NORTH HAVEN, Conn. – With a strike of more than 5,000 Pratt and Whitney workers holding firm, and machines lying idle at aircraft engine plants in East Hartford, Middletown, Cheshire and North Haven, Conn., company officials have resumed bargaining with International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 91. At press time, workers at the four plants were scheduled to vote on a new proposal.

Solidarity with the strikers was across the state build quickly with union solidarity days, visits from members of Congress and the state legislature and a special holiday party for the children of striking parents.

Union leaders cautioned members not to be fooled by company proclamations that an early settlement is at hand. “Any movement by Pratt was thanks to your determination, and the incredible job you all have done in expressing our issues to the community and the media. Connecticut is on our side,” emphasized the union’s Strike News Daily. “Now more than ever – hang tough. Some movement, but no agreement.”

The profitable company waged a propaganda war aimed at eroding support for the strikers by implying that the workers are ungrateful for good wages.

“Pratt workers do not make much more than a good, qualified car mechanic,” reply union leaders. “It’s hard, serious work that we do well and from which the company makes a handsome profit … We are not ashamed to be fighting to maintain the good, skilled jobs we have.”

Workers have rallied their courage and strength to wage a fight on the picketline to pass these jobs on to the next generation. The main issues are job security and retirement security.

Those strikers who worked at Pratt in 1982 still remember the comment of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) negotiator Tom Bouchard that they “should get down on their knees and thank God they work for UTC.” The unity of the workers today is tied to their demand for respect and dignity on the job.

In the midst of the strike, members of IAM District 91 took the time to phone their members of Congress urging that they defeat Fast Track legislation for the Free Trade Area of the Americas Act (FTAA).

Connecting this effort to the struggle of Pratt workers for job security, District 91 President Jim Parent quoted Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, who said, “the perfect factory would be on a barge….His idea is to exploit workers as much as possible in one place, and then move on if he can find some place cheaper.”

“This is fantastic, the way you are all hanging together,” said Kurt Westby, Service Employees Local 531 president, on the picketline last week. “This fight is more than just you versus Pratt. The whole labor movement in Connecticut will feel the effects of what you’re doing here.”

Many unions, area merchants, elected leaders and average citizens have called in to the union or shown up at the picketline to express support during the first week of the strike.

Especially important is national and international support from other divisions of UTC. IAM Local 971, representing workers at Pratt and Whitney’s plant in Florida, distributed a letter to their members telling them to refuse any assignment to come north.

Canadian Auto Workers, representing Pratt Canada, has offered any help needed. Teamsters Local 1150, representing UTC workers at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Conn., have walked the picketline, and UAW Local 509 representing UTC Hamilton Sundstrand workers in Rockford, Ill., have pledged their support.

In addition, the Asbestos Workers Union told the company their members will not cross IAM District 91 picketlines to do ongoing asbestos removal unless a hazard emergency occurs. Teamsters Local 559 drivers refused to drive Prax Air trucks across the picketlines. Placing their own jobs in jeopardy, members of the Pratt security officers’ union, IFSOA, have been supportive on their off hours.

A strong strike organization is in place, including daily bulletins, help and information on insurance and other issues that striking families may face. Support can be addressed to district91@snet.net or by calling (860) 568-3016.

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