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West Virginia PPG Strike

Two-tier imbalance

A West Virginian Writes:
Finally, some support against the two-tier pay system!  My family is currently involved in a 470 employee, 3½ month strike involving a proposed two-tier pay system at PPG Industries chemical plant, Natrium, West Virginia, and I've been hard pressed to find other resources to help us in the fight.  Our union, while standing strong, is ready to talk, but the company seems unwilling to do the same.

We keep getting pro-company judgments against the union, restricting and limiting the locations of our picketing, while the company imposes disciplinary action against striking workers.  Compare this to the New York transit strike where, though the strike was deemed illegal, all the workers were allowed to picket.  But here in West Virginia, decision after decision restricts union movement.

Neither do we get a lot of support from the local public; many seem to think our workers should be happy just to have a job, any job.

This area has had its share of economic problems with over 600 jobs lost at an aluminum plant, another 800 at a local steel mill, and serious job losses at another local chemical facility that is downsizing.  But PPG has thrived on record profits over the past two years with stock prices increasing by more than 150% in three years and further expectations of strength in the chemical sector.  It seems like PPG is just taking advantage of the local economy to push the public a bit closer to poverty.

As the contract was about to expire, PPG asked for first a one day and then a 3-week extension, but refused to negotiate, thus playing the game of raising our expectations and then immediately crushing them.  At the last day or two they then offered a two-tier contract hoping to buy the ratification with a sizable cash bonus.  But we didn't buy it and thus the strike.

I have corresponded with the public at large, and found that you are right that many people only associate discrimination with race, sex religion etc (I'm getting a lot of flack specifically about women's right to equal pay for equal work).  Yet the wage disparity for this two-tier system approaches 40-50%.

I would also be interested in examples of how other unions have defeated the two-tier system and if the UDHR is cited in those defeats.

Lou Buck at Natrium

NoMoreTiers Replies:
3½ months is a long time to be on strike and must be a particular hardship at this time of the year, so I certainly admire the tenacity of your fellow workers, if the opportunity presents itself please pass on my best wishes to them all, and my heartfelt sense of solidarity with them.

The public get their information from newspapers and TV stations owned by the same wealthy boss type people that screw you everyday on the job.  The reporters are all nice people, I'm sure, but they know whose signature is on their paychecks. So if you fight for what is justly yours, you're faced with, "think yourself lucky you have a job".

If your old enough to remember the 50's like myself, you'll remember that modern technology was novel, but it promised visions of the 4 hour week with robots doing all the work and everyone sharing in the resulting wealth and benefits, flying our own little air-shuttles high above the city streets.  Well guess what? The robots arrived and took our jobs.  Yes there is lots of wealth still being generated but we don't get to see it.

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Perhaps the most concise way to define discrimination is, if you're getting paid or treated differently for reasons other than merit, then its discrimination. But people's perception of what a word means, is effected by the context.  For example if you took a time machine and visited the pre civil-war southern states, and asked the plantation owners about the discriminating against blacks by using them as slaves, you would be just laughed at.  You would be told it's not discrimination 'cause that's what's expected, why it's not even as if slavery is illegal.

It was the same with women's rights, those suffragettes chaining themselves to fences and making fools of themselves protesting.  Everyone knew a women place was in the kitchen and besides when they act so crazy it's obvious that they wouldn't know how to vote if they could, so its wasn't discrimination, it was just common sense.

And now we see the same thing with the two-tier system, it's just another excuse to treat people differently.  After all they should be just glad to have a job at all, and most of them are, and a lot of them enjoy getting laid off from time to time.  So how is that discrimination?

So here are three situations stretching over three centuries, and at a certain depth there is nothing substantially different about them.  So how do we combat two-tierism?  Well, how do you combat racism or sexism?

In Montgomery, Alabama they had a bus riders strike and marched with banners and more marches.  And they called it like it was "discrimination", and things got better and they are still marching when necessary.

The "feminist radicals" had marches and demonstrations and things got better and they are not even considered radical any more, they're mainstream, but they'll march again if need be.

So, I think we have to make a lot of noise, and we have to try and get the whole working class behind this if we can.  We have to call it what it is.  And what is it?  Its discrimination, and not only that, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 23(2), its abuse of our human rights.

It's worth remembering that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being born it was largely a project of the USA.  The USA was taking a leadership position in its creation and introduction.  It was part of a patriotic effort to recover something of lasting good from the devastation of the Second World War.

But now, those with the power of wealth, stolen from the workers of this great country, they want to sweep all those patriotic values espoused in the Declaration under the rug.  Perhaps Hitler himself could not do a better job.  So, I think what we have to do, if its possible, is to embarrass the shit out of those jerks who want to spread division and discrimination amongst the good workers that are the backbone of our great countries.

In Solidarity,
John Barker


Strike Update:
Wednesday 15 February, after five months on the picket line and faced with corporate intransigence in the companies desire to screw its employees out of their right to equal pay for equal work, the ppg workers reluctantly voted to end the strike. These workers have our sympathetic support as they take their struggle back to the job.
Check out this news and video link

Also check out this related Link...
Two-Tiers Plan Continues to Strangle American Manufacturing Workers

In a small town in West Virginia, PPG Industries, Inc., a multi-million dollar, global corporation, has offered a two-tier pay system to their 470+ union employees, asking them to ratify a contract that knowingly creates a second "class" of worker with different pay rates and benefits for all new employees. How is a union to represent two classes of workers? They cannot and that is what the company is banking on, the beginning of the end of this local union. Read rest of story.

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Jan 2006