PITTSBURGH — Labor and community solidarity with Goodyear workers, who ratified a new contract Dec. 28 after a three-month strike, reached such a level that United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard sent an e-mail/letter of appreciation to all the local unions and activists for which the USW had addresses.

“We thank the entire labor movement, activist communities and progressive groups from all over North America for their unprecedented solidarity and acknowledge the efforts of fair-minded representatives of the media and financial communities who took the time to understand the critical issues in this conflict,” Gerard wrote.

The 15,000 rubber workers at Goodyear, whose union merged with the steelworkers over a decade ago, shut down tire production at most of the company’s North American operations on Oct. 5. Although spread out across 11 states and two Canadian provinces, picket lines were informed enough to support online blogs in several cities, including Gadsden, Ala., further building community support.

Few workers crossed the lines.

Though there is no rubber production near Tacoma, Wash., Pierce County United for Peace helped mobilize peace activists and supporters not to buy Goodyear tires.

On Dec. 16, workers, their families and supporters in 150 cities and towns handed out flyers at Goodyear stores. In Pittsburgh, potential tire buyers at Monroeville Mall were convinced to “shop around” by a picket line of over 100, including USW Canadian leaders, the union’s International Secretary-Treasurer Jim English, the president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, members of the clergy, peace activists and elected officials.

In Salt Lake City, scores of union members took the rubber workers’ case directly to buyers at the South Salt Lake tire store. “If these companies go outside the U.S. with their products, what are our people going to do in the future,” a tearful communications worker, Ross Edmonds, told the Salt Lake Tribune. Unlike Pennsylvania, Utah is a “right-to-work” state, where unions barely have a right to exist.

The rallies, picket lines, fund-raising and countless other activities were just the first page out of the USW corporate campaign handbook, written during the Ravenswood and Bridgestone/Firestone strikes and updated after every struggle. The union had fueled up the chapters on international solidarity and was preparing to launch a global campaign.

The Goodyear workers stood up against the world’s largest tire corporation which employs 80,000 workers in 29 countries. Across the country, workers like Edmonds are frustrated at seeing their communities crumble as their neighbors’ jobs are shipped overseas. The Goodyear workers and their union built on that issue, which according to exit polls played a big role in the Democratic victories in November.

It all paid off. Casting 10,000 secret ballots, Goodyear workers approved their new contract by 2 to 1.

First, they protected 30,000 retirees’ health care by forcing Goodyear to put $1 billion into a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA), modeled after the union’s success at LTV and Bethlehem Steel following bankruptcy. That represented an 80 percent increase over Goodyear’s initial offer.

Instead of shipping their investment dollars overseas, Goodyear must invest $550 million to improve USW North American plants.

All union members returned to their jobs with continuous seniority.

Solidarity bought 1,100 workers at the company’s Tyler, Texas, plant one more year. Goodyear had announced that the plant would shut down immediately. “It’s a bittersweet outcome,” said Kevin Johnson, USW-Goodyear contract coordinator. “We wanted to win Tyler protected status like the other plants, but we only got it for 2007. Still, the company has committed to building the Tyler ticket [tonnage] in USW plants as long as the company stays in those markets.”

The workers also won a raise, kept their cost of living (COLA) increase and preserved their health insurance with only a small increase in worker contributions.

Goodyear says the strike cost it $350 million. Some union leaders say that could have been invested in the changing technology of tire manufacturing in North America.

“As we said from the beginning,” wrote the USW’s Gerard, “this contract campaign went far beyond a labor-management dispute. It was a battle to make a company live up to its commitments to past and current employees and to secure a future for manufacturing in North America.”

dwinebr696 @ aol.com