Workers Vanguard No. 1122

17 November 2017


Bay Point, California

Victory to the Henkel Strike!

NOVEMBER 10—For nearly four weeks, more than 80 members of the International Association of Machinists Local 1584 have been on strike in Bay Point against the Henkel Corporation, a subsidiary of a Germany-based conglomerate, which makes adhesives chiefly for the aerospace industry. The production workers walked out on October 16 when contract negotiations broke down over a key union demand—an end to the criminally unsafe conditions at the plant.

In 2013, David Eleidjian, a temporary contract worker, was crushed to death at the plant after being pulled into a chemical mixing machine with an exposed shaft spinning at high speed. The company knew the machine was unsafe. It catches workers so often that employees refer to getting caught in it as “taking a ride.” This horrific industrial murder helped spur the organization of Local 1584. A slap-on-the-wrist $200,000 fine by government regulators did little to improve safety; Henkel was fined for ten more violations in 2016-17.

A number of workers were injured on the job in the months before the strike, including one who suffered third-degree burns over a third of his body. The bosses’ disregard for workers’ lives is in the nature of the capitalist system of production for profit. What is needed is a union safety committee with the power to shut down unsafe production.

Picketers told WV supporters of a pattern of racist harassment at the plant, a vicious attempt to divide the multiracial workforce. One white supervisor is notorious for harassing and firing black workers. On November 1, Henkel vindictively terminated the strikers’ health care benefits. Management didn’t even show up on November 5 for a meeting with a federal mediator, an agent of the capitalist state in whom workers should place no trust. Henkel is out to bust the union.

The strikers remain solid. However, workers in other departments, who are not unionized, have been crossing the picket lines. Using supervisors and scabs, the company is getting some product out, although it is a month behind on orders. Scab products should be “hot-cargoed”—not handled by union workers. The key to victory is shutting the plant down tight to stop the flow of profits. Unions across the Bay Area must support the strike by helping to build mass picket lines that no one crosses!

Workers at the nearby Richmond and Martinez refineries, organized in Local 5 of the United Steelworkers (incorporating the former Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union), have themselves fought for years against notoriously hazardous conditions. Next door in Pittsburg is the unionized USS-POSCO steel plant. The Steelworkers, together with Teamster truckers and International Longshore and Warehouse Union dockworkers at the Port of Oakland, have strategic power. A victory for Local 1584 could set the stage for the unionization of the entire Henkel workforce, and strengthen every union in the area.

The top union leaders in this country have long rejected the class-struggle methods that built the industrial unions in the organizing battles of the 1930s and ’40s. Instead, they put their faith in one or the other of the Wall Street parties—the Democrats and Republicans—that represent the interests of the owners of the factories, transportation, banks, etc. The union bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist program has led to decades of defeats. The labor movement must rely on its own strength, independent of the political representatives of the bosses.