs are strong and committed, but so are we strong and committed. The legal, economic, and political climate we face today is harsh, but it has been harsher. Organized labor’s struggle is not easy; it never has been.

As the Brotherhood convenes its 31st Consolidated Convention in Las Vegas this July, let us remember how two local lodges stood up to huge multinational corporations — and it was the corporations who blinked. We do have reason to be optimistic.

Settlements were team effort

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL of those who played a role in the outcome of these settlements. To local lodge leaders, members, and their families for not giving up. To Assistant to the Director of Research Jim Pressley for his stalwart work on the ground, spearheading the effort in both lodges and handling the day-to-day challenges. To other International staff who took part in the campaigns, including Organizing Director and Special Assistant to the International President Gary Prochnow and Government Affairs Director Bridget Martin. And to Blake & Uhlig attorney Martin Walter.

Local 484 especially benefited from the tremendous support from our many political allies in the area: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Barack Obama (DIL), Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-18 IL), Rep. Lane Evans (D-17 IL), as well as local politicians.

But the greatest gratitude goes to the many union members across the nation and in Canada who donated money to help Local 484 and Local 1240 members weather the storm, and especially to those who traveled to Meredosia and Wabash for rallies.

Together, we won. As we head toward the 31st Consolidated Convention, I hope all members and delegates will keep this fact in mind: When we work together, we can win.