This summer is the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the strike. A comrade pointed out this video to me and I was so pleased to see it and all the old faces. At a jazz festival in Detroit a month or so a go I saw a striker and we talked about it. The impact of the strike is still felt years later. I still wince a little when I see the papers on a news stand. The strike lasted years and absorbed lives. It defined a lot of lives.
This strike, the most important in Detroit for decades, was a big reason I moved to Michigan. It went down after being bled to death by bureaucrats. The strike lost, by and large, because of misleaders and the failure to remove them and replace them by the rank and file. The dedication and solidarity of some of the strikers was remarkable. They should name schools and streets after those workers.
The rank and file were well ahead of the bureaucrats in ability, creative energy and consciousness; the strike could have been won. The bureaucrats lost not because they were unable to answer the calls from below, they were unwilling. What it would have taken to win would have made the relationships their positions relied on with bosses and politicians impossible. Instead of breaking with the boss they broke with their members. They ended up dragging the strike into the courts to die. Hard to fight the boss and your own union at the same time.
Some of the demonstrations in the early part of the strike were so powerful you felt that anything was possible. I remember a series of demonstrations at distribution centers around the holidays. It was brutally cold and we were active all night. The first center we reached was unguarded; just us and scabs. I’ll never forget the flying picket heroically employed that freezing night. Neither will the scabs. The struggle raised your own consciousness as well as that of all those around you. It made some into life long activists.
Lots of things were tried. The rank and file put huge amounts of penned up creative energy into it. I particularly liked the times well into the strike when strikers and supporters would gather and slow drive around Detroit blocking the freeways a creating havoc around the city. I remember a guy I’ll not name releasing dozens of mice into a mall clothing store with little “no scab papers” stickers plastered to them. It was a long strike.
Activists could lay dozens and dozens of those stories on you. I was arrested during the strike and spent 3 nights in the worst place in the state of Michigan at an action very few would describe as successful or one to be repeated, but hey you learn.
The strike lost, but as some revolutionary said somewhere; “we lose until we win”. I think the meaning of that is that every defeat can be a lesson, and therefore an aid, if we put the lesson to service in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class. That’s, in its own way, a pretty potent political thing to say and one that can escape us at times. The conclusion of defeat, for a Marxist, is not pessimism, but the absorption of that struggle, in spite of, indeed because of, the defeat in the pursuance of the goal.
There are some sites out there that deal with the strike. There is a site on music and the strike, a great site of photos from the strike by Damon Hartley and lots of articles on the strike and its lessons from a socialist perspective here.