Worker’s Correspondence

NORMAN, Okla. — Driving down Main Street on my lunch break, I passed a lively group of union picketers in front of the Nissan dealership here. I had a little time before I had to return to work so I swung by to talk with them and hand out some PWWs.

The union, Local 998 of the United Steel Workers, represents the workers who make tires for Bridgestone Firestone. Terry Slaughter, the recording secretary for the local, explained that while Goodyear and Uniroyal Goodrich have reached agreements with the USW on job security and for keeping plants open, Bridgestone Firestone has been refusing to follow the pattern.

“They need to come to an agreement, or we’ll walk the line,” said Les Van Houtan emphatically, referring to the possibility of a strike at all of Bridgestone Firestone’s North American plants. Strike authorization has been given by the membership of 6,000 workers who have been working under an expired contract for 18 months.

Numerous cars honked their horns in solidarity with the workers, who held signs reading, “Export Tires – Not Jobs.” The union has been picketing at different Nissan stores in the Oklahoma City metro area because Nissan is a major purchaser of Bridgestone Firestone tires.

The flyers they had were addressed to Nissan customers, and headlined “Beware! According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, poor labor relations were a major factor in the production of flawed tires, which led to numerous deaths and a massive recall,” the flyer points out.

When I described the PWW as “pro-union, anti-Bush, antiracist, and antiwar,” a brief conversation about the current administration’s policies ensued. Oklahoma may have been one of Bush’s strongest states, but these union workers didn’t seem so impressed.

“People talk about patriotism,” Jeremy Fowler told me, “but companies like Bridgestone Firestone don’t have any patriotism. They’re closing down plants and shipping our jobs out. How much more unpatriotic can you get than that?”