How Working Outside the Law Helped Labor Win on the West Coast
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The most famous example of such a strategy was executed by the United Mine Workers’ 1989 Pittston Coal strike, under its then-president Richard Trumka, who is now the president of the AFL-CIO. Faced with a intransigent employer and an impossible legal regime, Trumka chose a strategy of non-violent militancy that racked up tens of millions in fines. Trumka predicted correctly that if the UMW could get management to cave, it could get the fines dropped. If the UMW had lost the strike, it would have been bankrupt. Trumka later said that labor would be better off if the National Labor Relations Act – including both “the affirmative protections of labor that it promises but does not deliver” and the “provisions that hamstring labor” – was abolished.
Interviewed in September, Burns predicted the Longview example could spread, as other workers watch ILWU members “understanding that the rules of the game are fixed,” and “going out into the streets trying to defend traditional unionism, and traditional union standards.” Now that longshore workers have beat back EGT, more workers may conclude that the only thing riskier than defying labor law is continuing to comply.